Branding IT: Logos, slogans sell the IT message

Creating a slogan or even a logo might be the best way to promote your team internally

Making an IT organization act like a business is no small job. Letting your internal business customers know you're doing so is just as crucial, particularly today, when business leaders are scrutinizing the performance of every department.

Enter the idea of making IT a brand. As IT works to transform its culture from serving technology to serving customers, some leaders are concluding that the best way to communicate what their often misunderstood and overlooked organizations can do is to put a face on the department.

In the spirit of Nike ("Just Do It"), Burger King ("Have It Your Way") and nearly every product or service sold today, some CIOs are looking at the idea of creating logos and slogans not only to convey who IT is and what it can offer, but also to ensure that business clients won't forget it.

At the Oregon Department of Transportation, CIO Ben Berry has been working for more than a year to redefine his IT organization and develop a plan to market the services it offers. The project will culminate this summer in the rollout of an interactive portal that, among other things, will trumpet IT's success in meeting service levels and provide a conduit for two-way user communication.

Splashed on the portal Web page, and on any communiqué emanating from IT, will be a logo and a slogan that -- Berry hopes -- will convey the essence of the transportation department's IT unit and sear it in the minds of users throughout the agency. "It's a new concept, but we're changing our culture, and it's something we think is necessary to make our customers aware of our services," Berry says.

At the Computerworld Premier 100 conference this spring, several CIOs alluded to using logos or simply new names for their IT groups. During one presentation, for instance, Johnson & Johnson CIO LaVerne Council spoke of branding the company's IT department, including creating a logo, as part of an IT centralization effort. And an IT executive at Procter & Gamble noted that there is no more "IT department" at his company -- now it's IDS: Information, Decisions and Solutions.

Worth a thousand words

Using images and catchy slogans, these organizations and others hope to forge a strong association between the services users enjoy and who's providing those services, says Carolynn Benson, a consultant at Ouellette & Associates in Bedford, N.H. "When you market IT, you're setting the vision of 'Who do we want to be?' And then you try to capture that in a logo, through an image and a slogan."

Benson said that in a recent O&A workshop on IT marketing strategies that she ran, an IT group took its business's corporate logo and expanded on it to depict a scene of two pieces of land joined by a bridge, with the slogan "Your Bridge to Success."

Logos and slogans can be especially useful when IT's image is in need of improvement, Benson says. "IT can be viewed as noncommunicative, behind-the-scenes, unprofessional," she says. "But when the business units see something sharp and crisp and creative coming out of IT, they say, 'Look at that; maybe they could transition that creativity into an innovative solution for me.' It helps IT appear to the business as, 'We're similar to you.'"

Of course, image-making can be accomplished without a logo or branding, says Thomas Druby, an IT executive and former CIO at a large insurer. But a graphical image can help close the gap that often exists -- especially at large companies -- between the general perception of IT and the actual value it's delivering.

Branding can make an IT organization feel as though it's establishing its own identity, he says. IT workers "have a bigger sense of accomplishment, because they start looking like a part of the company they own."

Look before you leap

But before getting your creative juices flowing, make sure you can deliver on the goods your logo and slogan promise. "The worst that can happen is you brand an organization that isn't working well, is not well received and doesn't have its act together," says Scott Archibald, managing director at Bender Consulting in Austin.

"Branding is not about logos -- it's about how others perceive your behavior when they come into contact with you," agrees Patty Azzarello, founder of Azzarello Group, a consultancy in Palo Alto, Calif. CIOs often grimace, she says, when she tells them that the help desk represents 90% of IT's brand. "That's where most people interact with IT, and if it's confusing and hard to use, you have a bad brand."

Therefore, she says, IT needs to sit down, brainstorm on the impression it wants the business to have of the organization, and determine what it must do to convey the right image and make sure users get the right impression. "The logo is just one visual element," she says.

When he worked at the insurance company, Druby and his IT organization made an effort to build the IT brand, first defining a menu of services and eventually creating a logo and slogan. The key themes the group planned to emphasize were IT's role as an "enabler" and a "partner" and its ability to help with competitive differentiation. "You can't just put a different picture on the same organization," he says. "You need to rebuild yourself into a service-type organization and then put a brand on it."

At the Oregon Department of Transportation, Berry says his group is focusing on three things: increasing the availability of information, improving on data timeliness and engaging users.

"Many of our 4,500 employees have ideas, and we're trying to give them a platform to tell us what they think," he says. IT is still developing its slogan and logo, but two leading ideas so far are "We deliver information" and "Data done right."

