What do puffy white clouds really say about information technology contractors?


Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, unveils the iCloud storage system in San Francisco. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)
September 18, 2011

Local information technology contractors have taken the federal cloud-first policy quite literally.

Since the government announced last year that it would give priority to cloud — or Web-based — computing, contractors have been overloading their Web sites with images of puffy white clouds and blue skies.

They’re hoping to show that they’re on board with the new policy — and ready to be awarded contracts — but some marketing specialists say the images may signal something else.

“If everyone is portraying themselves to look like the same thing, then there’s no differentiation in the offering,” said Susan Waldman, a partner at District-based branding firm ZilYen.

Waldman said she’s only seen one company — Apple — get it right.

Apple is busy readying iCloud, which reflects an effort to stamp its own identity on the space, Waldman said.

She and Sherri Green, president of the D.C. Ad Club and director of business development at LM&O Advertising in Arlington, said the key to successful advertising is illustrating how a firm’s version stands out.

For “an IT professional, seeing an image of the cloud — it’s an automatic get [that] this company offers cloud technology,” said Green. “So the ad has got to communicate what [the] benefit is.”

Green said LM&O has seen an increase in the number of companies interested in the agency’s help in marketing their cloud-related products and services.

To be fair, IT contractors face a challenge marketing their technology services — many of which aren’t exactly camera-ready. Will Gustafson, marketing manager at Accelera Solutions in Fairfax, said in an e-mail that the cloud image is so pervasive that the company can use it “to evoke instant associations with our intended audience — IT professionals.”

He said Accelera seeks to show what it can offer by pairing cloud images with physical equipment such as a laptop.

Lex Crosett, vice president and chief information officer at Germantown-based Earth Networks, is less impressed with the marketing of the cloud than with the model itself.

Cloud computing was previously known as “utility computing, with the concept that you would rent only what you needed,” he said. “This somehow morphed.”

He criticized the proliferation of puffy clouds in advertising as a fad that doesn’t do much to clarify what a company is offering.

Crosett comes from a business that knows its clouds — both of the literal and the figurative variety. Earth Networks operates WeatherBug, an online site whose need for data capacity fluctuates with the weather.

“We’re kind of poster children for the need for cloud or utility computing,” Crosett said. “When the weather is calm, we’re at 20 percent of capacity; when we have a big weather event, we go right up to peg the limit.”

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