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How to Market the Cloud

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How tech marketers can calm the fears of potential cloud computing adopters
  • Five benefits of embracing the cloud computing model

Although cloud computing depends on ever-evolving technology, it is a revolutionary operational model that is changing the way information technology (IT) is managed and delivered.

Despite that disruption, companies are beginning to see the benefits—or, at least, trying to plan for the inevitable transition to the cloud—which is, essentially, a metaphor for the Internet.

Successfully marketing the cloud requires understanding the nature of this new technology and taking new approaches to communicating its benefits to prospects.

The fast growth of cloud computing is causing organizations to seriously consider what it could mean for their business. They are trying to understand the cloud model and how it could affect their company, customers, vendors, and service providers.

Cloud Computing: What's the Big Deal?


Everyone loves the idea of the cloud. Imagine this utility model: You pay only for what you use; data, platforms, and IT systems are situated offsite; and system management is handled by someone else—ready to be tapped into, as needed. The cloud model is liberating: Companies can now focus on their core business strengths and differentiation.

In addition, the economic model means the cloud is here to stay. A recent study found that the cost savings of cloud infrastructure relative to midsize companies is better than a factor of seven across hardware, facilities, and personnel. Such clear financial incentives mean that everyone has to reconcile with the cloud-based IT future and figure out how to best harness its capability.

Even at this early stage of cloud adoption, the enterprise will change as the business, revenue, and service models of almost every player in the IT delivery chain adjusts. As cloud marketers, we must explain the landscape of change, and the opportunities presented, so customers can see the benefits and move beyond the fear of the unknown.

The Disruptive Cloud

The cloud is not a new technology; it is a new operational model. The enabling technologies are myriad, but the practicality of the cloud hinges on technology that abstracts the user from the actual hardware, and from the access layer that manages the security, availability, administration, and workflows of cloud resources. This new operational model changes the way IT organizations deliver services to every tier of their business and their supply and value chains.

The primary response to this kind of disruptive model is, in a word, fear. As IT marketers, we need to confront and transform the fears of the stakeholders. People have a standard operating procedure (SOP) that allows their business and career to thrive. If you want to enable your clients to change that SOP, you have to communicate how the cloud will enhance both career paths and pocketbooks.

The Challenges of Marketing the Cloud

Allaying the fear of new business disruptions is the overriding challenge of marketing the cloud. That fear affects everyone up and down the management ladder. Executives have to worry about the strategic balance between cost benefits versus control, service, and security. Personnel within the organization, especially IT, may feel threatened by the paradigm shift that could remove their raison d’être within their companies. And that's not to say anything about how the cloud model can affect relationships with partners, vendors, and customers.

The number-one concern for businesses, however, is security. Owners and IT managers worry about ceding their data and transactions to an outside service. It's an obvious human reaction to be concerned when you're not in direct control of your most valuable, differentiable, and competitive assets—your data.

Articulating the Value

Although security concerns remain prevalent among IT managers, uneasiness about the disruption of longstanding business models plagues each level of the channel—including OEMs, SIs, VARs, and ISVs. All players in the IT world, from manufacturers, to vendors, administrators, and users, should be asking themselves: What am I doing to adapt to this new services-delivery model?

The value that marketers can bring to the cloud ecosystem is clarity and conciseness about the benefits provided to each business role in the organization, from end user all the way to CIO.

Among those benefits are the following.

1. Lower Total Cost of Ownership

As service providers typically charge on a per-use basis (much like an energy utility), customers pay only for what they use. In addition, implementation costs are greatly reduced at scale.

2. Elasticity

Vendors' compute resources provide access to a level of scalability previously unavailable to many end users, particularly smaller players that experience usage spikes. Such elasticity combines with utility pricing to give smaller players opportunities to play in businesses where they couldn't even enter the game previously.
 
3. Easy Access

The cloud is available wherever users can get online, offering great flexibility in how they access and use their resources.

4. Offloading IT

Without the worry of maintaining hardware investments, upgrading software releases, and storing large amounts of data onsite, organizations that use the cloud can focus on their core competencies, aiding the differentiation of their businesses.

