Online Marketing and your service in the Cloud

Many companies ask me about practices to promote their Cloud service. In this post, I explain what works best for some of my real successful clients. I work primarily with Windows Azure clients in in CEE region, but these rules are true to any Cloud or SaaS businesses.

At the heart of successful promotion and sales, lies a good understanding of your users. A successful promotion is part of the User Experience (UX) design work – essentially, it is what the UX work begins with as part of your persona work. A basic UX principle is that DESIGN STARTS WITH A DEEP AND EMPATHIC UNDERSTANDING OF PEOPLE. And the word EMPATHIC is crucially important here – you and your team have to step into your users’ shoes and feel the pain they feel – empathically – in order to understand and be able to address it. The motivation of just getting some money off of them is not enough for success.

So, in the middle of the story, there’s a person with a pain … An issue that is really important for her and preferably wants to speak to someone who faced this problem before:

I've got a pain and I'm looking for hints ...

In the Enterprise space, prior the recession, this person would have commissioned an experienced Consulting firm, but people nowadays have to be more efficient and primarily use free resource whenever it’s possible – essentially, that’s what the internet is for, isn’t it? Yes, believe it or not, your potential Customers for an online Cloud/SaaS offering (people who are prepared to accept the Cloud as home for your service and their data) will primarily use the internet and search engines to find solutions. So, our protagonist opens her favourite search engine to look at possible hints and resolutions for her pain.

You need to understand the problem that is represented by only a few keywords

At this point, our protagonist’s problem is turned into a few keywords – and this is where online Advertisement services kick off – but for some reason, they are never relevant enough, unless I already made a buying decision and I’m looking for a specific product, they are just noise and taking up the space in my browser. Given that they have never been relevant for me, my eyes have learned to ignore them and focus to the rest of the search results – to the useful stuff, to the reviews, discussions of people who faced the same issue before and to the content generated by thought leaders – articles and blogs that will teach me something and help resolve my problem:

Do deliver valuable information for free and you'll be found by those who want to buy

Free content as promotion

By delivering free content to your persona (best practices, blogs, whitepapers, forum Q&A content), you will be seen as a though leader. By generating 3rd party reviews, your persona will see a diverse spectrum of opinions about your service. Your persona will find your product through useful content and through opinions – similar to how word-of-mouth or recommendations work in the “offline” world. You’ll be seen as a company who’s talked about. By not trying to desperately sell your service, but instead, helping your potential Customer address her pain by explaining the problem domain and delivering free, relevant and useful content, you’ll be seen as a team of experts who can provide a lot more than just a software.

Your team as though leaders

So, it’s time to get your product team together and do a brainstorming session to discover your team’s strengths, experience and the topics they can blog/publish. This is how I usually help my clients, we discover a lot of potentially good topics, which some of them bring to their client/catch-up meetings and ask their opinion about which one they’d find useful. Customers love to be asked and they love when their opinion is valued.

Focus Group Reviews

On 3rd party-generated content, with a couple of my clients, we tried crowdsourcing sites, like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to offer payment for people participating in a focus group, reviewing their demo offering and writing a short review about it. The best way to to this is to get a closed loop of feedback initially, take those opinions on board – polish your service, then once you are confident that you have a decent quality product, you can get your reviewers to score you publicly.

When generating content, the art here is to translate those few keywords into understanding your user’s pain points. And this can be best done as part of your persona work by interviewing your key personas to describe the way they’d search for a resolution. Listen to the words they use and ask them how would they look for answers, whether they’d use a search engine and if they did, which keywords would they use. One more thing to highlight, is an internet research study, which shows that content that don’t require registration, have significantly more hits than content that does require users to fill out forms (with the same data for the 2,457th time) and wait for confirmation emails to confirm the registration (which they didn’t want for the first place). If you deliver good, quality content, your users will sign up for your newsletter, anyway – and if you are not relevant for them, why waste those electrons?

What’s next?

Once they found you, the next step is to offer a nice and smooth experience to try a demo/trial version of your service for a short period of time (for a couple of weeks or a month) – but this is a topic for another post.

Thanks for reading this far – and please do take a minute to leave a comment if you have any feedback!

LinkedinDavid Szabo, Cloud Strategy Advisor, Firestarter and Rulebreaker at Microsoft. Startup-addict, SaaS & Cloud consultant, blogger at and LEGO serious play facilitator. Follow me on Twitter!

Read more: you can find some of these principles and a lot more in David Meerman Scott’s book on Amazon, also have a look at Andy Brudtkuhl’s blog, especially this post for creative ideas on market research and crowdsourcing.

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9 Responses to Online Marketing and your service in the Cloud

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