Start with what the customers need and want, not with what you do
The brand you have for IT in your organisation may not be the brand you need. If it’s based on taking cost out of the enterprise and providing reliable services at an affordable price, it won't carry your IT department very far in an enterprise that is transforming its business model to promote rapid growth.
The expectations of the people your IT department serves are increasing. Every single employee lives in a digital world that strives to customise itself to their preferences — and then they come to work.
Moving the IT organisation into the front office or digital business is like moving into a new market. These new, unfamiliar customers are less interested in automating business processes. They’re more interested in delivering new services or experiences to customers or client-serving staff. What's more, they have little to no interest in helping you get to know them better.
A brand can be intentional and cultivated, or it can be assigned to you, which means giving up control over your fate. But you and your IT department will have a brand, one way or the other.
Many CIOs, however, aren’t comfortable with explicitly cultivating a brand. Perhaps you’d rather let your work speak for itself. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn't still help your customers with the interpretation.
As a CIO, how can you develop an intentional brand for your IT organisation to meet the challenge of digital business?
Start by repositioning your department, building your brand story and encouraging advocacy, which will accelerate understanding and excitement for your new brand. You can then reward that excitement and trust with the delivery of high-value services across your organisation.
Reposition your department
Even leading IT organisations with top CIOs need to reposition themselves and their organisation for digital business. The mission you're called on to do is different from the mission around which you've built your current brand. Repositioning IT is a lot more about doing than saying.
Without repositioning, all constituents may form their own opinions, creating a diverse, confusing view of your IT department across the organisation. As your IT teams evolve your organisational capabilities and seek to build a credible brand, start with positioning what your department is, what it isn’t and what makes it different from alternatives.
You can't be known for being good at everything. Start with what the customers need and want, not with what you do - this shifts the focus to the people you serve.
Even leading IT organisations with top CIOs need to reposition themselves and their organisation for digital business.
Build your brand story
Your brand story tells people who you are and what you're about – it's much more than a marketing message. Building a great narrative about your IT organisation not only tells customers what to expect, but also helps point the way to people inside IT as to the desired behaviours and the department's reputation.
For others to understand your new brand or positioning, you need to create stories about it. Storytelling connects with people emotionally and provides a framework for understanding beyond simply listing facts or capabilities.
The most effective storytelling focuses on the situation – what’s been going on with the audience before a change; the impact —the reason the current situation shouldn’t be accepted and the urgency for change; and the resolution —the new approach that will address the issues of the past and produce a better future for the audience.
These stories should be authentic and reflect the stakeholder's perspective. You’re changing not because you want to do something different or your team doesn’t like their current work. The stories should show why it's good for others and the organisation.
Encouraging advocacy is about developing the best kind of marketing there is: what other people do for you by word of mouth. You do a lot to help your enterprise succeed, so you should be able to get others to stand up for you.
Your brand isn’t what you say you are; it’s what your stakeholders believe you are. Once you have your positioning and brand story, you need others to embrace it and tell it for you. Telling your story more often in more places will not help. Having many voices carrying the story for you will.
Identify the best advocates to tell your brand story by thinking about the personality of individuals in the context of the business environment. Individual personalities exist within project teams that accelerate consensus and decisions or inhibit them.
Prioritise those who focus on organisational improvement and are prone to champion new ideas, as well as those that are effective at rallying others into action. If you encounter and convert skeptics whom you and your advocates convince to buy into the story, leverage them as well. These aren’t strong detractors; rather, they need proof to believe. If you can convert them, they may become some of your most passionate supporters.
Hank Barnes is a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. He advises startups and emerging technology providers on go-to-market strategies that target the enterprise sector. He focuses on issues related to understanding and adapting marketing and sales approaches to the technology customer life cycle and how to embrace a strategic marketing mindset.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.