CIOs make vendor decisions based on reputation and quality, report says

A report conducted amongst European CIOs indicates that they make their purchasing and IT vendor choice decisions mainly based on reputation and quality of product and service. Although conducted in Europe, the same seems to apply to African CIOs, as can be witnessed by the amount of “reputable” international IT vendor solutions they deploy in their organisations.

Burson-Marsteller, a leading global public relations and communications firm, today released “Inside the Mind of the CIO”, a survey of 300 CIOs conducted by Penn Schoen Berland which looks at how European CIOs make their IT purchasing decisions, and how they feel about their roles.

Vendor reputation and high quality products are the factors most likely to influence their technology purchases, say the majority of CIOs. Furthermore, the study found that innovation is the defining characteristic of tech market leadership and reputation.

As is the case in Africa as well, CIOs seem to base their choice also on the relationship they have with the vendor — with trust being highly valued.

Technology companies are highly trusted by IT decision-makers, with between 51 per cent claiming to trust vendors a lot. This is reflected in the finding that 34 per cent cite corporate websites as very influential in their purchasing decisions, versus 39 per cent citing trade press as very influential.

What is also revealed by the survey is that traditional media is still trusted by IT decision-makers more than social media, but trust in social media is rising, with approximately one in five trusting Twitter across UK, France and Italy, almost the same level of trust as radio.

The sentiment, although not yet surveyed and quantified, should be relatively similar in Africa judging by the amount of IT decision-makers using social media to interact on a professional level and use it for business. The numbers on the continent still seem low.

The study also sought to analyse the most influential factors in any technology purchase. Quality of products was cited by an average of 60 per cent and 57 per cent cited a technology vendor’s brand or reputation as key (67 per cent in the UK said this was key). 56 per cent said value for money was influential.

Chris Cartwright, Chair of Burson-Marsteller’s Technology Practice in EMEA, commented: “CIOs are a pragmatic group. In these tough economic times, CIOs are focused on product quality and value for money as key purchasing criteria – far more than ‘softer’ factors such as CSR, leadership of the vendor company, or its financial performance. However, getting this right is really just the entry-level today. The insight that reputation is a key decision driver suggests that technology communicators need to really focus on what drives their own reputation and builds the brand.”

In order to probe further, the study asked IT decision-makers what they thought the key ingredients of market leadership were for technology vendors. “We felt this would give us an insight into what should be the base elements of any reputation-building campaign in the technology arena,” said Cartwright. “Overwhelmingly, respondents said: Innovation, Quality, Reliability.”

In spite of the trust engendered by traditional media, trust in social media is rising, with around 70 per cent of IT decision makers citing social media as very or somewhat valuable. Among social media properties, YouTube is identified as important in the decision-making process. One in three IT decision-makers said that they use YouTube as part of their purchase decision making process. This combined with the use of corporate websites noted above suggests that video is a powerful tool that should be leveraged both on corporate web sites and corporate social media properties.

“This was an unexpected finding for us and an actionable one. However, a cautionary note should be made: recent research and the experience of many in the sector suggests that many communications directors are fighting to retain control of these channels as marketing, customer service and sales parts of the organisation, as well as dedicated ‘digital and social’ functions are exerting their influence. If using owned media to reach the CIO is as vital as our data suggests, communications professionals need to exercise far more control in this space,” Chris Cartwright continued.

Looking at how IT decision-makers feel about their roles, the study found that they constantly battle stereotypes which they feel underestimate their value. They are passionate about innovation, which they see as vital to their organisation’s business strategy. According to the research, 75 per cent feel that innovation is central to their organisation’s business strategy and 67 per cent see themselves as the primary source of innovation in their organisations. Over two-thirds think that the IT department is central to their company’s business strategy – rising to 79 per cent in the UK.

Christine Armstrong, Vice President, Penn Schoen Berland, commented: “Stereotypical attitudes to technology experts remain prevalent. The research shows a significant divergence between the day-to-day experience of the IT decision-maker role and the image held by non-IT colleagues and the wider world. While 60 per cent of IT decision-makers agree that colleagues believe they can work miracles by retrieving un-backed-up data, 37 per cent believe colleagues think they solve problems by pushing control-alt-delete. Over a quarter think their peers believe they spy on their emails! IT decision-makers clearly feel misunderstood, and their contribution underestimated quite significantly. Being seen as service-providing ‘geeks’ is a perception that CIOs would actively like to dispel. They see themselves, rather, as strategic innovators, vital to the success of their company.”

The research highlighted a number of points worthy of further consideration in executing communications that help move CIO’s and others along the IT purchase decision path:

1. Brand and Reputation is important

There is a critical need for technology vendors to spend more time and effort working out what they stand for, what their mission, purpose, values and messages are, and what makes them different, because it really does make a difference to the IT decision maker.

2. Innovation is the defining characteristic of market leadership

Although many factors contribute to enhancing brand and reputation, our evidence suggests that if you want to build reputation enhancing programmes that will actually resonate with IT decision makers, they should focus on innovation as a key theme.

3. Products, Quality, Value

IT decision makers are most influenced by the quality of products, reputation and value for money. Placing these three factors at the heart of a campaign may seem like a back to basics approach, but our research suggests its effectiveness.

4. Make better use of owned media

At a time when many different departments and agencies are claiming ownership of these channels communications directors need to take more interest in the content of their web sites and social media properties. Our research suggests that many IT vendors may be missing out on a significant channel of influence, YouTube. Producing quality videos as a way of conveying and controlling messages, either on the corporate site, or via YouTube is certainly something that technology brands should be investigating.

5. The Five Key Communications Channels

Focus communications on the five key communications channels IT decision makers pay most attention to and are influenced by……the corporate web site, using video; technology and trade media ; sector specific press; industry analysts; industry conferences.

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