The buzz about cloud computing—how it's revolutionizing business and transforming the way people interact—has reached deafening levels. And for good reason. Within the marketing arena, clouds are ushering in a more agile and flexible enterprise framework for applications, services, and infrastructure—all while redefining the role of the CMO and the marketing organization.
Today, there’s no shortage of cloud-based tools available for creating and delivering content, managing data, measuring performance, handling customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) functions, supporting internal collaboration, and unleashing sophisticated analytics capabilities. To be sure, a disparate array of software and applications now appear under the marketing cloud banner. “The technology offers a way to move faster while creating a more scalable business framework. It’s a powerful tool—particularly for smaller firms that lack deep pockets and significant IT resources,” said Rob Morrice, CMO for IAS, a leading U.K.-based B2B marketing firm, in an interview with CMO.com.
But sorting through all of the options and opportunities is no small endeavor. Despite the relative ease of adding cloud-based services—and the ability to boost productivity and prune costs—clouds create an array of new challenges and risks. “There is a need to manage all the different cloud capabilities and interconnect everything within a single architecture,” stated Elias Terman, vice president of product marketing for identity management firm OneLogin. “An organization must build efficiency and security into the cloud platform.”
How can CMOs and other marketing executives use the cloud to maximum advantage? How can an organization best walk the fine line between opportunity and risk? And how can an enterprise ensure that it is procuring clouds in the most effective manner possible? There are no simple answers. However, as organizations become more global and digital, one thing is certain: Clouds are rapidly evolving from niche solutions to platforms that support business and IT frameworks.
A Clearer View Of Business
Cloud computing isn’t a new concept. A growing number of organizations have adopted hosted e-mail, CRM software, and a spate of other tools that fall under the software-as-a-service (SaaS) banner for the past decade. In every instance, the software and underlying IT infrastructure are hosted outside the four walls of the enterprise. Some companies have also turned to infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to plug in computing power and bandwidth on demand. This can help an organization cope with peak user demand during holidays and special events, such as Mother’s Day or the Super Bowl.
Within the marketing arena, clouds have boiled up faster than a summer thunderstorm. “There is a huge amount of activity in the B2B arena, though clouds also extend to the consumer space,” stated Jeff Allen, director of product marketing for digital analytics at Adobe, which operates a growing number of cloud-based apps as part of its Creative Cloud initiative. (Adobe is CMO.com's parent company.) The common denominator, he said, is that cloud-based services create a delivery model that extends and magnifies the efficiencies of digital marketing.
As data management and collection requirements grow more complex, clouds offer a way to connect data in new and powerful ways, Allen told CMO.com. It’s possible to plug in social media data, mobile tools, and myriad other data sources to create more robust functionality and analytics capabilities. It’s possible to get new tools and systems up and running faster. There are minimum contract periods, no software to install, zero maintenance, and it’s relatively simple to change service providers. What’s more, “Clouds don’t require the data center footprint that was necessary 10 years ago,” he adds.
This new order of marketing is turning traditional business processes and approaches upside down. Consulting firms such as Gartner and IDC say that line-of-business executives increasingly control spending—and marketing falls at the center of the equation. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs. “In the past, the marketing organization was not a major consumer of IT, but the environment is changing rapidly,” said Ted Shelton, managing director or strategy competency for PWC consulting, in an interview with CMO.com. “The marketing organization is becoming a top priority, and businesses must understand how this changes the picture.”
For example, at IAS, Morrice has plunged into marketing clouds in a major way. The agency has already turned to more than a half-dozen clouds, including a campaign automation cloud that handles display ads, LinkedIn social ads, and Google pay-per-click; a social cloud that focuses on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn; an analytics cloud; and assorted SaaS products, including CRM and data management tools. In addition, IAS relies on the cloud for blogs and Web site tools, including video management and webinar systems.
“The technology is helping the agency innovate and operate at a level that wouldn’t have been possible in the past,” Morrice said. “We have connected everything within a single platform.” He said that the firm will continue to embrace clouds, which play an increasingly crucial role in establishing and provisioning services to clients at the speed of today’s digital business environment. “They offer enormous potential for both the B2B and B2C spaces,” he said.
In fact, Morrice believes that, moving forward, “the spaces and communities organizations use to target audiences and build relationships will be socially driven and cloud-based.” Because data will reside in different cloud applications and systems, “there is a growing need to connect all the apps to ensure data can integrate and flow smoothly between them,” he said. Marketers cannot afford to lose the single view of the campaign or customer.
Reining In The Clouds
The challenge for marketing executives isn’t to find cloud solutions that can benefit the enterprise—it’s assembling all of the clouds in a cohesive and strategic way. Terman said that CMOs shouldn’t frame thinking in terms of a single marketing cloud. “In reality, businesses must stitch together a bunch of microclouds and know that they work effectively,” he said. In many cases, this means rapidly deploying clouds that specifically address specific marketing objectives. In some cases, these might encompass private clouds that stay within the enterprise. In other cases, the organization may turn to public and hybrid clouds that connect to third-party providers.
No less important: It’s critical to understand and address rapidly evolving digital marketing requirements—and how data can be combined and used in more dynamic ways. For example, this might mean merging real-time clickstream data and social media feeds to better grasp how brand sentiment is trending at any given moment. At that point, a CMO might use the data to determine how best to manage and shift advertising on the Web. “The key is to avoid industry hype and understand which combination of tools and solutions produce the best possible results,” Terman said.
Although many businesses have already dipped their toes into the cloud, experts say that it’s unwise to toss mission-critical applications and processes into the mix too quickly. An organization should start out with a discreet set of goals, gain experience and knowledge from successes and failures, and then build on the positive results. “The more that marketing executives understand underlying goals and objectives the greater the odds that they can choose cloud solutions that have the biggest impact on the business,” Terman explained.
However, Terman cautioned against plunking down a credit card and setting up a marketing cloud without first consulting with the IT department. It’s vital to ensure that the organization can put the data to maximum use and enable necessary safeguards. To be sure, not all cloud providers are created equal—and some might not offer an ideal fit with an organization’s IT infrastructure. Ultimately, there’s a need to understand the service-level agreement (SLA), and ensure it provides the necessary performance standards as well as assurances and protections. Finally, there’s a need for robust security and strong authentication that can span multiple clouds.
Yet clouds also require an organization to address other challenges. For one, they create the need for what Morrice described as the “marketing technologist.” This encompasses analysts and experts who do not fall squarely into a traditional category like marketing or IT—but rather have a more dynamic understanding of how to combine the two disciplines effectively and connect various marketing clouds in a way that produces maximum results. This includes knowledge of big data, mobility, and social media. “There’s a need to be able to think out of the box and apply creativity to problems,” he explained.
Make no mistake: Marketing clouds are here to stay, and they promise to further revolutionize the business world in the months and years ahead. The ability to plug in new marketing features and capabilities on demand offers benefits for a wide array of organizations. In addition, the ability to view dashboards of data in a dynamic way and put information to work more effectively help build a more agile and responsive marketing department. Said Terman: “Clouds can take marketing to a new level.”