5. Communicating the Cloud to Your Prospects

The leading responses to the disruptive operations model of the cloud (as with every business-oriented technological advancement) are these:

  1. I don't get it.
  2. I get the idea, but I don't know what to do next.
  3. I get it, and I have a plan to move ahead.

The challenge of the first answer lies in having to help prospects "get" cloud computing as a necessary first step. As the cloud moves into the mainstream, overall understanding of the structure and benefits of cloud computing will become more prevalent. As a cloud vendor, you have an interest in providing educational information to inform and accelerate prospects' acceptance.

The second response is typical of many Fortune 1000 companies. For those marketing the cloud, these companies are "low-hanging fruit," ready to learn what the cloud can do for them. This is where the competitive opportunity is most attractive.

The third answer is where we find the forward-thinking companies that have been looking into the cloud for some time and are ready to move forward with testing or adoption. This environment is very competitive, and reaching your prospects requires clearly demonstrating the value of, and differentiating, your cloud capabilities.

* * *

There is no cookie-cutter model to solve the algorithm of marketing cloud solutions. At this adolescent phase of the cloud, we need to address the uneasiness and uncertainty surrounding it.

No matter what the game looks like two, five, or ten years out, marketers now need to describe the value of the cloud to every level of industry and transform their customers' fear of the cloud into peace of mind. And the way to do that is to assure them that they are making the best possible strategic decisions for their business.


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Joshua Shane is the VP of business development and strategy at Viewstream, a national agency focused exclusively on technology companies that deliver complex solutions. Reach him via info@viewstream.com.

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  • by Danny Naz - Naz Creative Fri Jan 28, 2011 via web

    The cloud is and will continue to revolutionize how we interact with data on a daily basis, whether is be kids playing Microsoft's Xbox or how my company uses DropBox at our studio. It's a game changer.

  • by Michael Perla Fri Jan 28, 2011 via web

    A good synopsis around the cloud. I do think security is a significant concern, but it's also clear that all cloud providers aren't created equal around it ... there are some with redundant data centers, multiple layers of security, all sorts of mirroring and fail-over, etc. ... and there are others that have none of that ... there are some cloud providers that significantly mitigate risk - more so than on-premise - while others only increase the risk. Hard to generalize given the breadth of maturity and resources of the providers (e.g., Amazon, Google, Salesforce.com vs. a new startup with few resources).

    Also, there are some cloud providers who basically lock you into a year contract w/ certain stips and it's not really "utility" computing at that point - others will offer much more flexibility on usage changes over weeks/months. Like most delivery or operational models, there is a bell curve around value, performance and risk - know what you are getting and the SLA wrap - if there is one.

  • by Tim Redpath Sat Jan 29, 2011 via web

    Thanks Joshua,
    Perhaps under "Communicating the Cloud to Your Prospects" there should be a fourth option - I get it but I don't trust anyone else with my data.

    Organizations may not realize that they are already in the cloud with tools like SalesForce.com and in my experience the marketing approach is not to try and get them to migrate their whole IT department to the cloud, but to work with them on specific applications where it makes sense to them. Then, when they can assess the value and risk, they may be ready to migrate more applications and data.

    Just a thought.
    Tim

  • by Stephanie Janard Mon Jan 31, 2011 via web

    Joshua, this is a very timely article for me. I've definitely seen an increase in the number of cloud technology/managed services copywriting projects come my way.

    You are right that fear of relinquishing control/compromising security is a primary sales barrier for this technology. And of course, the idea of making a major shift in operational strategy.

    To address the latter fear, you give some good benefits to use. I would add one to address the former fear: emphasizing how cloud technology can actually reduce data backup failure rates, and keep anti-malware efforts even more up to date (especially for distributed businesses). Just to name a couple of security benefits.

  • by Stephanie Janard Mon Jan 31, 2011 via web

    And I like Tim's suggestion, too...this definitely doesn't have to be marketed as an all or nothing proposition. Which you actually address in the article when you talk about the paying only for what you need aspect of cloud services.

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