Marketing in IT is not about acquiring customers, it’s about culture
Something a little different this time. This post focuses on the difficulties that IT companies face in recruiting, and how these difficulties can be tackled with company culture.
Why IT marketing is a different ball game?
Oh my, Bucket campaigns have arrived to the IT industry. Sounds ridiculous but that’s an example of how far the competition of IT experts has gone.
The IT industry is something very different compared to almost any other industry. The peculiar thing is that almost all well-managed IT companies could sell a lot more than they do, if they only had enough talented employees. To emphasise the point, you could say that we are not competing about the customers but about the employees.
More and more companies are able to choose their customers and at the same time the most competent employees are able to choose their employers. A funny example of this is how we talk when we meet our potential new customers. We always begin with a brief summary of our culture, and following that, we go through a checklist to see if the potential customer has a culture that would suit our needs. This is how important it is to ensure that our employees really enjoy working with our customer’s culture.
This extraordinary situation serves a special challenge for the marketing function. Naturally, IT companies, VALA included, do their best to build their brand and attract more (and better) customers. But perhaps an even more challenging task is to build and communicate the company culture in a way that enables the company to compete against the most attractive companies in the market. I’d say that about a dozen IT companies in Finland make a compelling case about their company culture and these are the ones that will probably leave the battle victorious. There are undoubtedly more companies with excellent culture but I’m referring to the ones that have also succeeded in communicating it.
Above I wrote build in italics because that’s the first step and an integral part of the marketing work when targeting potential employees. Acquiring talented IT professionals should start with building a unique company culture that is not just another company culture, but something different. Not just a great place to work, but something that stands out. Without a good culture, it is practically impossible to recruit the best professionals. Also, if the culture is just average, your current people don’t feel happy and might leave. Moreover, they won’t even think about recommending your company to their friends.
So, what does company culture mean? According to Needle (2004), organizational culture represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of organizational members and is a product of such factors as history, product, market, technology, strategy, type of employees, management style, and national culture; culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, environment, location, beliefs, and habits.
Hmm. So basically, it’s everything.
It’s very hard to mention some individual things that improve or create company culture. Company culture doesn’t just happen, it’s a long and vague process where practically everything affects into everything. You need to know what defines your culture and how would you like it to be in the future. Then after that, in all your actions, keep in mind how you want your culture to be. Ask yourself every time, am I acting in a way that builds our culture into the desired direction.
Company culture in marketing
We’ve been building a happier environment for all VALA people for years. It’s just that in 2016 we realised that in marketing, our work towards happiness, could be harnessed to get the attention we needed and deserved. Happiness is something we’ve been striving for a long time, at some point we just decided to start marketing VALA with that word.
At VALA, we’ve had a strong culture from the very beginning, although, we didn’t quite realise it until we started to think about how to improve it. Our culture has its grounds in strong empathy and a humane way of treating each other. Above all, respect towards each other is highly evident, and everyone is encouraged to be themselves and nothing else.
When we started to actively work on our culture, we knew we had a proper foundation in place but we also knew that it wasn’t enough. We needed to add some flesh around the bones and then create a compelling story of how we differentiate from the rest of the pack.
It was summer of 2016. We had already made substantial efforts to enhance our culture. The process was relatively far and we felt good about it. However, we still didn’t have that wow factor which would differentiate us from the best employers in Finland.
We were workshopping about our strategy. One homework assignment from our strategy consultant company was to think about adjectives that would describe VALA in 2020 (beware of these companies, they really make you think and give you endless homework ;)). We were thinking about what’s really important in life and the adjective Happy came somehow naturally. Somewhere around those times we realised that this could be a word describing our whole culture. Eventually happiness gained so much traction that it became our vision.
Later on, we learned that we weren’t actually the first one implementing the search of happiness into the company culture. At first, we felt a bit embarrassed because we had been so proud about this magical discovery, but then we realised that it doesn’t matter who said it first, what matters is who does it best.
If you’d like to know more about our pursue of happiness, read these posts:
How to track employee happiness
Happiness, our number one goal
Culture is the beginning and the end of our marketing. Why? Because the culture has to be in place before we can market VALA as a good place to be. More importantly, the culture has to be there because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have anything to prove our outrageous claims with. So, for example, we could just say nice things about life at VALA, but if our marketing was the only party telling these stories, no one would believe us. Instead, stuff needs to happen first, then we need to let someone else tell about it, and then people start to believe in those things.
To sum it up, first you need to have a unique compelling company culture, then you need to have people who are willing to talk about it and finally you just need to spread the word as much as possible.
Needle, David (2004). Business in Context: An Introduction to Business and Its Environment.
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