IT’s value as a marketing device

I worked for and with a CEO at one time who I really respected as a person and as a business leader. There was one particular habit he had that never quite sat right with me, and that was wanting to publicize the technologies that we bought into some kind of marketing release.

Now, I like marketing as much as the next sysadmin. OK, that’s a lie – I actually don’t mind doing marketing. The problem is that he always wanted to publicize the really mundane purchases that we made. His take was, “we just spent thousands of dollars on new servers; lets try to get some return on them”.

I’m not sure that he really understood that the return was what the servers did, but I suppose you can’t fault him for trying to get some marketing. The issue was that we weren’t exactly buying world-class anythings. The biggest infrastructure migration I did involved replacing the entire server stack with recently EOL’d 1955 Poweredge Blades…not exactly something that you want to advertise, but the company was used to a shoestring budget, so paying $40,000 for two blade chassis full of machines, plus our first SAN storage array plus a new database server plus a (1) fibre channel switch may have seemed like a big deal on the CapEx line, but my boss and I did as much as we could to assure him that it wasn’t.

I was thinking about that situation not too long ago, and it occurred to me that the whole time I was downplaying the technology we used, I should have been talking up what we did with it. I’m not going to say I was cutting edge, but there were a few years where the service uptime was significantly above 4 9s, and I know of at least one where it was 5 9s. Granted, I’m not saying it couldn’t have gone down, but it didn’t. Ex post facto, you can declare whatever uptime you actually achieved.

The marketing line shouldn’t have been “we use worldclass hardware” (because we didn’t, and couldn’t claim that), it should have been “We do amazing things with technology”, which was true, because we did.

Am I alone here? Has your company ever asked you for pictures of the racks and information to do marketing with? How did you handle it?

  • Okay, so my entire career has been in academia, and we do sometimes get world-class hardware, so keep that in mind…

    It’s really all about the target audience, isn’t it? New hardware purchases, however mundane, can be marketed well to customers and stakeholders. When you try to use it as a general marketing tool, especially in competition, that’s when you may end up looking silly. Knowing what your competitors infrastructure is like might help, too. If the other players in your space have even older and crappier hardware, your mundane purchase looks great by comparison.

  • Another academic sysadmin, and it’s a regular part of marketing for us — but since we’re not a business, it’s for recruiting and grant applications. We’re a computational department, so our equipment (which is strictly middle-of-the-road) is on display to convince potential faculty members that we’re a player, they’ll get good stuff, they’ll have a good place to put their good stuff (yep, the fact that we have a proper server room is a bragging point), and so on. I’m also asked regularly for a summary of our equipment for grant applications…enough so that I’ve got boilerplate on the wiki that I can cut and paste as needed.

  • Charles Gillanders

    It’s alway’s about what you do with it….

    I’m CTO of a small firm competing globally with others who are 100 times bigger than us, we survive and thrive only by by using technology more cleverly and with more agility than our larger competitors.

    We’ve always tried to find how we can market that technology difference; even when sometimes we are using the exact same software tools as our competitors there’s usually an angle we can take to show how we do it better than others.

    Small firms are very often the one’s trying out new things and looking for efficiencies and better ways of conducting business and we should shout it out loudly whenever find something that improves what we do and how we do it.

  • While we never publish hardware/software purchases etc., we always do some press releases to show how globally diverse our infrastructure is. More to show the clients that we hard on minimizing the downtime.

  • We are using world class technology because we need it. We just moved our main DC this year and all of this was done because we integrated stuff like Cisco UCS or NetApp Datamotion for vFiler.

    Don’t get me wrong. You can do shit even with world class stuff. What I think we are good at is to understand where all this goes and being fast in get it done in production.

    Make dream possible.

  • I work for a small MSP, and the owner always wants for us to blog the fixes and projects and so forth.

    I can sort of understand the fixes for unusual issues, but often it’s little bits that I think “Err, really? That’s common knowledge for technical people, and if they’re non-technical they probably shouldn’t be performing these fixes anyway!” or “But, but but, I’m just using wget?”

    Being a MSP I also don’t necessarily see the value in blogging technical things, as we typically aren’t targetting customers with technical staff. They don’t need us, so why would they care about technical articles, or pictures of racks?”

  • Luís

    Hi Matt, You are definitely no alone here!

    I also run a small infrastructure by myself for around ten years (10) without any hardware update since then. Nothing more than an HDD replacement or a CPU fan…

    I completely understand and review myself in your words.

    “We do amazing things with technology”, this is a pretty good statement to put on a CV!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge.

  • Dan

    Once upon a time I worked in the printing industry and it was very common in the ’90s for companies to publish equipment lists. This is fine when you have a lot of big presses or something really interesting that few others have but our marketing idiots wanted to list all sorts of mundane things; the best was a description of our light tables with “high resolution edges.” A real head shaker for the folks in production!

  • Guaitaku

    I used to work with a rack of servers from a Image Processing enterprise, and when some things became worse (less customers) they told me to try to get as much as possible from the “unused” servers resources (yes, if the server CPU load was, when not processing, just 10%, the other 90% shoud be used as a new service). It was frustrating trying to convince the CEO that the resources of the server aren’t only numbers that can be “sold” if they were’nt at 100% all the time.

  • Your headline actually got me thinking of the advice that you want to be on the side of the company that drives revenue, and not the side of the company that is viewed as a “cost center” and IT usually falls in the latter half.

    So, internally, at least, marketing IT’s ability to add value to the business IS important. If IT is mindful of communication the value they are delivering to the business, it gives the business itself one more potential thing for boosting the business itself. IT says “we do great things with technology” then Marketing says “we do great things with technology” then when IT needs to make the case for money, they can illustrate how they are driving the company forward, and not merely a cost center to be contained for the sake of the margin.

    Anyway, I like this concept of bragging less about your equipment than what you manage to deliver with it. There’s then that further inference as to what you might achieve with a better budget for better equipment. Or, at least an inference as to where the salary bonus pool might be allocated, anyway. :)