Case Study of IT/Business Misalignment: Web-Branding

Man screaming at this laptopMany business leaders view information technology (IT) as little more than office automation: word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.  IT has changed the workspace, and business functions that once were exclusively the domains of experts in those disciplines must now include integration of the new technologies.

This is an older article of mine; but the point still remains true today.  It should also be noted that some of the details of this case have been subtly changed in order to protect the less than innocent…

Business leaders need to understand how technology changes their discipline; likewise IT managers need to understand business operations in sufficient detail so as to recognize problems early and offer innovation that will benefit the business as solutions become available. 

Failure to align business leaders and IT professionals will result in missed opportunities and eventual failure in the “hyper-competitive” market.

When I was an IT Director, I was often fond of wandering around the offices to get the general pulse of the company and ensure that I understood what people were doing and how my team may be able to help the business.

During one such visit, I was stopped by the Vice President of Marketing and Sales who was proudly showing me “his” new corporate web-site and how his hand-picked external consultants had succeeded in giving them a predominant position on various search engines (this VP felt that he had such an important function, he didn’t want to use the in-house IT team and instead went to external consultants who, invariably, were friends of friends who played with computers a lot).

He sat me down in his chair and told me to type in the name of his premiere product line into Google:  (lets call it Belt-Remote for lack of a better name).

The results came back:  top of the search engine list.

“This is what you get for outsourcing to the right team; our product is TOP of the search engines” he proudly announced.

“Well done” I said.  “So, what’s a Belt-Remote?”

He looked at me as though I was an idiot.  “It’s our industry leading crane remote control.”

“Aah… I see.  So what happens if you search on that”.

“Search on what?” he asked.

“Search on the products function – not the brand name.”

He still looked confused, so I typed in “crane remote control”.

Sure enough, all of our competitor’s websites came up, with our new corporate site nowhere to be found.

He started to look worried.  “Well, that doesn’t matter… because when people want our product, they will come directly to our website.”

“Yes, but if people already know the brand name of your product, they also probably know the company that makes it.  The majority of people searching the web for product info only know what function or tool they are looking for.”

He looked at me dubiously so I sat him down in his chair and told him that we’re going to buy a computer.  I told him to search for “Presario”.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Exactly my point.  Why would you search for a new computer by product or model name?  You would probably look for personal computer or laptop instead, now wouldn’t you?”

It was roughly at this point that I was kicked out of his office due to other “pressing” matters.

This VP was following conventional marketing strategies, which suggest you want your model or band name to be associated with your product and your product only.

How many of us still ask for a Kleenex instead of a facial tissue?  You can still find people that will ask you for a “Xerox” of something instead of a photocopy.

The conventional rules of marketing and branding in the internet work differently however.

Because the consumer is searching through a large wealth of information and products based upon a general description of its function, purpose or tool-set, its better to ensure that any general query about products that match yours come to the top of the search engines.  This is a lesson that our competitors clearly knew and understood.

How could this have been prevented?

The IT staff should have been involved with the product marketing strategy from the on-set.  Too often IT professionals are viewed as just tool providers and technical specialists; they are not seen as being a resource for strategic business decisions.

Because this VP had assumed that IT staff were nothing more than a tool or tactical resource, he saw nor problem with outsourcing to a team that provided him exactly what he asked for:  top ranking on search engines for his branded product – by name.

Unfortunately that wasn’t really what he wanted – but acting upon the difference between what was asked for and what is wanted can’t be easily accomplished if not all the players on the field were in the pre-game brief (or completely ethical).

Business leaders need to understand that not only is technology changing, but the business itself has changed as a result of the technology.

Likewise, IT staff need to not just focus on the tools (and toys) of their profession; it’s essential that they understand what the business does, what it needs, and how they may have done things in the past.

It’s only through the cooperation and integration of business and information technology teams that real long-term success can be achieved.

Author: Stephen Holton, PMP, CISSP, SSGB, ITIL, CD

After completing over twelve years service in the Canadian Armed Forces, Stephen moved to private industry where he was employed as a Director of Information Technology, Director of Operations and CIO for a number of private sector companies before finally electing to become an independent consultant in 2000. Since then he’s served as a management consultant, project/program manager and business analyst/solution architect in a number of industries and organizations - including a big-5 consulting firm. These industries and organizations have included the airline, railway, telecommunications and banking industries, the Canadian and US Governments, as well as mandates in Brazil and Bermuda. Presently Steve lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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