When Cloudy is Clear

Polymer Studio’s Don Ball got me thinking yesterday about the past and future of the cloud. Sure, we’ve gone from Usenet to the present battle between Amazon, IBM, Rackspace and now Microsoft. The outcome this move and subsequent battles will have on technology is being discussed regularly on TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb. I’m more interested in what impact this will have on consumers and marketers.

Users are driven into the cloud by Intent

Users are driven into the cloud by Intent

The first thing to note is that digital mediums are driven by intent. We don’t passively participate with digital mediums. When we open a web browser, pick up a mobile device or switch on a gaming system, we are doing so for a reason. This contrasts with traditional media that often resides in the background. Televisions, radios and print can sit unnoticed in the background for hours.

What’s frightening here is how much of the world is moving digital. We may not be far from a day in which intent can not be created according to traditional marketing tactics.

The cloud itself is becoming our access. As more software and services move online, our access to products and services begin to reside in the cloud rather than in physical settings. Amazon has already demonstrated the success of using user information stored in the cloud to enhance sales. As email, instant messaging and microblogging become standard communication streams, most of our activity will exist in a digital cloud. With the new Office having an online component, it is reasonable to assume that much of our personal and business lives will exist in digital mediums.

With this shift already underway, marketers must put more of a focus on where their customers reside rather than where they want them to be. The home page is no longer the home page. With search results driving users to more relevant information deeper within sites, every page becomes equally important. Furthermore, opinion and conversation around companies are occuring in all corners of the Internet. The notion of the home page is eroding, replaced with fragmented pieces of corporate information serving every niche with a high degree of relevance. And this is happening without question as to the authenticity of the information.

Using the cloud to provide (potential) customers with a definitive source of access to information becomes more important than ever before. Only marketers can not assume customers will seek this information out. It will often need to be brought front and center. Perhaps this is where digital users are so eager to invite brands into their social circles. While brands are currently more interested in ‘friending’ their customers, customers want to put the network back into social networking.

Driven by intent, users often remain in the cloud – creating insights all along the way. Where they emerge is the key. I consider three areas where users emerge from the cloud to be of particular interest to marketers.

Knowledge:

Driven by original intent, users often gain insights through their journey. A user interested in vacationing on the beach may start by looking at Florida. Through the process of engaging with digital mediums, they may discover Southern California to be more their liking. The end result of such a process is a net gain in knowledge. This knowledge often leads back into the cloud through new intent – in this case, a vacation to Southern California. This may well be one of the most frequent practices online today. Users, driven by intent, use their insights to learn and refine their needs. It’s almost like a continuous intent loop.

Participation:

In the event Southern California looks promising, the process of learning and refining may come to an end. In an effort to gain valuable information about the destination, garner the best deal possible or take confidence in the ultimate choice, users will often engage a larger community of members. Whether it be by reading forums, subscribing to rate feeds or viewing images/videos of destinations, users opt to participate in communities. It is here that the social web takes center stage. Participation is not limited to contributions, but is equally effective when users make use of existing contributions and act as bystanders. In fact, recent data has shown a majority of users to be rather passive when it comes to creation.

Preference:

The ultimate outcome for marketers is in driving preference. This occurs when a user has made a selection. They have selected from the variety of possibilities and are contributing the majority of their attention to one brand. It is at this point where loyalty and possibly evangelism is created organically.

In a future post, we’ll take a look at the cloud in more detail and what happens after users emerge on the prescribed paths. For now, I feel it is sufficient to say that the emergence and popularity of cloud computing has resulted in users driven by intent. Through their original intent, they require access to corporate resources like never before. Depending on their experience with this access, users will either refine their intent, further engage in participation or form loyal preferences with brands.

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