The Cloud, Unicorns, and Marketing

Joel Farr

September 11, 2014

This past weekend I was scouring the web for the best backup solution for all of my family’s home videos, pictures and files. Knowing how important keeping your data safe is, I was long overdue for this task. During my search, however, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of companies using the term “cloud” in their marketing messaging. Carbonite says, “Our automatic, secure & affordable cloud backup allows you to stay focused on what’s important to you” and Crashplan says, “Select a local drive, a trusted computer, the CrashPlan cloud, or all three.” Many web hosts use the same messaging, and as I scoured, I began to wonder where this absurdity came from. I call it absurd because there is no such thing as “The Cloud”. If you are reading this, and you think that “The Cloud” is some magical place in the sky that keeps all of your data — go ahead and get back on your unicorn and ride off into the sunset. You and I probably wouldn’t get along anyway. In all seriousness though, it’s important to remember that this so called “cloud” is just another computer with a hard drive just like the one inside your own computer. It is just as susceptible to failure as any other drive, and there is no magic involved whatsoever.

It turns out that Eric Schmidt from Google is credited with coining the term “Cloud” at a conference in 2006. It’s a bit ironic to me that most IT guys hate the term (including me), and yet, it came from an IT guy. But despite my own hatred for the term, I have to admire those who have used it for marketing purposes. Companies like Apple and their “iCloud” services are doing a great job with it. After all, truly great marketing involves taking something bland, generic, boring, or everyday, and making it exciting, easy, and fun. I personally happen to think there is nothing bland, generic, or boring about servers, data, and hard drives, but alas, the rest of the world does. One of the important and obvious marketing lessons here is the importance of your company’s brand messaging, language, and communication.

As consumers, when we are given a choice between two companies who sell the same product, we naturally search for a differentiator. Which one offers the better warranty? What do the return policies look like? I’m sure that, figuratively, we all have something as great as servers, data, and hard drives in our businesses in the form of a product or service — we simply need to pay attention to how to call it “The Cloud”. Sometimes the messaging itself is the best differentiator.

I suppose there is a place for unicorns (and their riders) in my heart after all.