Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Branding On The Cloud Is Part Business Part Mindset

As it goes "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog". Actually people do. Recently AT&T asked their employees to fake the net neutrality. Employees were asked to use their personal email addresses to petition against net neutrality. The internal memo ended up on the blogs and Twitter in minutes. Forcing your brand down your employees' throats is not particularly a smart idea.

Is your brand ready for the cloud? This is not a question that many companies ask until their brand gets caught in a cloud storm. The storm is about the customers, partners, and suppliers discussing your products and brand in the public using social media, report problems using the SaaS tools, and engage into the conversations in ways that you never anticipated. Recently Seth Godin announced an initiative to help companies launch brand in public. It stirred quite a controversy and created confusion. He had to pull back. The organizations are simply not ready. The organizations are unclear on how to monitor, synthesize, and leverage the conversations that are happening on the cloud. The cloud enables the people to come together to share and amplify their conversations. .

Whether you are a SaaS ISV, non-SaaS ISV, or not even a software company, what can you do as an organization to build your brand on the cloud? It is part business past mindset:

Don't dread failures instead use them to amplify brand impact:

Recently an enterprise SaaS ISV, Workday, experienced an unplanned 15-hour outage. Not so surprisingly customers responded well with the outage. SaaS essentially made the outage a vendor's problem. Unclear? Take an example of the analog world. Occasionally I have experienced power outage in my neighborhood (yes, even in supposedly modern silicon valley). The wider the outage faster it got resolved. The utility folks feverishly worked to resolve the problem that impacted hundreds of subscribers. Coming back to Workday's outage, while Workday had all hands on the deck to resolve the outage the management team personally picked up the phone and started calling the customers to reassure them that the outage will be resolved soon. They extensively used the social media during and after the outage to be transparent about the overall situation. Now it gets even more interesting. They reached out to a key blogger, Michael Krigsman, who analyzes IT failures to brief him on what happened and extended an invitation to have a chat with the CEO. Michael Krigsman has a great post 'A matter of Trust' covering this outage and his subsequent conversations.

Workday used its outage not only to underscore the fact that why people think they are better of with a SaaS vendor but also used the opportunity to strengthen their brand proposition amongst the customers, analysts, and bloggers.

Building brand leveraging SaaS delivery model to act in realtime:

If you are a SaaS vendor ask yourself whether you are leveraging the SaaS delivery model to strengthen your brand in realtime. Jason Fried from 37 Signals was quite upset upset with Get Satisfaction when 37 Signals got labeled as “not yet committed to an open conversation”. A couple of people from Get Satisfiction immediately responded, apologized, and changed the parts of the tool in minutes that caused the problems. Similarly Twitter postponed its scheduled downtime to accommodate the protest against the outcome of the election in Iran. A former deputy national security advisor to George W. Bush, Mark Pfeifle, went to the extent to comment that Twitter founders should have won the nobel peace prize for postponing the downtime.

Being able to demonstrate the support for what you believe in has significant positive impact on your brand. Don't underestimate the power of social media on the cloud. Twitter has changed culture of Comcast.

Empower your employees to be your mavens:

As Malcolm Gladwell puts it customers don't retain their soap wrappers to call the toll free number to let the manufacturer know if they are unsatisfied. But if someone does call, you know that, you discovered a maven whom you should serve at any cost. That person will start the word-of-mouth epidemics. Chances are that some of your employees are already having conversations on the cloud. Make them mavens of your brand. Get Satisfiction is an example of a great tool that a company can use to encourage their employees to get closer to the customers using the alternate customer support channels. Glassdoor is another example of such a tool that not only works as a great salary benchmarking tool but also provides insights into culture of an organization. Primarily designed as a tool for the external candidates the tool has potential to be used by the internal executives to objectively assess the employee sentiment and help improve the external brand perception as projected by the employees. Focus on your employees and how they can better connect with the customers and partners using the tools and open communication channels on the cloud.

I am not ignoring the negative aspects of the cloud being an open medium that isn't perfect. It never will be. As Bruce Schneier describes the commercial speech arms race - "Commercial speech is on the internet to stay; we can only hope that they don't pollute the social systems we use so badly that they're no longer useful."

I am optimistic. The cloud is a great platform for social participation that, if used wisely, could strengthen your brand.

3 comments:

Peter Kretzman said...

This post makes some good points about social media uses by brands, but the terminology it uses is rather off-key, I'm afraid. Specifically, the post is titled "cloud computing", and it seems to equate "cloud" with the internet or with social media in general. (E.g., the sentence that talks about "leverage the conversations that are happening on the cloud"). This is a conflation of buzzwords that really doesn't help provide clarity: cloud = social media = internet.

Social media actually isn't "the cloud" or cloud computing in general. Social media are applications: Twitter, Facebook, and the like, that happen to be delivered via the internet. So are Glassdoor and Get Satisfaction. Using "In the cloud" as a synonym for "on the internet", or saying "the cloud is a great platform for social participation", is both incomplete and unsatisfying, in that it misses entirely the groundbreaking nature of cloud computing as a phenomenon.

See Lori MacVittie, Cloud Computing: The Last Definition You’ll Ever Need, for what I think is a useful explanation. I've also covered this on my blog, Cloud computing: misunderstood, but really not that complicated a concept.

Chirag Mehta said...

Hi Peter,

You are absolutely right. cloud != social media != Internet. I wanted to signal the impact of the cloud that has enabled SaaS tools such as Get Satisfaction and Glassdoor. Email was the first and probably still the most popular "social media" tool on the Internet but the scale of the cloud to connect and share information in real-time has changed how people participate in today's social media platforms on the cloud.

I would refrain from using one definition of the cloud over another and I wouldn't certainly make one of mine. The definition of the cloud is still emergent.

alex pronin said...

Thanks a lot!