In this month’s installment of BrandingWire, the BrandingWire team focuses on a small IT services company. Here is a snippet of this company’s cry for help:
Would you say branding coffee and shoes and beer and other “lifestyle” products is easier than branding… say, a small high tech services company? I’ve been working in marketing for this sort of company for a short while, and have found it to be quite a challenge to really get a grasp of our brand.
How can providing IT services be cool, let alone sexy?
Background: This company is a small IT company based in Canada. They offer IT services which range from proactive work, such as maintaining a network, emergency services (when things go down), and consulting services (various projects, such as help upgrading all office PCs to Macs). They are also beginning to offer a new service called Green IT. This service helps companies learn how to cut down on both energy use and waste through the optimization of IT.
The company asked for BrandingWire’s assistance in two key areas:
- Ideas to get current clients to see them as more than just “fix-it” services, perhaps even partners for business.
- Ideas to help bring in new clients who already understand the value of IT services and who will choose them over competitors.
(Note: You can find the full branding brief at BrandingWire.)
Branding and marketing services can be difficult, as the buyer doesn’t have a product to touch or to see. IT services in particular are somewhat complex and difficult to explain. Most aspects of IT services can only be assessed after the service has been performed, and even then, explaining what was fixed may not be straightforward.
Let’s go back to one important aspect of branding for a minute: associations. I like the way it was described in this post from CIO Magazine about branding IT departments internally:
When automakers brand their product, they’re hoping to sell fun, sex and adventure, along with their cars. Similarly, if your end users’ only image of your IT staff is as the people to call when their printer isn’t working, then they’re not thinking of you to help solve strategic business problems.
For a long time, IT services have been viewed as a necessary evil rather than as a key component of successful business. Companies see IT services as a place to go get help when something breaks with their computers or systems. Sometimes the IT services professional is seen as just a part of the facilities – no different from the electrician or telephone guy.
Helping Customers See the Light
There is a lot of potential for marketing and branding this Canadian IT services company. I would recommend focusing first on existing customers and their needs.
Understand your customers’ needs and pain points. Which part of their operations are critical? Which depend on IT being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? How many minutes of system down-time can be tolerated, if any? Where could an improvement in IT make their operations more efficient? Once these needs are understood, it is easier to frame the IT services offerings in the context of the business needs.
Take out the jargon. Explain it simply. Enough said.
Tie results to business goals. Rather than a report card of each minute served on the customer’s behalf, tie it back to their business issues and goals. How does each service help them achieve their end goals (which you now understand from your customer needs research)? Put yourself in their shoes as you write your annual report card, and then present it personally if possible. You will appear to be more of a partner than a “service provider”.
Go for the Green. Introducing “Green IT” to existing customers is a strong cross-sell for two reasons. First, it is a great way for customers who want to be seen as part of something larger than just IT. Green IT can help customers meet their stated/unstated goals of social responsibility, which is becoming very popular in the business world.
Second, the understanding of the total cost of owning and operating a company’s technology (called Total Cost of Ownership or TCO) may get organizations to start thinking about energy consumption differently. This is a good conversation to have with a company’s CFO or CEO. Getting in at this level will also begin to raise the visibility of IT services, and discussions can start on the strategic nature of IT services (rather than just being “fix-it” services).
Make sure you have the right customers. If some of your customers will never see you as anything more than emergency, fix-it now services, you may want to reconsider keeping them as customers. If they are willing to pay the fees for this type of service and are satisfied, keep them – and see if you can grow to be a trusted advisor over time. If there is a lot of complaining and grumbling when the bill arrives, and there is not a chance they will ever “see the light”, you might suggest they go with one of your competitors. This strategy is not for the faint, but by aligning yourself with customers who value your services, you enable potential referrals to the right kind of customers in the future.
Grow the Business
Once you have focused on existing customers in this manner, you should be growing some true evangelists for your company. Enlist them to help you bring in new, like-minded clients through referrals. This could be done through an official referral program or by engaging them in relationship-building conversations such as a blog about your services, with some of your best customers as guest authors.
You should also have a pretty good idea what your ideal customer looks and acts like by now. Go out and prospect in the areas where you can find more customers like them!
IT is Critical
Keep it as simple as possible. Thanks go to Paul Wallis at CIO Magazine for a thought-provoking piece on his blog; the post is entitled IT Exists for One Reason. This almost makes it cool to be an IT geek! An excerpt is below:
Data flow is critical today
Today, business resources and IT assets are either providers of data, consumers of data or provide the conduit through which the data can flow.
The flow of data between business assets is the life-blood of every modern organisation.
People provide and consume data daily, as do applications and systems. Hardware and cables act as conduits through which data flows: between desks, through office and corporate networks, across the internet, through deep sea cables and via satellites.
Across all businesses, the equivalents of the pipes, valves, pumps, meters and sensors of the oil and gas industry are the people, hubs, cables, routers, servers, and desktops through which data flows.
Data flow is at the heart of 21st century business. Supporting, processing and optimising the flow of data are critical to maximising business performance.
The sole reason for IT’s existence is to manage the flow of data.
Get more high-voltage ideas at BrandingWire.
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