If you are one of the many executives who are challenged by what the "cloud" means for your business and whether it is truly a necessity or just the latest in a long line of digital advances, you are far from alone. Simply put, the cloud is a way to store and access information online instead of on a single computer or hard drive. This means that any information you put online, or 'in the cloud' can be accessed on any smartphone, tablet or PC, anywhere and anytime.

With the skyrocketing popularity of mobile devices, many companies allow their employees to use their own device for work, creating a need for more cloud based applications to securely store and manage company knowledge. Apps that can be used on any device to make updates on customers or projects, store data, or communicate more efficiently have popped up quickly. These applications allow businesses an easy way to put their most powerful asset – their knowledge - online and store it securely. More importantly, these apps are more affordable than other complex solutions previously used by large organizations, enabling companies to lower their overhead IT costs. The way in which we do business has been disrupted by the increase in the use of the cloud and mobile devices alike. To lower costs and increase opportunity, adoption of these tools is no longer an option, but a necessity.

Improved Workforce

It starts from the bottom up. Employees are the heart and soul of any company, and without access to the knowledge that fuels them to be able to do their job to the best of their ability, they are lost. Many companies have long felt that they are limited to hiring talent only in the areas where they have physical office locations. This has significantly limited their ability to find talent located in other regions of the country or world. With the cloud, companies are now able to recruit quality employees from anywhere in the world and work with them just as effectively as if they were in the same office space. Cloud based tools, such as Skype for video conferencing, make communication easier and ultimately improve the way companies can hire the best talent. Major companies, such as United HealthCare and American Airlines are using this to their advantage to lower overhead costs and obtain a higher quality workforce.

Preparation is a Competitive Advantage

Imagine sending a sales force into the field without access to their customer information, presentations, contracts or data. To close the sale would be nearly impossible. With the cloud, sales forces and employees from the top down never have to be without important documents. With file storage services, such as Dropbox, Box.net, Sugar Sync, and more, teams can upload the files they need and be ready to make a pitch at a moment's notice.

Customer relationship management (CRM) or relationship management in general, is another vital tool that enables sales and other executives to take notes and store data in the cloud. Applications, such as Salesforce.com, and Evernote, provide businesses with the tools they need to keep track of their customers and to-do lists on the go.

Collaboration across Barriers

In a cloud-based business world, effective collaboration is essential, and for effective collaboration, cloud storage and management is required. Every player, whether it is the marketing team working with the graphic designer on new creative, or the CEO working with the executive team to come up with a new strategy, must have access to the data they need at all times.

The cloud makes collaboration easier and eliminates the e-mail chaos so many businesses have experienced without tools to keep communications and data organized and in one place. Web-based, or cloud, collaboration tools, such as Basecamp, Podio, and Central Desktop, provide businesses a place online to work on projects. Everything stays securely in virtual workspaces where teams can come together online to work more effectively. Business becomes smarter and more competitive and productivity is fueled by consistent access to the information needed to get the job done.

The Future of Marketing

While the benefits discussed above are widely known and starting to be incorporated by some large organizations, it is the marketing department who stands to benefit the most from the recent developments in technology.

Marketing automation is relatively new and is used by most large companies. These tools allow businesses to send e-mails automatically to immediately nurture leads, manage social media by scheduling their posts and tweets, and monitor reputation automatically by setting up notifications. And while these tools have changed the way marketers work, the near future is the most compelling reason that all CMO's must get on board with the cloud.

Social Integration

Early social integration tools, such as Hootsuite, have helped marketers schedule their broadcasts creating a way for them to reach customers at all times of the day. This in turn has led marketers to see the value of timing, test when their target market responds the most, and take customer engagement to a new level. But already technology advancements are helping marketers achieve this on an even deeper level.

Very recently, HubSpot, an industry leader and self-proclaimed all in one solution, partnered with Hootsuite, a cloud based software that automates social media broadcasts. This integration is taking lead generation to a new level. According to their press release, HubSpot has a beta version of a cloud based tool that will allow Hootsuite to react to new leads that come in from, for example, whitepaper downloads or webinar signups. The information will be used to target customers, and ultimately close the lead generation loop by following up in a more dynamic way than simply with a thank-you e-mail. Marketers will also have the opportunity then to gather more intelligence about their customers and build stronger campaigns based on the data.

Content Management Platforms

Marketers hold on to a lot of data. From blog posts, to tweets, to whitepapers, there is a lot of information that must be stored securely but also remain accessible. And marketers use this content on a variety of platforms. Now, a marketer likely uses a collaboration solution to gather their content from freelance or in-house copywriters. They then transfer that content to a management solution where they can schedule broadcasts according to their campaign timeline. Finally, they analyze the results using a third solution, such as Google Analytics.

In the future, these solutions will be combined into one solution so marketers can have a single space to manage all of their content. Wordpress is in the early stages of providing this solution but still has a long ways to go. Right now, they allow multiple users to access the system and upload content. Creators can then save it as a draft which will automatically give access to the marketer to edit, optimize and publish. After publishing, there are limited analytics which can be used to see the number of visitors and to some extent where they came from. Keeping data in one place gives marketers a faster overview and more control of their information.

Personalized Content

Personalized content developed by web-based publisher for individual readers is being actively advanced and will be increasingly the norm, and CMO's must be ready. Just as cookies have been used to make advertisements more dynamic to their viewers by basing what is shown on specific interests and past viewing history, content will soon be the same.

For example, if an advertiser or marketer is running an online campaign, the landing page content can be targeted to individual audiences. While this is already done to some extent through keywords, in the future it will become even more dynamic. A person interested in financials and a person interested in marketing can click on the same keyword or advertisement and be taken to different landing pages. While the short ad message may display something to the effect of growing business or streamlining efforts, the actual reasoning of why this is important will vary depending on the role of the person reading the content. This will give more opportunity to develop niche markets within target markets making campaigns more effective overall.

Ultimately, the cloud is making business operations and marketing more about a conversation and less about a process. For large enterprises with numerous campaigns and conversations to manage, this will open up significant doors of opportunity all around. As the cloud and applications based in the cloud develop, so will the need for senior executives who are on top of leading trends.

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