by Alice Dragoon

Marketing – The Secret Weapon: Internal Marketing

May 01, 200419 mins
Consumer Electronics

In 2001, a member of the senior leadership team at Harley-Davidson, invited to an IT town hall meeting to articulate business leadership’s view of the IT function, described it as “a big black box that you pour lots of money into and pray good things come out.” For IT coleaders Laurel Tschurwald and Reid F. Engstrom, the black box metaphor was a painful wake-up call. “We had always thought that everyone knew what we were doing and valued our contributions,” says Tschurwald. In response, the two launched a campaign to demystify IT. They brought in senior business people to review and manage all IT project requests. They initiated internal service-level agreements, IT financial audits and quality-improvement programs. And to make sure everyone heard about the value IT was delivering, they started publicizing their efforts in quarterly “enterprise status reports.” The reports recap each initiative’s business case, strategic alignment and associated metrics, and summarize the status of every project valued above $100,000. It’s a “key marketing vehicle,” Engstrom freely admits.

The idea of marketing IT makes a lot of CIOs nervous. Sure, they’re willing to treat their business colleagues as customers, and some have no qualms about charging those same customers for IT services. But launching a campaign to trumpet IT’s value, communicate its costs, and promote its products and services? Well, that feels a little too hucksterish to your average IT executive. Besides, who has excess money lying around to invest in marketing?

But marketing IT internally may be the secret ingredient fueling CIOs’ efforts to run IT like a business. We say secret because on average, less than half of the CIOs who say they run businesslike IT shops are actually taking advantage of marketing, according to CIO’s survey, “How to Run IT Like a Business.” Yet, those respondents who have attained such prized and elusive benefits as enterprisewide visibility of IT value and cost, improved customer loyalty and increased IT staff productivity do more marketing than does the general survey population?in fact, as much as 25 percent more. These IT leaders are building thematic, targeted campaigns around IT initiatives and branding projects to increase awareness and build momentum and buy-in. And they’re using a range of communication vehicles to bring the message home that IT is run like a business?one that brings verifiable value to the enterprise.

“Marketing is absolutely critical to being internally successful,” says Stephen Norman, COO of Merrill Lynch’s technology group. “We live in a world where by and large our customers don’t understand what we do. So we need to market internally to have a shot at building partnerships and avoiding surprises.”

Steve Sheinheit, CIO of MetLife, agrees. “That we have to communicate and market is a fact of life,” he says. “If you want to get resources and support, you have to sell your message. Marketing and communications is a natural part of doing business.”

Communicating IT’s contribution to the business is especially critical given the increasingly tempting siren song of outsourcers. Marketing hype and slick campaigns from offshore vendors and consultants help make outsourcing look mighty appealing on paper. But internal IT organizations may actually provide more services at a better value. IT leaders just haven’t taken time to clearly define, price and package their services in an equally appealing format.

Making sure the business is well aware of the IT team’s accomplishments also provides IT the credibility it needs to win approval for unglamorous infrastructure investments and the goodwill to weather inevitable storms. “In technology, you always have issues,” says Joe Gottron, The Huntington National Bank’s CIO. “If you’ve got nothing to balance the noise in issues, guess what? People are only going to remember the issues. And it won’t be long before lights out, game over.”

But be forewarned. Marketing will come off as a lot of hot air?and could even damage IT’s reputation?if CIOs haven’t built an organization that can consistently deliver the goods. And there’s a fine line between effectively promoting IT’s contributions and tooting your own horn.

Seek Expertise

Marketing guru Scott Bedbury, who led the “Just Do It” campaign at Nike and turned coffee into a mystical experience at Starbucks, says the best marketers don’t merely convey facts?they also tap into people’s emotions. “No matter what the challenge, the greatest benefits of any product or service are usually emotional and not entirely tangible,” he says. IT people often forget that technology generally helps meet some emotional need, whether it’s to gain control or power, avoid risk, feel complete or satisfied, or just realize potential, Bedbury says.

A good first step, then, in building a marketing program is finding someone who understands these needs and knows how to use them to connect with people?an experienced marketing pro. At Tyson Foods, CIO Jeri Dunn employs an organizational change consultant to help with marketing and is looking to hire a vice president of organizational change whose responsibilities will include overseeing communication. Dunn readily admits communication is not her forte and that she needs help crafting messages. She says she tends to assume that everyone has the same level of understanding on IT issues that she does. “The organizational change person will keep me honest,” Dunn says. “If I’m going 100 miles an hour, I need someone to say, ’Hey wait, no one’s following.’”

