Windows Azure For A Marketer

My role at Microsoft requires that I understand the capabilities that our technology provides for marketers. Lately, I’ve been discussing Windows Azure with a few customers (advertisers) and partners (creative agencies). Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@BrianGroth) where I share tidbits about these and other technical capabilities.

There are quite a few technical and business related reasons to use Azure that are well documented , but I couldn’t find anything specifically for those of us in marketing. So…

Why should a CMO care about Windows Azure?

I summarize my answer in three points:

  • Windows Azure provides on-demand scalability for your brand’s web site so when your marketing efforts take off, due to advertising and social media, your site can scale to meet the demand.
  • Reduced time-to-market for your web sites, since you don’t need to allocate time for setting up servers and deploying web sites.
  • Reduce computing costs since you don’t need to own and manage your own server infrastructure (you’re in marketing, not IT). Yes, the CIO could do this, but often the CIO has priorities other than supporting the marketing org and having your creative agency host your web sites won’t give you the benefits of the first two bullet items.
  • Please see http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/ for more information. The best document I’ve found regarding these points is from one that David Chappell wrote about a year ago in a whitepaper titled Windows Azure and ISVs – A Guide for Decision Makers. Here is the text from that 13 page document specifically about what I am referring to: 

    COMPARING WINDOWS AZURE WITH ALTERNATIVES

    Windows Azure doesn’t exist in a vacuum—there are other approaches. This section compares Windows Azure with two of its most obvious alternatives: traditional hosting and cloud platforms that offer VMs on demand.

    TRADITIONAL HOSTING

    The first stop for most people looking for an outsourced place to run their applications is a hosting provider. In traditional hosting, a customer requests a fixed set of resources and commits to pay for those resources for a defined period of time. For example, an ISV wishing to run a SaaS application might contract with a hoster to provider six Windows servers for a year, paying a pre-defined amount for this service.

    Hosting has plenty of advantages. Using a hoster is frequently cheaper than running an in-house data center, especially for smaller organizations. It also lets the customer avoid the complexity of running its own data center while still having total control over the machines it’s using. While the advent of cloud platforms will likely cut into the traditional hosting business, this model isn’t going away—it still makes sense in plenty of situations.

    Yet at least for some applications, a cloud platform such as Windows Azure is a better choice. The advantages include:

    · The ability to quickly increase the number of servers in use: While a hoster might take days to make a new machine available, a Windows Azure application can get a new VM up and running in minutes.

    · The ability to quickly decrease the number of servers in use: Hosters commonly require a commitment to a fixed set of servers that are provisioned just for you. With Windows Azure, an application can reduce the number of VMs it’s using—and thus the cost of running this application— by decreasing the number of Web role and/or Worker role instances. There’s no up-front commitment to a minimum number of servers.

    · The ability to provide services explicitly designed for highly scalable, highly available applications: Hosters generally provide standard Windows systems, leaving it up to their customers to do whatever else is necessary to run their applications successfully. As described earlier, a cloud platform such as Windows Azure can be explicitly designed to support applications with very high scalability and availability requirements.

    · Less administrative overhead: Unlike Windows Azure, hosters commonly give customers full administrative access to their machines. The trade-off is that more administrative work is required, everything from patching operating systems to managing database management systems. With Windows Azure (and SQL Azure Database), most of this work is done for you, saving time and money.

    VMS ON DEMAND

    A number of vendors, including Amazon, Mosso, GoGrid, and others, offer virtual machines on demand. Unlike traditional hosters, these vendors typically provide usage-based charging with no required commitment and rapidly available VMs. In other words, they provide cloud platforms.

    Windows Azure is also a cloud platform, but even though it uses (and charges via) VMs, it differs in important ways from platforms that offer VMs on demand. With a purely VM-based platform, the situation is in some ways much like hosting: You have complete control, including administrative access to your VMs, but you also bear full responsibility for configuring and managing those VMs and the software they contain. With Windows Azure, you supply only a Windows application, along with instructions about how many instances to run. The platform itself takes care of everything else, including updating system software when required.

