Will Cloud Computing Add Value To The Marketing Mix?

The Advertising Industry is cutting through the hype and beginning to realise the Cloud’s potential.

For the past 18 months the hype has suggested that Cloud Computing will be the next game changer. But will it? Or are we simply witnessing the next major land grab by a few technology giants on a perceived new market segment?

A plethora of recent surveys has shown that whilst organisations are generally aware of the cloud, they are reticent to dive in and procure services. For every survey that suggests that a CIO is considering Cloud Computing as a priority for his or her organisation you will find another survey stating that business leaders haven’t a clue as to its meaning or how it will aid them.

With over 20 different definitions of cloud computing in play, it’s hardly surprising that the market is suffering from a ‘fog’ of confusion. Several reasons are given, which include hype over substance, internal resistance and security concerns – all of which suggest that the industry spin doctors need to work harder to get the cloud benefit message across.

The industry needs to focus less on the technology and more on the needs of the customer. We need much less of the ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ type jargon and more of the ‘Business as a Service’ approach. Cloud is about evolution of services not revolution.

The core attraction of cloud is that companies can avoid buying and running their own hardware, software and other equipment by contracting with a hosting vendor to supply the systems on its own servers. This outsourcing of computing resources offers flexibility, scalability, agility and costs savings over the traditional in house approach. Four attributes which should, and is, making cloud a prime candidate for early adoption by campaign and project managers.

Campaigns and one off events are notoriously dynamic and really benefit from the ‘on demand’ nature or elasticity that the cloud offers. In theory the cloud should rid us of server crashes as we clamour for the hottest tickets and news, with spikey demand being controlled and managed.

StreetSmart, which asks diners in the nation’s top restaurants to give an extra £1 on top of their bill during the festive period, was one of the first UK Charities to have its website fully hosted and managed on a cloud platform.

Glenn Pougnet, Director of StreetSmart, said: “The cloud has presented us with the perfect solution for handling the short term increase in demand that we face with our annual StreetSmart Christmas campaign. The cloud has removed the worry for us of having to manage our website capacity ensuring that our site is always available to potential donors and restaurant patrons. We are left free to concentrate on running the campaign and raising vital funds to give homeless people hope and a new start in life.”

Think Publishing, the communications agency behind Kate Humble’s charitable web site Stuffyourrucksack has also turned to the cloud to cope with seasonal visitor peaks. Think Publishing increases processing power during the summer months, when its campaigns are at their most active, targeting travellers embarking on their vacations, and more importantly only pays for the additional short term resources consumed.

Conversely, ineffective or unworkable projects can be reviewed and pulled without the additional burden of wasted hardware investment affecting the decision making process. Social media, viral campaigns and trending topics can all be maximised and exploited through the real time deployment of cloud servers, providing an agency with agility, thought leadership and competitive advantage.

New Media Age recently revealed that only 17 of the total 200 videos featured in their Viral Brand Chart appeared for a second week, meaning there’s only an 8.5% chance of being a top-ten viral for more than a week. The simple reason given for this is that impact of a viral video is simply diminished because of the volume of video content being uploaded to sites such as YouTube, which receives more than 24 hours of content every minute.

Apparently we don’t want to share things once they’re past their sell by point because we don’t want to seem uncool. Gone are the days when we would have planned to support a viral campaign for several weeks and would have utilised servers accordingly. Now we need an infrastructure that can cope with high demand over a short time frame – the perfect attributes of the cloud.

Likewise if we are fortunate enough to have a campaign that attracts the support of an uber Tweeter such as Lady Gaga or a Taylor Swift and they happen to tweet about your brand/offer etc – you can expect a huge surge in traffic. In the old days you might have been able to contact the PR and asked for a timed ‘mention’ to assist with capacity planning but not today. That’s not how the net works. You simply need to be prepared and be able to increase capacity on the fly.

But cloud shouldn’t simply be viewed as a technology. It does generally have the ability to change organisational process for the better. One huge advantage of the cloud is that it offers designers the ability to test, create and share without their destiny being controlled by “corporate IT”. It is often thought that the IT department of the future will be staffed with orchestrators and strategists not simply technicians. The IT department will become drivers of innovation not merely suppliers.

With the right culture in place, the cloud has the ability to bring together the talents of the creative world allowing them to work collaboratively on projects that interest and excite them. This is already happening but as cloud based technology advances it will become even easier.

The US Media Group, Journal Register Company, demonstrated this concept back in July by running the intriguing experiment of involving community Crowdsourcing and the use of free online publishing tools for the production of all their publications. Journal Register produced all of its 18 daily websites and newspapers using only free web-based tools, such as the cloud based Google Docs, social media websites, Facebook and Twitter and the open-sourced software, Scribus.

At the time, Journal Register Company’s Chief Executive Officer, John Paton stated that whilst his company would not be converting to a fully integrated Crowd/Cloud model in the immediate future, he believes that the idea is a potentially viable one.

No one should claim that moving to the cloud suits everyone or that it is easy. Agencies will need to be convinced that service levels are real, tools are available to track and manage individual clients/campaigns, billing is transparent and that the vendor has the appropriate expertise and security processes in place to safeguard their business. Trust will be the single biggest factor in the success of the cloud.

But overall, the arguments for adopting the cloud are too compelling to ignore and it would appear that the media industry is beginning to cut through the cloud hyperbole and is starting to investigate how it can reinvent its IT architecture and processes into a much more flexible and efficient tool for business.

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Phil Worms is the director of corporate communications for iomart Group, one of Europe’s largest providers of managed hosting, cloud computing and business continuity services. Having spent 25 years working in the IT industry he is recognised as one of its brightest thinkers. He regularly contributes internet and "new media" related features for trade publications and national newspapers and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is an advocate of social media using it for both business and charitable causes. Phil has sat on several national advisory committees ranging from the provision of broadband access to online safety initiatives. He is now heavily involved in the debate surrounding the greening of IT with energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction a particular topic of interest. In his spare time Phil is dedicated to raising money in an attempt to bring a new arts and music centre to his hometown of Helensburgh. It is this venture that has given him his finest moment – being mentioned on David Bowie’s official website when he organised a mass community recording of the classic song Heroes!