Cloud Computing promises to turn many conventional ideas on their head such as disaster recovery, data warehousing, and application development. However one area I see as having the opportunity to explode in value with Cloud is Marketing. I have always had an affinity for marketing from college where it was my minor (unofficially because as a Computer Engineering student we weren't allowed to have minors) through multiple interface roles from my internship at Eaton/Cutler-Hammer through my time in Sales & Distribution at IBM. The challenge of marketing is to know what the customer thinks and what the customer wants, often in advance of the customer. Much of marketing is driven by research; what works, what doesn't, who, what where, when, how, why. The only limitation is time because there is always one more question to ask. At some point that research has to be analyzed and made actionable through inputs to product development, sales, advertising, eCommerce and IT.
So where does cloud come in to play? First at the most base level with the enablement of rapid change represented by SOA. Once an SOA foundation is in place there are no limits to the reach of marketing. Social Networking. Semantic Web. Business Intelligence. Awareness. These are the future of marketing and all work better on an SOA foundation.
Social networking gives marketers the opportunity to find the influencers, tailor marketing messages, solicit feedback, observe from afar, and even seed new ideas. It's a human lab with no walls and no limitations. I have yet to see tools such as Facebook used for focus groups, or Twitter to measure interest, or harvesting forums for feedback. It may happen but as a user and an industry insider I've heard no discussion.
Semantic web technologies will be as important to Marketing as they will to supply chain management. The closer marketing gets to understanding the whole picture the better they can analyze data in the proper context and provide better input to downstream efforts. Why did someone purchase the product? What was the impetus for purchase? What made them think of the product? What was their first thought about the product? Good questions to ask, good information to know, but today all of this data is gathered post-sale through interviews. What if, via semantic technologies, customers were queried for this data and responded, all without realizing it? Capturing data real-time is always preferable to eliminate the issues of memory loss and filtering.
With the trove of new data available new business intelligence tools will emerge, and by having the data available in the cloud means the four walls of the data center will no longer limit how the data is analyzed. Specialty firms staffed with PhD's will offer services to slice and dice the data using their proprietary tools and provide an additional layer of context by bringing in additional 3rd party data sources. Business intelligence, real business intelligence and not the analytical reporting which passes for BI in many companies today, will emerge as a cloud service.
Awareness? What is that? Find me a better name and I'll use it but through cloud computing and semantic technologies we are a very large and important step closer to enabling awareness; the ability of a computer to understand. Although it will start with small steps, over the next 10 years computers will increasingly direct their own searches for data they feel is missing to assemble their own conclusions based on simple human queries. And when this happens we'll be ready to turn the corner in Marketing and become more proactive than reactive, able to predict events and prepare to seize opportunity. We'll be able to take our supply chain optimizations which can move the snow blowers to the states with the impending snow storms and extend that knowledge with who owns a snow blower ready for replacement, what size is needed based on the footprint of their property, who would benefit from snow removal services, who can be prompted to buy to use a remaining store credit. Targeted marketing will beging to take on the 1:1 reality we've been talking about for the past decade.
Cloud is a revolutionary technology which can be adopted in evolutionary steps making it unique and unavoidable. Cloud brings the world closer together eliminating some of our artificial barriers and bridging ones which are all too real. For Marketing this new capability will drive new thinking, new approaches, and new solutions bound only by their need to understand the customer better than the customer understands themself.