Marketing IT Infrastructure, Part 1: Defining the Challenge

Marketing IT infrastructure is hard. In this first post of a five-part series, we explain why IT presents such a tough marketing challenge. The next four posts tackle tactics for lead and content generation for IT infrastructure.

Everyone wants to market to IT.

Marketing to IT is so popular because IT controls a ton of money. According to Gartner Research, IT infrastructure and services spend in 2018 will reach $3.5 trillion, and that spend will increase to more than $4 trillion by 2022.

As a result, CIOs and IT leaders are popular people. An endless stream of hardware, software and services reps want to give them demos, sell them upgrades, invite them to seminars and webinars and wine and dine them at trade shows and industry events. IT people are jaded from all the marketing aimed at them and are pretty much immune to most of it.

The IT decision-maker is busy and doesn’t want to talk to you.

Most of the people reading this post are marketers. They’re reading this article on their laptop while sitting at a desk. Marketers are pretty easy to reach:

  • Big screens mean lots of real estate for display ads plus multiple tabs to explore the odd advertisement that catches a marketer’s attention. Let’s face it. Most marketers have pretty short attention spans. (It’s not a bad thing.
    Look! Squirrel!)
  • Most publications aimed at marketers are very ad-friendly.
  • Marketers rarely suppress digital ads and usually don’t go out of their way to evade cookies.
  • Marketers tend toward extroversion. Giving away their contact information isn’t as big a deal as it is to others.

In contrast, most of the periodicals IT leaders frequent are industry publications that tend to be crazily expensive with banner ads costing $60–120 per CPM (or about 40X the cost of typical “premium” consumer banners). Director-level and implementors spend the vast majority of their time on community sites like Hacker News or Reddit that are decidedly unfriendly to ads.

  • The increasing ease of ad blocking disproportionally impacts marketers seeking IT eyeballs.
  • Tracking IT folks with cookies is even harder. They have multiple devices, often multiple browsers per device, and many delete cookies and hide their IP addresses as a matter of habit.
  • IT folks tend to feel strongly about privacy and despise sales calls and are generally loath to give up their contact details.
  • IT pros are known for their intensity and concentration. They work long hours and they typically don’t have time to wander about the web. If they are on the web, they are usually looking for specific information to solve a current problem.
  • On average, IT decision-makers download only 7 pieces of content before making a major IT infrastructure decision. There are literally millions of pieces of content aimed at this audience.
In other words, the competition to reach IT eyeballs is eye-wateringly steep.

IT leaders think they’re smarter than you.

This isn’t as arrogant as it might seem. In many ways, IT professionals are smarter than most people. They recognize patterns quickly and are often great at complex math, and they thrive on doing research and learning new things. Computer research and information scientists mostly have master’s degrees—and that’s just for the entry-level roles. Advanced degrees in math or technology are common, especially as newer technologies like big data, visualizations, virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence become mainstream.

Most IT folks have an educational background that emphasized a fact- and statistics-based approach to evaluating problems and solutions. They like analysis, proof points, process and procedures.

Maybe they’re not smarter than you, but many of the IT folks are smarter and more educated than most. So they often assume they’re the smartest person in the room, whether they are or not.

IT decision-makers don’t like the idea of “frivolous” marketing people trying to influence the “objective” plan they’ve laid out for selecting their next big investment.

The “Marketing Isn’t Important” Delusion

There is an overwhelmingly common delusion among engineers and other technical folks that they are too smart for marketing to impact their decision-making. You can cite studies that show this to be completely false until you’re blue in the face without changing a single mind, despite their professed commitment to fact-based decision-making.

I’ve found a more effective tactic is to wait for a break in the conversation and bring the conversation around to discussing the largest tech infrastructure companies in any given vertical… and then toss in the seemingly innocuous comment that “With that market cap… they obviously have the best technology/product in the market.” When the inevitable retort comes back that their technology is crap, that it’s all marketing…. just arch an eyebrow. The point is made.

You seem too smart to be in marketing.

Let’s face it, many engineers and IT folks just plain don’t respect marketing as a profession. This can make for frustrating meetings and budget decisions… especially for early marketing hires at relatively young companies. This usually isn’t as a big a problem at more established companies, because the ones that don’t invest in marketing usually don’t grow (or survive).

More than once, I’ve ended a great initial meeting with a technical founder or division head who shook his (yes—they were all male) head and said something to the effect of “You seem smart. How did you end up in marketing?” I don’t think they ever mean it as anything but a compliment, but it’s emblematic of the inherent bias that almost all marketing professionals face in this field—our target audience is inherently distrustful of everything we say.

Engineers will call “bullshit” on your marketing BS.

All that said, the sad reality is that waaay too many marketers earn the scorn of their engineering brethren by writing fluffy, even nonsensical, marketing copy. My personal belief is that most writers fall back on jargon, acronyms and vague claims because they don’t truly understand the product or the relevant use cases. This is a huge challenge for both startups and larger marketing departments. Finding people who are both experts in marketing and who truly understand (and care about) your product is really hard.

Avoid vague claims. If your mom can’t tell what your product does by reading your collateral, try again.

Look at your collateral and count up all the buzzwords. Then count the buzzwords on your competitor’s collateral. The object of the game is to not be the one who shoehorned the most buzzwords into the smallest amount of text.

The winner is the company with the clearest, most concise definition of what their product does, how it does it and how the solution benefits specific prospects, backed up with credible proof points.

One of these proof points must be a high-level discussion of the recipe of your secret sauce! If your product is qualitatively better than existing solutions, you must explain at an architectural level how you’ve achieved this—or no one will believe any of your claims. In any given category, there are almost always multiple companies that will claim to do whatever it is that you are touting in terms of benefits and features—you need to convince your prospects that you can actually make good on those claims.

The IT team is unlikely to take even well-crafted and assiduously backed-up marketing claims at face value. If your writers start spewing poorly understood buzzwords at them, IT folks will tune you out completely.

Most marketing aimed at IT looks and sounds the same.

Take a look at a trade magazine or walk the floors of a conference and start a game of office bingo, giving points for every instance of happy young millennials bending toward a multicolored graph on a screen, people sitting around a conference table looking serious while looking at a projected graph, people holding iPads and looking competent while talking to a user, IT guys standing in front of their staff radiating leadership, and innumerable close-ups of screens, devices and computers displaying obviously fake but very colorful screens.

Sometimes there are good reasons for taking such a standardized approach—but be aware that when you’re marketing to IT professionals with this kind of stock concept, you’re going to struggle to stand out in a crowd of clones.

Many marketers conflate the imperative to look like a serious solution with a perceived need to conform with stuffy stereotypes. You can use a color other than dark blue and still sell to enterprise.

Embrace your true identity.

“We need to look big and serious. Model it on what Cisco does.”
In my mind, this is a terrible idea. First off all, you can no longer hide how big your organization is. There’s this thing called the internet and especially LinkedIn. If you’re a startup, no one is going to confuse your company with Cisco—even if you do rip off its colors and icons.

Be yourself. Be unique. If you’re a startup or a challenger brand, embrace it and clearly articulate why buyers should take a risk on going with the small guy.

Next week, we’ll tackle segmenting your audience and creating an impactful message for each segment.

To be notified as soon as the next blog segment on marketing to IT is published (and get the whole series as an eBook with exclusive bonus content), just give us your email.

This is the first of a multi-part series on marketing IT Infrastructure. Others in the series:
Messaging and Segmentation
Distributing Your Message
Content Creation
Measuring and Optimizing Results.

Rich Quarles

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