Having experienced staffers at least partly dedicated to (and accountable for) marketing communication can help IT groups build proactive campaigns to replace the reactive, defensive communication that is more typical in IT (see “What’s Your Marketing Maturity Level?” Page 70). Even if a company lacks the resources to devote someone to marketing, the CIO should consider tapping into the expertise of the corporate marketing and communication department. If nothing else, this group will have the independence to see things from the internal customer’s point of view.

Find the Target

CIOs typically have six distinct audiences: internal IT staff, end users, line of business heads, executive management, the board of directors, and vendors and partners. An effective marketing campaign will tailor messages for each group, taking into account what matters most to each. “If you meet with the CFO, the presentation should be numbers-driven,” advises Patricia Jaramillo, CEO of Magnolia Communications, an IT marketing consultancy. “Don’t tell me how many outages you had. What did it mean in dollars?”

When marketing a new plant maintenance system to Tyson plant managers, Dunn had the group vice president of production services talk up the system’s benefits. “He had more impact making this presentation because he is owner of the business process. He is the champion for the change,” says Dunn. One slide in his presentation touted productivity benefits by showing a plant maintenance employee working in front of a PC rather than hanging out in the coffee-break room. That slide would not, however, resonate with salespeople. When Dunn updates the sales team on an IT initiative, she describes how it will save money, which the company can invest in more advertising.

Generally, the higher up in the organization the target, the more simplified the marketing message should be. When Steven Agnoli, CIO of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, writes his monthly status report for executive management, he consciously keeps it short and sweet. “I don’t want to get into minute detail on technical stuff,” he explains. “It’s important for them to understand there’s a lot of work going on, we’re completing assignments and they’re actually getting things for the money they’re spending.”

Agnoli is also careful to write in business terms to avoid clouding the message with what he calls technical mumbo jumbo. To that end, he enforces the “no acronym” rule for all communication that crosses the IT threshold. “In the IT world, there are probably more acronyms than words,” he deadpans.

At Harley-Davidson, initial attempts to educate executives on “the business of IS” met with resistance. “Early on, we had a lot of people who said, ’I don’t want to know this stuff. Don’t confront me with your business. I don’t confront you with mine,’” says Engstrom, who shares the title of director of information services with Tschurwald. “We concluded that we hadn’t yet put the information in front of people in a manner they could absorb or that really established their interest level.” The quarterly report succeeds because it directly relates what IT is doing to the business executives’ strategies and goals.

The upshot is that Engstrom, who once had trouble getting anything funded, says he recently gained executive approval for a $2.1 million project in less than a minute.

Think Thematically

Once CIOs have identified who they want to reach, they need to think through the key messages or themes to convey. For example, if a CIO is having trouble marshaling support from the executive committee for infrastructure investments, a key message might be that sound infrastructure produces value, says Howard Rubin, executive vice president at Meta Group. He suggests explaining how infrastructure can yield value on three levels: economic (lets you operate at low cost), operational (allows you to tune reliability to what you need) and architectural (you can increase business volume without having to pay a dollar more). Another key message for users concerned about IT costs might be that business executives can control IT costs themselves. CIOs can reinforce this, says Rubin, by identifying user costs as fixed or variable, and pointing out how variable costs can be contained.

At MetLife, Sheinheit comes up with an annual theme to drive the year’s IT communication. Last year, the theme was “Finding the R in ROI.” This year’s theme is “Moving IT to the Next Level.” Subthemes include investing for growth and increasing agility. Sheinheit and his team mapped all of the year’s IT initiatives against the themes, so all communication about projects is put in the context of how they relate to those overriding goals. MetLife’s themes get woven into Town Hall presentations, newsletters, desktop tchotchkes and something Sheinheit calls “meeting in a box”: To quickly cascade the theme throughout the IT organization, the top 50 or 60 IT execs receive prefabricated presentations to take back to their groups. Presentations also go on the IT Web portal for other presenters to draw on, saving time and ensuring message consistency.

Sheinheit launches his themes to the internal IT staff before pitching them to the business audiences. “You’ve got to get yourself aligned,” he says. “You can’t give a message to the outside community if it doesn’t resonate internally. You drive it down and send it up, and it interconnects in the middle.”

Brand I.t.

Because technology can seem complex, confusing or (believe it or not) just plain dull to those outside IT, putting a meaningful brand name on an IT initiative can help CIOs telegraph the value in a concise, accessible and memorable way. In fact, the CIO survey revealed that branding specific IT projects or services is among the most effective and popular marketing practices.

At e-commerce outsourcer GSI Commerce, CIO Joe Seibert branded an initiative to revamp the project management process and improve time to market. He officially launched “Project Velocity” with a large sign hung over the project management office area and a kickoff pizza lunch for 100 assorted constituents. By relating process improvement to a business value?speed?Seibert’s team was able to generate awareness and excitement and bring down the level of fear that accompanies business process change. The increased buy-in and project momentum that branding garners “makes my job a lot easier,” Seibert says.

If an IT department suffers from a credibility problem, branding can also be used to help readjust negative perceptions once the underlying problems have been addressed. For example, IT’s reputation at the Defense Contract Management Agency suffered from some real (and some merely perceived) failures. When Mike Williams became CIO in 1999, “the feeling inside the agency was that we weren’t up to speed with corporate America,” he says. True, some software apps had been deployed before they were ready. “There were too many bugs, and we fixed that,” says Williams. But there were still residual pockets of negative perception. Williams changed IT’s official name to the IT Customer Service Organization, and one of his group’s Web designers came up with an official logo. “Branding and the logo helped signal the idea that we’re changing,” says Williams.

Branding that’s out of character with the corporate culture (splashy branding in a company that values consensus and collaboration, for example) is a big no-no, says Michael Gerrard, vice president and chief of research for IT management at Gartner. “The branding strategy has to reflect the customers that you’ve got,” he says. “If you choose a really inept branding strategy, you can end up with negative brand equity. You’ll be seen as amateurish when you want to seem professional.”

Get Face Time

If you think of IT as a brand, then the CIO is its spokesman. CIOs must, therefore, get in front of their constituents and “sell” the brand on a regular basis. Gottron schedules one-on-one reviews with management committee members, where he recounts what he said IT would do and what it actually did during the past three months. He then previews and validates the priorities for the next three months.

The bank’s vice chairman and CFO, Mike McMennamin, appreciates the meetings with Gottron. “I walk away knowing he’s working on six things for us, three of which are crucial,” he says. “I know exactly the time frame and what additional resources need to be dedicated to a project.”

McMennamin realizes these meetings are also marketing opportunities for Gottron. “Sure, Joe’s a marketer, but in the positive sense of the word,” McMennamin says. “He keeps us tuned in, and we agree on a set of expectations. I feel like we’re partners.”

Whatever the frequency and format, communication must be two-way. Gottron confesses he sometimes gets so caught up in extolling IT’s accomplishments that he’s gotten feedback that he doesn’t always slow down enough to listen for concerns. “If they’ve got something stuck in their head, they’ll have a tough time listening,” Gottron says. And if they’re not listening, they won’t get the message that IT is delivering value.

Put Out a Catalog

A new category of IT marketing publications is the catalog of IT services. Though still relatively rare, catalogs are perhaps the best vehicle for achieving cost transparency, according to Meta Group’s Rubin. “Even if a company does not have chargeback, a catalog is essential for creating a lingua franca for what IT does for the business,” he says.

As part of an initiative called “Cost Transparency Now!” Merrill Lynch has produced an online IT catalog that describes IT products and services in customer-oriented terms, defines service-level agreements and puts a price tag on all services that IT provides. For example, the BlackBerry entry has indexed tabs for product information (description and benefits), pricing (fixed and variable costs for e-mail and paging services), SLA details and user documentation by model. Qualified users can order a BlackBerry through an online purchasing system linked to the catalog. Developing the catalog is a precursor to moving to full chargeback at Merrill?by this September, 98 percent of IT charges will be billed to users as services consumed. Eventually, IT’s customers will look at a simple bill and tell how many units of each service they’ve consumed. “They’ll be able to say, ’Why am I consuming 6.5 terabytes of replicated disk?’ They will start to manage their costs instead of looking to me to manage costs,” says COO Norman.

Norman plans to add external benchmarking cost data to the catalog later this year, both to assure customers that they’re getting value for their money and to reinforce for IT service managers that they are competing with outside providers.

At telecom company Global Crossing, employees use IT’s online catalog to order hardware and any service IT provides, including access to applications. Managerial approval and delivery are automatically managed through a workflow process. Although CIO Dan Wagner does not operate a chargeback model, he says providing automated services through the online catalog helps keep costs down and lets him easily track statistics on all services IT provides.

In developing an IT catalog, it’s critical to define services in terms of what customers want to buy, not a laundry list of IT tasks, warns Gartner’s Gerrard. For example, if IT offers desktop provisioning for a new employee, a business manager doesn’t want or need to know that this entails procuring a desktop device, loading software, setting up passwords, enabling e-mail, connecting to the LAN and arranging installation. She just wants a computer ready to go when the new employee shows up on Monday morning.

