Wake Up, IT! It's All About Marketing

By Charles Araujo  |  Posted 02-19-2014
Digital, thinking man, pain point

Wake Up, IT! It's All About Marketing

By Charles Araujo

Editor's note: This is the second installment of an eight-part article series titled "Seven Steps to a Next-Generation IT Organization." To read the first installment, click here.

"You're supposed to teach and I’m supposed to learn. For four days I've been bustin' my ****, and haven't learned a thing."

These two lines open my favorite scene from the 1984 movie The Karate Kid. Daniel, the teenage student of the old and wise karate master Mr. Miyagi, is frustrated and angry. Mr. Miyagi has reluctantly agreed to teach him karate on the condition that Daniel does whatever he's instructed to do without question. For four days, Mr. Miyagi proceeds to have Daniel wash his car, sand his decks and paint his fence. Daniel decides that he has had enough and is preparing to storm out when Mr. Miyagi tells him simply, "Ah, not everything is as it seems." He proceeds to show Daniel that the motions he was doing are the fundamental building blocks of karate. Daniel came to understand that he needed to learn the motions purely for their own sake before he could learn to properly apply them. (In our Catalyst Experience events we call this the "wax on, wax off moment.")

The story of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi has significant relevance to all of us as IT professionals as we transition into next-generation IT organizations. Like the impatient Daniel who is so focused on "doing" that he missed the fundamental essence of karate, many IT organizations have forgotten or missed the true essence of what it means to be in IT. Because the truth is we're not in the technology business. We're in the marketing business.

It's All About the Customer

For many people, marketing is just slightly above a curse word. I think this is particularly true for IT folks. All of that slimy pitching and selling is the complete opposite of what IT people are about, right? The truth is that real marketing is neither slimy nor even about selling anything to anyone. True marketing is about having a deep understanding of your customers' challenges, issues or desires and then creating solutions that help them fulfill that need. Real marketing is focused on only one thing: the customer. And just as Mr. Miyagi needed to break karate down into its simplest and most pure form, we must do the same with the business of IT. We need to break it down and realize that everything we do in IT must be solely about the customer.

The True Essence of IT

When we conduct our first in a series of seven Catalyst Experiences, there's a nasty surprise in store for participants: we don't talk about IT at all. We use reality TV-like game dynamics to have teams execute a series of activities that help them better understand a customer. They are given a scenario and tasked to conduct market research; develop a customer profile; design mock ads that communicate their product's value; create a focus group to gather customer feedback; and produce a product prototype and then deliver a pitch to a mock investment group that demonstrates their understanding of the market, desired customer value, and how they can meet it.

The experience can leave participants rather perplexed as they try to sort out how any of this has anything to do with IT. So, we often have a few "wax on, wax off" moments where we explain that all of this marketing is actually the true essence of what IT is all about: understanding our customers intimately; deeply connecting with their challenges, issues, desires and the emerging opportunities; and crafting technology-enabled products and solutions to fill that need. The key to our future success in IT can be found in well-established marketing theory and practices. Who knew?

Wake Up, IT! It's All About Marketing

Time for a Wake-Up Call

We use this reality TV-type format for two reasons. One, it is fun, which helps us break down resistance. But with that resistance lowered, we can achieve our second and real purpose: waking everyone up. The process and the realization of how marketing applies to IT is often startling. That's our intent. There is a lot of inertia and legacy beliefs within IT organizations. There is a lot of cynicism and jaded feelings of "this too shall pass." Therefore, the first step to creating a next-generation IT organization is to shake people up. You need them to take a big step back and realize that all of the focus on technology must be secondary—that the real focus must be on the customer and on the value the customer receives. Period. That's where this process begins.

First Steps to Marketing Success

As an IT leader, it's up to you to begin this process. You must wake up your team and help them see that IT is all about marketing—the real kind. And it's important to note that the order of activities is deliberate. Your team will not be receptive to the idea that it's all about marketing until you wake them up. So, start there. But don't wimp out and just hold another town hall, staff meeting or conference call. If you want to wake people up, you need to do something unexpected and out of the ordinary. Make it fun and make sure that it drives home that it's all about the customer. Then begin the educational process. But more than just education or theory, you need your team put this into practice. One of the things that we do in our IT transformation boot camps is to record video commitments where team members make specific promises to change their behavior and approach things differently. One client uses written team commitments. But whatever you do, you must ensure that your team makes the commitment to do what it takes to reorient themselves into a customer-first and marketing mindset.

Just like Daniel, you and your IT team want to get on with it and get things done. But as Mr. Miyagi demonstrated, the true path to success will begin with a little bit of "wax on, wax off." 

About the Author

Charles Araujo is a recovering consultant and accidental author of the book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. He is an internationally recognized authority on IT Leadership and liberally shares his message of hope about the future of IT and what it means for all of us. He is the founder and CEO of the IT Transformation Institute and serves on the boards of itSMF USA and the Executive Next Practices Institute. You can follow him at @charlesaraujo.

To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Seven Steps to a Next-Generation IT Organization," click here.