A lot of news has been made in recent months about moving to “the cloud.”
Cloud computing is in no way new. People have been doing it for quite sometime but probably didn’t give it much thought. Gmail, Google Docs, MobileMe and even the ancient Hotmail were the first forays into this world of cloud computing. We have even seen devices like the Netbook, whose sole purpose was to be used as a device to access this fabled cloud.
Now with the advent of Amazon’s new “Cloud Player” and the rumored Google and Apple offerings, it looks like cloud computing is coming to the masses. But are the brands ready for this?
I have watched the genesis of this technology for some time because I hope for a seamless real-time way to share my data over all my devices. Apple has done a pretty good job in this regard with some things, but does not offer the comprehensive solution that I would like. Sure, I can read a book on my iPad and then pick it up where I left off on my iPhone. That is great, but it can become tedious to upload and download files, presentations, and music from one device to the next.
As we get closer and closer to this reality, brands must be ready to adapt and move. The problem is that none of the major players are thinking about this technological trend from a brand perspective.
Take Amazon, for example. Its Cloud Player is designed to be a warehouse of sorts for your digital music library so all you need is a web browser or Android phone to listen to it. The music is stored in Amazon data centers and is streamed on demand to your devices. The problem is that Amazon does not have permission to offer this kind of service. To me, Amazon is a retail store. I buy Christmas presents and power cords from it – and now I can use it for cloud storage? It just does not seem right to me.
It is not that I doubt Amazon’s ability to keep my digital files safe. Amazon has invested a lot of money in its ability to warehouse data. It is, after all, its business.
But it is not its brand. And this is where companies like Amazon need to be careful. There is a difference between the business of a company’s business and the business of its brand. Amazon’s business is warehousing data. It does a great job bringing product information, customer reviews, pricing, images, related items and the like to its customers.
But its brand is about finding both value and convenience in an online shopping experience (which, by the way, can be claimed by any number of online retailers and auction houses).
It is a big leap from a brand perspective to think that a retail store, even only on the web, can be a provider of cloud services. The funny thing is that I do not doubt Amazon has the expertise to do it. My issue is that I do not identify its brand as being able to deliver the services.
We are entering an era that will test brands in ways that they have never been tested before. New opportunities will present themselves and, unless companies approach these opportunities with their brands in mind, they will fail.
Unfortunately for Amazon, it does not look like they are doing this. Just look at the way they rolled its streaming movie service into its Amazon Prime shipping membership program. It was, to say the least, weak.
Even the most powerful brands are not immune to the ramifications of what their brands mean. Although Walmart has made some missteps recently, would it ever be successful selling custom Italian leather couches? Even with its acquisition of Vudu, an online movie rental company, Walmart has tried to distance its brand so that it would not pollute Vudu in any way. Walmart has recognized, at least in this case, that its brand does not currently have permission to be an online movie streaming service. (Perhaps its learned this during the sale of their defunct online DVD rental business to Netflix).
As things continue to become less and less tangible in terms of a physical product (i.e. Cloud Computing), brands need to understand that their ability to be successful is dependent both on their expertise as well as their brand permissions. Further, brands that can align themselves to the beliefs of those potential adopters of cloud storage and computing will have a distinctive advantage as I foresee this industry being filled with many players offering the exact same kinds of services. Price, security, features, storage capacity and bandwidth all will become virtually the same across the category.
I have a feeling that once a cloud service provider is chosen, most will be very unlikely to switch to another. Therefore, brands may only get one shot at it. So make it a good one.