Mission possible

Writing a mission statement is essential to helping IT sharpen its brand identity, according to Ouellette & Associates' Benson. "Get an understanding of what clients expect from you as the IT department, whether it's operational excellence or innovators of new technology," she says.

An IT department at a company that had suffered badly during the downturn, she says, focused its message on its ability to be innovative with the resources it already had. Another O&A client wanted to emphasize how easy the IT department was to work with, so it created a logo and a slogan and had them emblazoned on company-colored polo shirts; an oval over the pocket featured the new slogan: "Tech IT Easy."

IT mission statements vary dramatically depending on the business you're in, says Azzarello. An IT department for an online business would likely want to be known for its ability to support 100% uptime, while one in a traditional company might want to emphasize the creative ways in which it can help cut costs or improve efficiency.

"Nobody cares how hard you work -- you have to do things that show you understand what's important [to the company]," she says.

Get a reality check

While many IT professionals might deny being creative, Benson says that in the workshops she holds, it never takes more than 20 minutes for a group to brainstorm some solid ideas. She urges CIOs to involve the technical staff in logo development, since it's a great team-building exercise and increases their level of buy-in.

However, it's a good idea to also involve other groups -- including the marketing and legal departments -- before making any final decisions, she says. Marketing, for instance, can help you stay consistent with how the company brands itself for its customers, Archibald says. And you may need to check with legal about restrictions on using elements of the corporate logo.

This is particularly true if you have any plans to market IT services outside the company, Druby says. His former IT organization planned to establish external centers of excellence and incorporate that into its eventual logo. "You don't want to have to do your logo all over again, so you need to think that through," he says.

Marketing professionals may also be able to give advice on the latest color trends or the psychological impact of color and shape, Benson says. "Right now, it's all about greens, tans, browns and oranges -- colors reflecting the earth, whereas 10 years ago, bright colors were popular," she says.

And men and women tend to respond differently to shapes, she adds. For example, studies have shown that triangles yield high retention rates among both men and women, but men associate the triangle with mystery and power, while women associate it with threat and danger. The oval seems to appeal to both sexes.

Gender reactions to colors are more similar, Benson says -- blue scores low for both men and women in terms of reaction and recollection, while red scores high, even though men associate this color with excitement and women associate it with intimacy.

Berry plans to involve users with the final decision on the Oregon transportation department's IT logo. His staff developed the two prototypes, but he plans to get user feedback on the interactive Web portal before making a final choice. Berry does have his own preference, but he says, "I don't want to force that on folks. They have to internalize what we are doing and what we should be doing."

That's a good approach, says Azzarello. "Develop a few samples and ask people, 'If you saw this, what impression would you have?' If you want to be known for responsiveness or always meeting service levels, ask if the logo supports that," she says.

Likewise, if your IT operation is decentralized, it's important to check with the other groups before developing a logo. Bender Consulting's Archibald says that he once worked at a Fortune 20 company where the decentralized IT units each came up with the idea to brand themselves on their own. "It became clear we were not one organization but many," he says. "It showed how fractured we were, and it was confusing to employees throughout the company."

Similarly, developing a logo for a small technology group might alienate it from the larger IT organization. Druby recalls a Web group at his former employer that proposed a logo and a separate name to create its own identity for showcasing its work. "It was a good idea, but I put a stop to the effort because it needed to be done for all of IT, not just a certain group," he says.

On the flip side, Archibald has seen a decentralized IT operation pull together on a branding effort that represented IT as a united front. The logo was in the shape of a triangle bounded by arrows representing the three regions of the company. The arrows suggested that while each IT group reported to an individual region, it was a continuous organization.

After all that work, use it

Prevailing wisdom says people must see or hear something seven times before they're fully aware of it, Benson says, so be sure to use your branding on any communication that comes out of IT.

You might even consider creating extra communication channels for this purpose. Examples are promotional items such as "leave-behinds" (business cards, flyers or tent cards that IT staffers could leave with users every time they fix a PC) or "give-aways" (USB sticks, mouse pads and the like). But make sure none of your swag appears too costly, she warns, because that could give users the impression that you're overspending.

An obvious place for a logo, Azzarello says, is the help desk Web site, which could also be a good place to display your performance metrics for the three most important business services, updated in real time. "If people consistently see a strong logo and positive performance on things they care about, that's a good brand message," she says.

And if you happen to host a webinar or podcast, make sure your logo is on the screen, Benson adds, and even repeat your slogan in an audio reminder of who is driving the event.

While only a minority of organizations are doing internal IT branding today, Archibald expects the practice to pick up over the next two to three years. "It's a way to direct users back to the positive experience of using your service," he says.

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

This story, "Branding IT: Logos, slogans sell the IT message" was originally published by Computerworld.

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