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The cloud is a marketer’s best friend

Disgruntled customers no longer write letters of complaint. They log on to Facebook and rant to their friends, who may “like” the rant, sharing it with potentially thousands of people. Of course, happy customers do the same or send a favourable tweet. Popular brands generate hundreds of tweets a day, some of which require a response.

For marketers this new world is an exciting challenge. Managing the sheer scale such customer communications these interactions generate in real time, across multiple off and online channels is by no means a straightforward business.

Marketers add to the complexity, pinging out vast quantities of messages to online consumers. The sheer quantity of marketing e-mails generated every month is astounding. During the first month of last year three billion were sent, according to the UK’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

That’s why many in the industry believe cloud computing should be a marketer’s next best friend. “Cloud computing is a particularly natural fit for marketers,” says Steve “Krause, senior vice president for product management at Responsys, which provides cloud-based marketing software tools to companies including Lufthansa, Harley Davidson and Land’s End.

“The whole movement around cloud is affecting everything,” he says, “but marketing in particular because it has already gone digital.”

Mr “Krause says there’s no choice but for marketers to enter the cloud. “Marketers need to go where customers are spending their time. And, while e-mail was emerging in the 80s and 90s, it’s now also about mobile, social and display ads.”

Marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) tools should be where the data is, he says. “All of the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter are delivered and measured in the cloud, so it makes sense for the tools used to monitor and manage it all to be in the cloud, right there next to all that data.”

Aside from the growth in smartphone adoption, recent data from Experian found 22 per cent of time online using a computer or laptop was spent on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks or forums.

“Social is key here,” echoes Paul Armstrong, founder of Digital Orange Consulting, which helps big brands as diverse as Homebase, Jaguar and Yahoo! develop their marketing strategies. “Companies often tell us, ‘We need the tools to make sense of it all’. They are looking for help to navigate the online space because it is so vast, complex and changeable.”

Mr Armstrong, who is also a member of the DMA’s Social Media Council, explains that increased interest in social-media marketing was a key driver of cloud-based technology investment. This scalability can help process huge amounts of data generated by customers and their purchases and interactions, more efficiently and effectively, to generate more sales.

“The use of cloud-based tools like e-mail marketing management, SEO [search engine optimisation] and cross-collaboration tools is geared towards saving money internally,” he adds, referring to the potential savings of cloud-based software delivery when compared to the maintenance and management overheads of traditional on-premise systems that require both the software and hardware on which to run it.

“The cloud also allows companies the flexibility to figure out what they are looking to do and how quickly they are looking to do it because different tools can be specific to different requirements. But it’s not just the cost of the tool,” says Mr Armstrong.

“There are number of things to think about, not least privacy, as in how the data can be used or not used by the software, which varies from country to country.” As a result, hybrid-cloud options now offer marketers the opportunity to retain the relevant data in-house, while the software functionality and processing power is accessed via the internet.

One such early hybrid-cloud marketing technology adopter is PhotoBox, a European online digital photo service with more than 24 million members across 17 countries. Antoine Lacharmoise, PhotoBox CRM and marketing manager, says providing superior customer experience through personalised digital marketing messages is key to its business.

“That’s why we decided in 2007 to switch to a new conversational marketing platform called Neolane,” he says. As well as implementing Neolane internally on an Oracle database, the company chose to have Neolane host the messaging part of its system to handle mostly e-mail.

The whole movement around cloud is affecting everything, but marketing in particular because it has already gone digital

“That’s because we didn’t have the resources to manage these 24-hour processes internally,” explains Mr Lacharmoise. “The Neolane Cloud Messaging option is key as we rely a lot on our personalised e-mail campaigns to generate revenue. Having Neolane manage it for us in the cloud works well.”

He cites speed of implementation and the ability to generate more targeted campaigns as added benefits. “We can focus on our marketing strategy: how can we create campaigns to turn prospects into first-time buyers? How can we increase cross-sell and so on?” In fact, the company is now moving its marketing investment fully to the cloud, with Neolane Cloud Marketing, and a few months ago it migrated its data warehouse from Oracle to a Redshift cloud-based system running on Amazon Web Services.

Martin Smith, head of marketing at Neolane, says PhotoBox was a classic example of a company seeing tangible benefits from using cloud-based marketing systems: reduced internal costs and optimised storage and processing capacities, with the aim of increasing marketing agility and decreasing time to market.

“For those companies looking to maintain their data on-premise, but don’t want to manage campaign execution of e-mail campaigns, for instance, the ‘mid-sourcing’ or hybrid-cloud model offers an attractive third option to using in-house tools or ones completely hosted in the cloud,” he says.

And he adds that the investment can free up other, existing in-house IT resources, a fact not lost on Joe Colopy, founder and chief executive of cloud-based marketing platform Bronto Software. “Some research has found the CMO [chief marketing officer] now has more influence than the CIO [chief information officer],” says Mr Colopy, “which is indicative of the trend of moving more of the marketing function into the cloud.”

Companies can, for example, carry out split e-mail campaign testing more quickly and cost efficiently. “You could send one half of messages in an e-mail campaign as one type of offer and a variation to the other half,” he says. “Cloud e-mail tools can automate that process so it will send the remaining 80 per cent to whichever is the most successful. The mechanics and engineering behind that is very complicated, but the process is made very accessible by the software being cloud-based.”