Late last week Steve Woodruff dropped me an email asking me to be a guest blogger for his Branding Wire project. I was psyched to be asked as a small wave of panic came over me. Some of the most respected branding/marketing bloggers in the world participate in this group. Each month this group of experts takes on a unique branding challenge. The advice is free to the company who serves as the case as well as to those of us who read their isights. Among them Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Steve Woodruff, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Derrick Daye, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll and Olivier Blanchard. Here is my take on this month's challenge.
As a quick summary, this month's challenge is from a small Canadian IT company. They are capable of handling all of their SMB client IT needs, but they're challenged when it comes to using marketing and PR to grow their business to its full potential. A growth area that they're moving into is Green IT services whereby they help companies leave less of an environmental footprint. The company has leveraged non-profit work to grow to their current level, but want to expand into larger enterprises who have more demand for their services.
The company has fallen into a situation where a lot of small IT firms wind up. They provide extremely valuable services, have great service, impact the bottom line in a positive way, BUT they're seen as an necessary evil, an ancillary commodity. So how can they move past that?
Thinkers only become thought leaders when they share what they know.
You're an expert, share like it.
The people working at this company are IT experts. They keep up on industry trends, know when virus alerts are being issued, know why (or why not) to install Windows Vista, how to mainstream back office systems and more. That's all well and good, but they're missing a huge opportunity. Share it! Thinkers only become thought leaders when they share what they know. Create white papers that can immediately add value or show a need. Give presentations or host lunch discussions for IT folks to stay up to date on the latest and greatest or just discuss best practices. This company also needs to join the conversation economy and create a strategic social media plan to reach the community.
Listen: Find where people in the area are sharing their IT problems and advice and help out. Offer your advice in message boards, join LinkedIn and take part in their Answers area. This step is about building online credentials as IT experts. Take a strategic approach to this and seek out enterprise problems/solutions and avoid the one-off consumer issues to maximize effort. You never know who will see your replies.
Blog: Kill the corporate site as you know it right now. Chances are your shop looks like 99.9% of the other sites out there. This will help to set you apart. You should add in basic content that explains the services and processes you use, but your thinking is what you need to showcase. Share what you know through a blog. This is key. The blog serves as your hub for activity, a two-way conversation with whomever finds it.
Engage employees throughout the company to give more of a personal touch to the content, but stay focused. Reach out to current customers to add value and send it to people you want to work with as an introduction to your company. Be THE IT resource for the area's businesses and work with the press to make sure they know you've built this blog and offer to help whenever any IT news comes up.
Twitter: Create an account on Twitter, a social presence service, and focus on informing the community of IT issues in real time. Twitter will strategically position the company as a resource to learn about breaking IT news for your area and beyond. Value is added by the immediacy of the information and it's also a great platform to promote blog posts as they're published. Twitter is also very tech-forward and possibly PR worthy in using it to inform IT staff of potential problems and solutions.
Keep the messages simple.
One of the biggest hurdles for anyone in IT is a lack of understanding from the rest of the enterprise. IT people have dug this grave themselves by years of talking in tech-babble and overcomplicating things that should be simple. The goal for this company needs to be to keep IT simple. Focus on the big picture, explain things with visuals, and always show the end-result's impact on the company. If people understand what you're talking about, they'll be more ready to place value on it. Every blog post should end with a recommendation or suggested call to action, not a sales pitch. It's about adding value over time.
Be a partner not a vendor.
This is a problem with most service firms. Are you just another invoice that goes out at the end of the month or do you have the president's ear? There are a couple of ways to help shift from a vendor to a partner.
Staffed solution: One way that companies like IBM and EDS become a partner is by having a physical person in the office of the client. As this company starts to grow into larger contracts, they should look into setting up staffed solutions where a company pays them a monthly charge to cover this individual. The company benefits from this service as it saves the client company from having to pay the salary + benefits of the individual (quickly proves ROI), they get a better response time and the IT shop gets all of the intangibles that come along with it (conversations, infrastructure knowledge, meeting attendance, etc.).
Enhance current customer services: This company does a very good job of providing its clients with detailed end-of-month reporting on the work done, but it focuses on the cost and not the value. They should look for ways to touch on the ROI of what they do on each hour spent. Use the invoice to suggest new improvements, make sure it's easy to understand and pass along to others. If work completed now would have cost more later, figure out the savings and promote it.
Act like a high-price partner: The EDSs and IBMs of the world focus on ROI, provide great service, thought leadership and most importantly they make their clients look good. Our company should look for opportunities to promote their clients by press mentions, speaking on panels, etc. Wether or not they go with the embedded staffing solution, the company needs to use their knowledge of customer's systems to provide broad, reaching strategic recommendations along with specific, tactical implementation. Larger companies support the enterprise and this company needs to do the same even on smaller project work when there is larger potential.
The green IT movement is in its infancy, but growing steadily with each passing day. The companies that move in and explain the intricacies in simple terms will probably win out in the end. This should have its own identity for the company. Green logo, category on the blog and an email newsletter to promote it. Get a separate URL for the service to link to the category on the blog along with explanations of how it can be implemented and a DIY savings calculator.
This could be a very easy item to get PR attention (both for the IT company as well as the company implementing the solution) since it's such a national hot-button. Reach out to potential customers with this message and offer to provide a Green IT audit. A quick checklist and report on what they could do and how it falls into your niche. Also check if there is a financial benefit for companies who implement Green IT solutions. Follow up with local government as well to make sure this is on their radar as a legitimate green measure.
Overall it sounds like this company is on its way to success by making sure the service level is high as well as moving into progressive new markets like Green IT. It's time to step up the game, start thinking bigger, acting bigger and sharing information more readily to get new clients and influence existing ones. The blog, and other social media outlets, provide a base for sharing knowledge, but the personal interactions and strategic thinking are what will win new accounts and grow existing ones.
For more thoughts on this topic check out the other author's blogs: