Link up with Influential IT

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Companies selling to this audience must keep in mind that IT executives play an increasingly important role in their companies, said John Mannion, exec VP-director of client relations at ad agency Doremus, San Francisco, which has several IT-focused clients. "It used to be that information technology was an added aspect to your business or an operational aspect of your business," he said. "But in today's service-oriented economies, with the way people work and the way they share information, now IT could easily be part of the deliverables of your company."

Advertising and marketing that recognize IT executives' increased responsibility and importance at their companies will be more successful, Mannion said.

In the past, IT ads often had a negative emphasis, said Dave Rowe, VP-media director at Doremus. "The typical ad, if you go back 20 years, showed the IT guy or the network manager hiding under his desk and a lot of angry users looking for him," Rowe said. "It was very defensive, about avoiding problems and how the IT guy lived in fear that things were going to go wrong. What we're seeing now is more that the IT guy is more forward-looking, [because] there are a lot of instances where CIOs have gone on to lead their companies as CEOs."

Where to reach them

More-established forms of online media—such as white papers, case studies and webcasts—continue to be popular choices for IT professionals and the marketers targeting them. But newer online channels that enable interactivity and engagement—like videos, virtual trade shows and blogs—are becoming a more important piece of the marketing mix, said Marilou Barsam, senior VP-client consulting and corporate marketing at IT media company TechTarget Inc. (see Q&A page at right), which recently completed a study, "TechTarget 2008 Media Consumption Benchmark Report: Perception Versus Reality of the IT Pro and the IT Marketer."

The report found, however, that IT professionals are moving to the aforementioned newer online media faster than IT marketers are. "There's less assurance with the [newer] media that ROI will be evident, and so marketers are reluctant to spend on the unfamiliar, especially in tight times," she said.

Another problem may be that marketers aren't yet sure how to influence third-party blogs and other social media, Mannion said. "The rules have not really been written there, and the skills that it takes to participate on those communities are pretty taxing," he said. "I haven't yet seen too many companies figure that out."

SAS has been reaching out to its IT audience with newer online media such as blogs and Web seminars, Patel said, in part because these channels allow the company to provide the specifics that IT professionals seek. "They are analytical and they want more details," he said. "In Web-based environment, you can do a Web seminar where you focus much more deeply and provide those details."

Meanwhile, traditional media channels such as print advertising are still part of an integrated marketing effort, Mannion said. "The perception among a lot of clients is that print is on the downside, and it's pretty hard to argue with when you pick up magazines and they are getting thinner," he said. "But study after study that we're seeing [says] that print isn't dead yet."

In fact, integrated campaigns are key, Barsam said, because IT professionals consume different media depending on where they are in the sales cycle. "If you're a marketer, for you to run an effective campaign to reach an IT pro, you need to be using all of those media types or you're going to miss the boat in capturing certain leads at certain stages," she said.

For example, she said, IT professionals who are far along in the sales cycle may want trial downloads or to receive a vendor demonstration. "They want it incorporated in the [marketer's] campaign because it makes it easier for them to download [the trial] or click a box saying, `Yes, I'd like a demo of this."

Unfortunately, she said, many marketers are not offering these end-stage options as often as they should be because the cost per lead is higher. However, she stressed, the quality of those end-stage leads are much higher, as well.

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