Publish, Publish, Publish

Professional marketers swear by the effectiveness of print vehicles and advise that one or more should be a staple in any IT campaign. But before publishing any collateral, read it carefully from the audience’s point of view. “I don’t think it’s possible to overcommunicate,” says Smurfit-Stone CIO Jim Burdiss. “But I do think it’s possible to overmarket. Then people see it as self-serving. Instead of helping demonstrate value, it becomes idle chatter and does the opposite of what it’s intended to do.”

The IT annual report is one of the most effective tools used by our CIO survey respondents. Smurfit-Stone’s IT shop publishes an annual report that gives people an appreciation of the scope of IT’s responsibilities and its performance levels (for example, 110,000 calls were handled in the support center at a cost of $17.80 per call). And it itemizes the value created by IT projects?say hypothetically, a forecasting tool reduced inventory by 10 percent and saved the company $1 million. The report is personalized with snapshot profiles of IT staff and includes an index of whom to contact for what. It also features a popular glossary of industry and technology terms, defining such concepts as problem escalation, enterprise application integration and IT asset management.

“It’s designed to not just be an annual report but also a resource tool for customers,” says Burdiss. “If we just reported financial numbers, everyone would go, ’Aw, they’re just patting themselves on the back.’”

Out of 37,000 total Smurfit-Stone employees, nearly 19,200 chose to download a PDF version of last year’s report from the Web. Tom Lange, the company’s director of public relations, finds the glossary and IT contact list personally helpful and says the annual report has done a lot to change the general perception of IT. “I used to think of IT as this black hole of people and IT stuff,” he confesses. “People would say things like, ’Why can’t IT just get that done? Why does it take two days to do anything?’” Now, instead of wondering what’s going on, Lange and other business customers know what IT is up to, what the priorities are and how IT efforts relate to the company’s packaging business.

State of Washington CIO Stuart McKee says his organization’s annual reports feature content similar to a private-sector shareholder report, but he consciously skimps on their production values to avoid the perception that he’s wasting taxpayer dollars. Like Smurfit-Stone’s report, McKee’s are available in PDF format on the website or in a three-ring binder.

Simpler than annual reports, brochures and newsletters are good vehicles for familiarizing executives with systems under development or technologies being explored. GSI Commerce creates brochures to raise internal awareness of the benefits of its proprietary technologies. Brochures give overviews of the system and associated processes and outline its benefits and features. A brochure promoting new real-time upselling technology prompted business executives to schedule implementation of the technology with key clients sooner than originally planned?leading to a 3 percent bump in revenue. (For samples of Smurfit-Stone’s IT newsletter and GSI Commerce’s technology brochure, go to

Keep Score

Publicizing service-level metrics and audit data is another common form of IT marketing, and scorecards are often the vehicle of choice. Global Crossing keeps a formal scorecard on the company’s Web portal. Updated monthly, the scorecard tracks availability of nearly 100 core applications and gives stats on network uptime, customer service and help desk metrics, and the number of development projects delivered and their respective ROI. IT reevaluates annually what should be tracked.

The danger with scorecards, though, is that IT organizations can devote a lot of resources to reporting metrics that are meaningless to their business counterparts. An operations infrastructure scorecard might show availability at 99.999 percent. But what does that missing .001 percent really mean to a businessperson? asks Meta Group’s Rubin. What would be more useful to business leaders, he contends, are scores showing “the technology cost of goods.” For example, in a health-care setting, the IT costs for one patient day spent in the hospital would be germane.

Play to Win

Finally, we come to the most common and effective marketing tactic, according to the CIO survey?winning and publicizing IT awards. Awards confer on IT a third-party seal of approval. To avoid dimming the luster of this glow, Smurfit-Stone’s Burdiss is careful not to overhype IT awards, positioning them as awards won by the entire company, not just IT.

McKee has his IS comunications director, Nancy Jackson, monitor award opportunities for Washington, maintaining a calendar of application dates. Jackson looks for opportunities to showcase the state agencies’ innovative uses of IT. If IS wins; it shares the spotlight with agency customers, generating goodwill and low-key PR for IS, McKee says.

Low-key or not, getting the word out about IT’s value is essential. CIOs who are squeamish about marketing need to get over it?fast. “I don’t think you have a choice,”says Bedbury. “If you don’t market yourself, someone else will.” And you might not like the image you end up with.