Transforming the technology conversation

How IBM migrated from commodity provider to societal leader

From typewriters, to personal computers, to servers, IBM’s history has been for decades rooted in hardware. While efforts were made, with the acquisition of firms like PwC, to shift its position to one of a business consultative partner, it was clear that much more was needed to influence the marketplace perception of the company that was referred to as “Big Blue”.

To get a full measure of the transformation that took place at IBM over the last two decades, one has to take a trip down memory lane. Before the world became irreversibly interconnected. Before, in the words of former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, elephants could dance.

Transformation No. 1: putting the “e” in business

As early as 1995, prior to the arrival of game changers like Amazon and eBay, IBM was busy re-engineering how business would be conducted in the new century.

Together with our colleagues across all IBM business units, Tenet Partners went to work to communicate IBM’s revolutionary vision, across markets, industries and geographies. The main challenge? How do you make what had been a back-end story become part of the conversation in the corner office.

While this was, no doubt, a monumental task, the solution was relatively simple. The overall culture had to change from an insular position of “producing products to sell and that the world would, unquestionably, buy” to one that took the time to focus on clients’ needs, what problems they were looking to solve. Tenet was there to help IBM take its first steps into what we know today as content marketing.

Tranformation No. 2: changing the company’s architecture to align with strategy

With no one paying close attention, IBM had evolved into a siloed federation of businesses. This had the effect of diminishing the overall value of IBM and the comprehensive portfolio of offerings. Decision was made to revisit this business architecture and do away with the barriers that had been erected between its various operating units. Sub-brands were sunset and all were to rally around the singular idea of IBM as the purveyor of end-to-end solutions.

Transformation No. 3: retooling the sales force to fuel meaningful conversations

IBM took center stage as the champion for innovation that matters. That bold position had to be reflected in the way its sales teams interacted with clients. This meant further transformation in sales enablement. Moving away from the old push-content strategy, Tenet helped create interactive tools that put customers in the driver’s seat.

The dynamic computer-based environment enabled IBM clients to start the conversation at the beginning: their business goals. Using the same tool, the sales team could then discuss how to put technology to work to solve these same issues. This was the beginning of a true partnership with IBM as the enabler of client innovation.

Transformation No. 4: defining the imperatives for a smarter planet

While the world might have gotten flatter, its complexities were, by no means, getting smaller. Neither was IBM’s challenge to continue fueling growth. To insure success, IBM set out to transform not only how business was conducted but how the whole planet lived. Enter the era of big data and analytics.

Tenet’s role was to ensure that the corporate strategy traveled across the enterprise. Our team of content strategists and designers worked hand in hand with IBM to demonstrate the power of data when it is turned into actionable information. Moving away from more traditional marketing collateral, we focused on other avenues such as thought leadership papers and ROI research.

The team also worked at enabling IBM to have a voice in the increasing mobile public square. This required a refined approach to how IBM communicated with clients: information design that traveled across devices, compelling infographics, innovative data delivery and an active participation in social media.

Transformation No. 5: the never-ending journey

A true sign of leadership is one’s adaptability and ability to seize on new opportunities. IBM has undeniably earned its place at the leadership table as it pushes the limits of the possible through metamorphic concepts like the cloud.

Today, Tenet continues to play an important role in supporting this societal influencer and its mission to continue to grow and improve the quality of life – and business – for everyone.

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