Perception matters, particularly for internal IT organizations. While CIOs may be acutely aware of the essential value their teams create, that value isn\u2019t always evident to stakeholders and clients. We may hope that the work speaks for itself, but the reality is, IT leaders must communicate IT\u2019s accomplishments in a way that people can understand why and how it matters to them.\n\nIn other words, you have to think and act like a marketer, shaping IT\u2019s message in a way that resonates.\n\nThe inability to communicate IT\u2019s value effectively is contributing to many of the frustrations technology organizations are dealing with today \u2014 from not being involved early in the strategic decision-making process, to lack of financial support for key initiatives, to low employee engagement. It\u2019s even affecting perceived impact. An Info-Tech Research Group study found a direct correlation between overall satisfaction with IT and satisfaction with IT communications.\n\nGiant Eagle EVP and CIO Kirk Ball notes that you can\u2019t separate technology from the business anymore; technology is the business. But it takes work to transform long-held perceptions and make your organization\u2019s value proposition tangible for all of your business partners.\n\nIn a recent virtual roundtable conversation, Ball joined Teledoc Health Chief Innovation Officer Claus T. Jensen, Pearson CIO Marykay Wells, and Anna Reuhl, senior director of enterprise architecture for performance materials and coatings IT at Dow, to discuss the strategies they\u2019re using to market their IT organization\u2019s value and how they\u2019re developing a marketing mindset and skillset across their teams.\n\nMessaging matters\n\nNot many IT people jump out of bed and say to themselves, \u201cI cannot wait to go market technology today.\u201d Yet every member of your team is marketing your IT organization every day. Each conversation leaves an impression.\n\nAt the same time, the people we are communicating to are bombarded with thousands of messages daily, of which they remember maybe a dozen. In this exceedingly noisy environment, every word matters. Jargon and acronyms that don\u2019t have any meaning to your business partners just become part of the clutter.\n\nThere\u2019s nothing wrong with being passionate about the bells and whistles of an innovative new technology or the technical nuances behind a cyber risk mitigation plan. But if you can\u2019t talk about them in a natural, relatable way, you\u2019re going to have a hard time getting through to your information-overloaded stakeholders.\n\nPeople want to understand: What\u2019s in it for me? To get buy-in for your initiatives and build your credibility, you have to articulate those benefits \u2014 and the consequences of not implementing the technology \u2014 in the context of business problems and business outcomes.\n\n\u201cWith certain groups, I know that if I don\u2019t adjust the way I\u2019m speaking with them and the vocabulary that I\u2019m using, I could totally lose them in about 30 seconds,\u201d Ball says.\n\nReuhl\u2019s organization at Dow also applies this multilingual approach to communicating with the business by adapting to the language that their audience is most accustomed to.\n\n\u201cWe tend to lean towards manufacturing type of language and storytelling, because that\u2019s the vernacular of 95% of the company. And then on the strategic side, we tend to use vernacular that\u2019s similar to R&D or innovation,\u201d she says. \u201cSo, for me in architecture, when I\u2019m with a group that doesn\u2019t know necessarily what enterprise architecture is, I explain it in the context of how we do R&D and innovation.\u201d\n\nEven simple changes in phrasing can make a huge difference in perceptions. Jensen gives the example of \u201cintegrated\u201d versus \u201caligned.\u201d The words are similar, but they generate different impressions. At a broader level, many CIOs have taken their organizations through internal rebranding efforts in recent years, recognizing that \u201cIT\u201d has very specific connotations that don\u2019t convey the full picture of how they\u2019re driving transformation and outcomes for the business.\n\nThe big takeaway? What we call things matters \u2014 in how others perceive us, whether they\u2019ll listen to us and even in how we perceive ourselves.\n\nThe power of storytelling\n\nOne of the ways great leaders communicate a compelling vision is through storytelling. Pearson\u2019s Wells remembers realizing just how powerful that skill is when Andy Bird joined the company as CEO.\n\n\u201cHe came from Walt Disney International, a company that\u2019s all about storytelling. And it only took listening to him for a few months to understand how more effective he was, as a leader, in communicating his vision in a way that people could actually understand and get behind and then learn how to tell their own version of the stories to their teams,\u201d Wells says.\n\nIn addition to setting that example for others to emulate, we need to provide people with frameworks to help them get beyond the blank page, especially because, as Ball points out, a lot of people simply don\u2019t know how to tell a story well.\n\nReuhl takes an approach that would likely resonate with many of your more process-oriented team members. She uses a whiteboard to chart out the journey of the story she wants to communicate.\n\n\u201cI start with, what is the objective I want to achieve? How do I want the audience to be left when this is done? What do we want them thinking? What do we want them to feel? What do we want them to be asking? I usually do a rough outline that gets me from point A to point B \u2014 from where they are today to the outcome \u2014 and then I work on the content in the middle. But I\u2019m always starting with where I want them to be at the end,\u201d she says.\n\nJensen emphasizes that purpose is paramount. \u201cThere\u2019s a difference between storytelling and telling stories. Make sure you know why you\u2019re telling the story and what you\u2019re trying to achieve so that the story carries the message you want it to.\u201d\n\nHow you deliver the story matters as well. In the storytelling component of Giant Eagle\u2019s leadership academy, participants learn how to use pictures and data to tell the story and how to use metaphors from the audience\u2019s context to help explain how the technology will help them achieve their objectives.\n\nIt\u2019s worth noting that stories don\u2019t always have to be formal, prepared presentations. They can also play an important role in everyday \u201challway marketing.\u201d Interacting with their clients in the course of business, technology professionals can impart their storytelling skills to educate partners and stakeholders, whether to get them excited about the future state or understand where there is a problem.\n\nJensen recalls a moment early in his career when he had a choice to make. He could continue to be the phenomenal expert that no one wants to talk to because of the way he presented information. Or he could become a storyteller, someone who explains what the person needs to know in a way that they can use it.\n\n\u201cI decided to become a storyteller,\u201d he says, \u201cso I could help make a positive impact in the world in a more direct fashion.\u201d\n\nDeveloping a marketing mindset and skillset across IT\n\nEven marketing-savvy IT leaders struggle with getting their teams to adopt a marketing mindset and build those storytelling and communication skills. Jensen, who has sponsored and facilitated a learning program on storytelling for his teams at three different companies, says the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it\u2019s not something they\u2019ve been taught in school. This is going to take them outside their comfort zones, and it\u2019s a process to make that shift.\n\n\u201cI think of it in three stages,\u201d he says. \u201cFirst, you have to change what you do to start changing the narrative of what you do in your organization and how you show up. Then you have to change how you think. Because if you\u2019re not embracing it and doing it yourself, it\u2019s not going to be credible. The third step is changing how you influence.\u201d\n\nThe storytelling program is part of a multi-year learning journey that includes five, six-month, themed semesters that everyone in his organization participates in. Storytelling is so important to him that he dedicates a full semester to this important skill.\n\n\u201cIt makes the point that leadership is not just for executives, that anybody can choose to step up as a leader,\u201d he says. \u201cThis isn\u2019t \u2018training.\u2019 It\u2019s more about realizing, what role do you want to play in the technology world of the future? As the leader, we\u2019re not the ones molding how people show up. They make those choices. We shape the narrative around who we are, who we could be, and why that\u2019s something they have to think about.\u201d\n\nWells is similarly intentional about prioritizing learning for her organization, and those opportunities extend beyond the traditional classroom. Through a program called \u201clearning hours,\u201d technologists meet with their colleagues from the business and have the chance to learn about a new product under development, share ideas, and collaborate.\n\n\u201cYou\u2019re going to lose your audience if you don\u2019t understand how the business works and the value you can provide,\u201d Wells notes. \u201cThis allows them to come together, learn, and teach each other. When they leave, they\u2019re thinking about how what they do impacts what the other does and how they can work together to drive value for the company.\u201d\n\nBuilding bridges with the business not only helps technologists get more comfortable with speaking the language of their audiences, it also gives them more opportunities to understand their partners\u2019 business problems and educate them on how they can help with their needs. Reuhl has seen this dynamic play out at Dow, where they have invested in business relationship teams that are aligned with each of the business segments.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s a two-way bridge,\u201d she says. \u201cWe\u2019re educating the business on what\u2019s going on in IT, and we\u2019re also making sure that the business needs are met through IT.\u201d\n\nMaking marketing part of the strategy\n\nOrganizations that are intentional about developing and executing marketing plans are less apt to fall into the trap of \u201cone and done\u201d and \u201cbroad brush\u201d communication and are more successful in communicating a narrative that positions the technology organization as a strategic partner and innovative anticipator. This is one of the lessons we\u2019ve learned facilitating technology-specific marketing workshops with CIOs and their teams.\n\nBall\u2019s team at Giant Eagle is a good example of how implementing an effective strategy will help ensure marketing remains top of mind.\n\n\u201cWe try to be intentional about the audiences and really convey a story. And it\u2019s not just telling a story outwardly; it\u2019s inward as well,\u201d he says. \u201cI also let the team contribute to the development of the story, because then it\u2019s not mine, it\u2019s ours. Once you get the story told internally then you start to drive consistency through all the different touchpoints and ways in which all of the technology team members tell the story.\u201d\n\nIt\u2019s easy to assume that everyone understands the value the technology organization brings, particularly now that technology is engrained in every aspect of business. But rarely does the work speak for itself. Successful CIOs shape the narrative through effective communication and by building a marketing mindset across their organizations.\n\nAs Wells notes, \u201cOur technology assets are now a considerable part of our assets and our valuation of our company. So we have to have people start thinking about it and talking about it differently to reinforce that technology is what the business is.\u201d\n\nGetting the message across requires an intentional focus to bridge the gaps of miscommunication and reframe perceptions, both within the technology organization and outside it.\n\n\u201cI always tell my team, if your audience doesn\u2019t understand you, that\u2019s your problem, not theirs,\u201d Jensen says. \u201cWhen you\u2019re in a specialized field like the field of technology, you can\u2019t actually expect people to understand you. Sometimes you have to tell them the same thing 17 different times and not be frustrated that it didn\u2019t stick. Because if it didn\u2019t stick, it\u2019s because you didn\u2019t tell the story well enough.\u201d\n\nIt is, as he says, a hard truth. The good news is, we can give our teams the tools to become more effective communicators and ambassadors of the organization. Maybe your folks won\u2019t jump out of bed in the morning thinking about marketing, but they will be better equipped at shaping a narrative that resonates with their audiences and demonstrates the full benefits and value of the technology organization.\n\nThe type of marketing we\u2019re referring to here isn\u2019t about hype or glitz or making a sale. It\u2019s about communicating the art of the possible and being able to tell a story that energizes people to go on the journey with you. The more you do that, the more credible you\u2019ll be, the more trusted you\u2019ll be, and the more opportunities you\u2019ll have to drive business value.