Monday, April 4, 2011

Marketing the Cloud

Of all the marketing, marketing "The Cloud" has all the makings of a real challenge: The concept is new, the technology is disruptive, buyers are skeptical, hype abounds, and the terminology (just what is "cloud"?) is murky. So, when recently asked how do I "market the cloud" this Blog idea arose.

For me, marketing is far more than making "buzz" in the market. It's about matching seller and buyer: First, ensuring that the seller's product specifically targets one or more needs in the market (and adjusting as-needed), and second, ensuring that the buyers understand the product and its fit-for-their-purpose (and adjusting the buyer segments as-needed).

So, where a nascent concept, confused buyers, and evolving definitions are concerned, I turn to basics of new product introduction: (a) understanding customer problems/opportunities, (b) clearly defining the product/solution, (c) addressing objections, (d) helping customers through the adoption cycle.

Focus on specific issues the cloud addresses, not the Cloud itself: Before I recommend "cloud" as a solution, I ask myself what problems will customers really try to solve? They've heard “cloud” and it likely interested them, but for what reason? Getting to the need point is critical: It is cost? agility? keeping-up-with-the-Jones’? New business enablement?  You have to first ask the business need question, not try to force-feed a solution. Usually the cloud model is compelling on nearly all levels - but the customer first needs to understand - and want to pursue - the opportunity. Good marketers ensure customers self-select into the solution, even if it's an extremely broad one. Also, an exercise I sometimes pursue is to avoid using the term "cloud" altogether during this phase. Instead, I focus on the attributes of cloud computing, and wait to hear whether they resonate with the customer's needs. Sometimes they might not.

Get clear on definitions - and use lots of adjectives: The next question to ask is: What cloud?  Too often marketers of the cloud model don't modify the noun Cloud with an adjective like Private/Internal, Public, Hybrid, etc. causing even more confusion. It's alphabet soup. Many buyers usually start by thinking the only cloud is the public cloud. Once buyers are clear about the operational cloud model you're both talking about, you can have a more meaningful marketing action.

Know your buyer's technology maturity, and technology appetite
: Different markets, segments and customers will have different technology appetites and be at different technology maturity states. So, as much as vendors want buyers to take a big step and buy all-new stuff, there has to be a spectrum of offerings to fit buyers at different stages of the maturity curve. (See "It's A Journey", below...)

Be pragmatic - identify resistance areas and objections: I say pragmatic, because everyone has their own list of objections and concerns. They might be trust/security/governance issues; economic models to justify the investment; the risk of moving to new operational models; dealing with change management (a change in IT will necessarily impact changes in related orgs); the list goes on.  Make sure you've listened carefully to all objections, and thought-through responses.  I've unfortunately seen wonderful products fail - not because they don't work, but because when it comes to implementation, all of the pot holes and speed bumps haven't been identified and addressed.

Be pragmatic - it's a Journey: Few buyer segments adopt all-new models - especially cloud - in their entirety on day-1. So marketers need to be prescriptive about where to start, what to do when, and how to help buyers with a roadmap that accelerates them down the path. Most cloud buyers (with the exceptions of folks like service providers) make incremental changes to infrastructure – so marketers have to help recommend the incremental changes (and products/services) they’ll need in the coming years.

Educate: Finally, I believe a rising tide lifts all boats. The more the market is educated about cloud computing models - and how to get there - the faster the market will mature. It's our job to help provide education tools, models and success stories. And to draw distinctions between here-and-now vs. futures vs. vision.

The opportunity we have with cloud is also a danger: There is an inordinate amount of hype in the space. So, as we move down the hype cycle, we need to get pragmatic about the value the cloud model offers, the journey customer take to implement, and the opportunities it creates. 


Lingon Life said...

You got me at the words 'pragmatic' and 'educate'.

Definitely agree that we need to take the catch-all term, cloud, and break it down further by tailoring it to fit the individual users needs.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Very well presented and certainly applicable with Cloud.