    Another important difference is in how relational data is handled. With typical VM-based platforms, you can run a relational database in a VM, just as you’d run the same database on premises or at a hoster. This certainly works, but it requires installing, maintaining, and administering this database yourself. Ensuring reliability can also be challenging, since typical shared-disk clusters often aren’t possible. In the Azure world, an application can instead use SQL Azure Database. As described earlier, this technology

    provides a Microsoft-managed relational store that writes all data multiple times for reliability. Once again, you lose the ability to have total control but gain simplicity and built-in reliability.

    Recognizing and Rewarding Your Influencers

    Forbes has a great article about How To Create A Customer Advocacy Program

    While there is quite a bit of information out there suggesting you figure out a game plan (aka, strategy tied to your marketing and CRM efforts), listen first, find influencers, manage long-term relationships, and be genuine. However, the article has two great suggestions for those influencers that I summarize as:

    • Provide them with graphical “badges” they can put on their blogs, email signatures, T-shirts, and business cards as they become extended ambassadors to your brand. Microsoft MVP program showcases their advocates, and provides them with a variety of resources to evangelize.
    • Integrate them into your business, such as for product planning or presenting at industry events on your behalf.

    Both of these will help your influencers gain more fans of their own, which probably will help their own business but also let them know that you recognize their good work and devotion to your brand.

    Thanks to @tamar for the tip.

    What is Brian Groth’s Job?

    I finally took the time today to explain my job as Director of Consumer & Online Global Account Programs. Roughly it is:

    I try to explain the capabilities of new technologies to marketers in terms of customer reach, growth, and engagement for their brands. The trick is to explain what various technologies can do in a such a way that will spark their imagination so they can go on to create new branded consumer experiences.

    The technologies that I often touch on include: 

    CMOs and Marketing Analytics

    CMO.com has a good article, CMOs Speak Out On Metrics and Marketing Analytics, that explains why a CMO needs to care about:

    1. ROI
    2. Marketing dashboards
    3. Talk to your C-level peers about money (costs & revenue), not technology
    4. Relying too much on those dashboards and efficiency
    5. Elevating the CMO within the enterprise to really be a peer to the  other C-levels

    Read the full article for the details. With this in mind though, I’ve got to point out a few links regarding dashboard guidance and Microsoft’s products, which are great for creating these dashboards to manage your business:

    Good social game features

    Interesting article from SocialTimes.com about game features you need for a social game.

    Brands and Augmented Reality

    Talk about a cutting edge way for brands to get noticed: Augmented Reality!

    More and more I think we’ll see augmented reality applications on smartphones. These will pull data from services such as Foursquare and Yelp, but also from a company’s own web services about their products or store location details. Ben & Jerry’s Moo Vision is one fun example. At Microsoft, much of our augmented reality work is coming out of Microsoft Reasearch, such as some core tools (and more) and a remote control car.

    Foursquare and Brand Advertising

    Brian Solis has a great article about the need for businesses to get onto location-based social networks. I suggest you read the full article, but some examples of brands using Foursquare are:

    The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) partnered with FourSquare to encourage transit ridership

    Starbucks offered $1 off any size Frappuccino for mayors and as a result, observed a 50% increase in check-ins at its locations.

    Monique’s Chocolates in Palo Alto acquired over 50 new customers and earned over 100 redemption for it’s special of “buy one get one” for truffles. Each redemption also equal a 25% return ration. In comparison, the chocolate shop ran an ad in a local paper and acquired only one new customer at a cost of $300.

    AJ Bombers, a popular burger joint in Milwaukee increased menu item purchases by 30% through its special promotions of free burgers for mayors and free cookies for adding tips. Also demonstrating creativity, AJ Bombers hosted the equivalent of a Tweetup for customers to help them earn Swarm and I’m on a Boat badges while increasing loyalty and sales.

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