When Engineers Speak: 4 Key Cloud Marketing Implications

For marketers, almost nothing is as valuable as hearing the unvarnished, unfiltered point-of-view of buyers. At last week’s Massachusetts Tech Leadership Council’s “Cloud Seminar: Choosing the Right Cloud for Your Business,” marketers would have had a lot to listen to.

Speaking to a sophisticated, engineer-centric audience with over 20 years’ experience in development and operations, GitHub’s Mark Imbriaco didn’t pull any punches in presenting his perspective on the myths and realities of the benefits of the cloud.

  • Cost savings? Myth.
  • Means of avoiding IT bottlenecks? Myth.
  • Driver of increased agility and speed to market? Definite reality.

From a value proposition perspective, the implications are clear: be wary of emphasizing cost and operational advantages of your cloud solution because they’ll like meet with skepticism.

A panel discussion featuring engineering executives from Carbonite, Ipswitch, Acquia, and Scribe built on Mr. Imbriaco’s perspective. In responding to questions about their infrastructure evolution, they said that decisions about when and how to deploy IaaS, PaaS, and S(torage)aaS would always be based on the strategic business needs for a given initiative or project: when time-to-market is critical or in which utilization is highly unpredictable, cloud is attractive; in a scenario with consistent demands and a need to control variable costs, cloud is a poor choice.

This nuanced view of the application of cloud services should point marketers towards the development of materials and campaigns that enable the customer to drive the buying process based on specific requirements for specific projects. Specifically, the following would likely be effective:

  • Inbound marketing to allow prospective customers to pursue the information most useful to them
  • Web-based self-diagnostics to help prospective customers learn which cloud solution may be the right one for them
  • Sales enablement tools to facilitate sales’ role as a partner and helpful guide
  • Cross/up-sell marketing based on utilization data to take advantage of natural evolution of needs

The Three Questions to Ask to Build Sustainable Social Success

Two research studies have been published in the last few weeks (see: http://bit.ly/WqC1Jm and http://bit.ly/WgZiPi) that highlight the same contradiction: while social media marketing has become almost ubiquitous among B2B companies, a minority of them can actually point to its quantitative contribution to the company’s success. From our experience working with and talking to companies about social media marketing, the reason is clear: they don’t start with a strategic foundation.

With social, that lack of a foundation can be even more dangerous than with other marketing activities. Once started, social can quickly turn into an exercise in “feeding the beast”—pushing activity as an end rather than a means to a strategic objective. Even if there were kernels of a strategy at the outset of the social program, they can easily get overrun by the runaway train of pursuing more followers, likes, friends, retweets, connections, etc.

The way to avoid this path of frenetic and less-than-satisfying activity is to start with a framework that enables the implementation of a social media marketing plan that is both strategically-grounded and operationally feasible. At EMI, that framework is constructed through finding the activities and media that sit at the intersection between the answers to three questions:

  • What are the key business challenges?
  • What are the social channels the target audience is active on today?
  • What is the capacity of the organization to execute social marketing programs?

The answers to each of these questions alone can help shape a social strategy that isn’t a complete failure, but it is only when you find the areas of intersection that you will be able to define the channels and messages that will set the initiative on a path to sustainable success. For example, knowing that your business needs to build awareness among your target market will drive some effective decisions about media and messaging, but if you choose to launch a Facebook presence and your target customers aren’t active Facebook users, your results will fall short of expectations. Moreover, if you discover that your target customers are on Twitter and launch a Twitter program, but don’t have the resources to monitor, tweet, and create tweet-able content, your effort will likely end up failing to gain traction because of a lack of relevant, engaging activity.

The Chicken or the Egg? Interpreting Social Media Data and Business Results

Two recent studies purport to prove that social media has a strong, positive impact on business results.

  • A recent study by Bain & Company uses the Net Promoter Score satisfaction/loyalty research methodology to assert that those customers who engage with companies through social media channels are more loyal (have a higher NPS) and spend more with that company as compared to those customers who don’t engage with the company through social media.
  • A second study by Constant Contact and Chadwick Martin Bailey cites data from a survey of Twitter users to argue that Twitter users who follow a company/brand on Twitter are more likely to purchase products from that company.

There is, as I see it, one big problem with this “proof” of the impact of social media channel usage: Did the chicken come first or the egg? Isn’t the most likely scenario the fact that social media engagement AND buying more/loyalty/recommendations are simply both symptomatic of a pre-existing strong connection between the user/customer and the brand? In other words, there’s no proof that social media engagement caused the increase in purchases/loyalty, only that the engagement and the increase coexist in the same population.

The good news, however, is that my note of caution regarding the interpretation of the data touted by these studies doesn’t make that data useless. In fact, a better way to interpret the data would be to conclude that those who engage with a company on social media are self-identifying themselves as that company’s high value customers. With this in mind, the social media channel can then be leveraged to ensure that these customers are rewarded for their engagement: offered special deals, encouraged to spread the word, given opportunities to provide input to product development, etc. Whereas the previous interpretation of the data suggests that it would be a good marketing strategy to try to attract more users to engage via social media, this revised interpretation would lead a company instead to invest in harvesting already engaged users to drive additional revenue.

The moral: Companies must exercise caution when using survey data to drive strategy—not because primary research shouldn’t drive strategy (it should), but because misinterpretation can have significant, often negative, consequences.