Get All Access for $5/mo

Cloud-Based Startups Face Tough Marketing Challenges Digital marketers work to be ranked high on the results page. In the future, they will have to work even harder.

By Dan Blacharski Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Estelle Johnson/EyeEm | Getty Images

More than a decade after the dotcom bubble collapsed, the world has entered an emerging post-dotcom era known as "dotcloud." Doing business now requires a higher level of entrepreneurial skills and strategies, and today's new class of born-in-the-cloud startups are driven by an imperative for speed, convenience and personalization. What worked a few years ago is now irrelevant. Marketing in this aggressive startup environment requires a new approach.

My book, "Born in the Cloud Marketing: Transformative Strategies for the Next Generation of Cloud-Based Businesses," tackles how new, born-in-the-cloud startups have to pivot on marketing, address new realities and experiment with new marketing strategies to succeed in this agile marketplace. Following is an excerpt from my book.

Related: Why Alexa Will Soon Be Handling Customer Support Calls -- and What Businesses Should Do to Prepare

The first wave of dotcom technology made a critical error in deploying an overly mechanized and automated customer service approach. Customers would dial into the call center only to be greeted by a voicemail tree -- otherwise known as "voicemail hell" -- with no option to talk to a human, and sometimes with options that were limited to only the most common problems. Callers with an issue that was out of the ordinary would be at a loss.

"Digital marketing will become more attuned to consumers' lives," said Deepa Miglani, senior vice-president of U.S. marketing at Babbel, a language learning app. "With a bounty of data and smarter analytics, marketing will better understand what we like, what we don't like and what we want. This trend to make content more personal and more relevant will shape digital marketing to be less product-driven and more emotionally driven."

In a report from Autopilot that surveyed more than 500 U.S. marketers, it was predicted that scalable personalization would be big in 2017. "Netflix and Amazon are paving the way for contextualized content. Eighty-one percent of marketers today personalize marketing, but only 13 percent take things a step further by leveraging app and service context. Expect to see more behavior-based personalization come into focus next year."

Craig Bloem, founder and CEO of, expands on this school of thought. "Personalization will be taken to a whole new level in both small and large businesses, in that marketing will be personalized to the individual," he said. "Personalization will continue to develop for businesses that do not have personalized product offerings as well. Digital marketing will progress so that all emails include personal information about a customer, such as their name, as well as personalized promotional offers based on products in which they have previously shown interest."

Chatbots and personalized automation.

"Very soon, maybe even by the end of next year, a lot of online transactions and ordering products and services will be done online through chatbots," said Alex Bar, owner of Third Temple Digital. "Progress made in natural language processing now makes it available for people to literally chat to the IM bots in the same way they would to a shop assistant or a waiter and inquire about goods and services. This kind of chatbot is already available at Messenger, and it makes all the sense in the world that businesses and customers alike will opt more for them in the future. Especially, as the current way of ordering goods and services online (constantly confirming card numbers, typing confirmation codes and trying to fathom endless captchas) is slow and simply not user-friendly enough."

Related: Survey Finds Marketers Know All the Important Tech Trends But Aren't Prepared for Any of Them

Chris Hall, founder and CEO of Bynder, a cloud-based marketing platform, said that "nothing will be off the table in terms of what can be automated or synced, especially for businesses that exist in the cloud from the start. The key component will be implementing tactics that bring agility to the forefront of digital marketing. We know consumers want personal interactions with brands, but they also want them in real time."

At the end of the day, Hall said, consumers want to feel like they're always interacting with something natural and real. "This is a tremendous challenge for marketers and something that marketing technology and SaaS will continue to help address over the next several years. Technology will, of course, continue to get smarter, and as a result, consumers will get savvier in what they consider a great digital experience. Brands must take this with a grain of salt, realizing they are allowed to become more automated in their process, so long as they stay authentic and original in their approach."

Market to customers, not to audiences.

Today's cloud technology allows retailers and online businesses to target at a much more granular and personal level, while still retaining a great deal of automation. "The number one shift will be the transition from marketing to audiences to marketing to customers," said Ed Haslam, chief marketing officer at Conviva. "The traditional digital marketing world was based on the cookie or anonymous ID associated with a visitor that evolved from the traditional non-digital world of print and broadcast TV media companies."

Digital marketers and media companies must transition from the panel-based audience and segment-based world of targeting to one of very personalized observed or census-based customer targeting, Haslam said. "Stop marketing to audiences and instead market to customers at scale."

Getting Siri on your side.

Much of digital marketing has revolved around getting found by search engines and coming up within the first page of the SERPs. In the future, this will be even more difficult, as search moves from a text-based search engine to a voice-based one. "The future of marketing lays in the use of virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home," said John Leo Weber, director of digital marketing at Geek Powered Studios. "These semantic voice search technologies signal a shift away from blanket online marketing tactics that help boost visibility online, and represent a move towards zero sum marketing. On a desktop computer if you search 'best coffee shop in Austin,' you will see approximately 10 organic Google results plus three map listings and three to seven AdWords ads. That gives a coffee shop 20 possible ways to be found. But, with semantic voice search you might ask your virtual assistant, 'what's the best coffee shop near me?' She might respond 'I found a coffee shop with five-star reviews one block away. Would you like directions?' In this scenario, the same search yields a singular result for one coffee shop, as opposed to the 20 in the previous example. With one result, marketers will need to fight for a smaller window of visibility."

Related: The Evolution of Voice Search Feature

Danny Watkinson, SEO consultant at Dijitul, a UK-based digital marketing and training provider, said one of the biggest technological talking points in the second half of 2016 was the growth of personal assistants and voice-activated tools such as Google Home and Amazon Echo. The growth of this technology could have a significant effect on digital marketing, particularly SEO, in 2017. The clear majority of websites gear their SEO strategy toward traditional search engine keyword searches carried out by typing. However, typing is slowly being replaced by spoken voice search.

People don't speak the same way they type, and therefore search is becoming more conversational and long tail. For example, someone may type "Japanese restaurant London," but when voice searching, they would be more likely to say, "where can I get Japanese food in London?" Brands -- and SEO professionals -- are going to have to adjust to this to ensure that organic traffic levels stay up.

Dan Blacharski

Industry analyst and senior PR counsel at Ugly Dog Media

Dan Blacharski is a thought leader and PR counsel to several Internet startups. He is author of the book "Born in the Cloud Marketing: Transformative Strategies for the Next Generation of Cloud-Based Businesses."

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.


Build These 10 Habits to Become a True Leader (and Not Just a Boss)

This article explores the distinction between being a boss and being a leader, outlining ten key habits that transform mere management into true leadership.

Business News

Tesla Now Has Nearly 800 New Jobs Open — Up From Only 3 Roles in May

The job openings could indicate where Elon Musk wants to steer Tesla next.

Growing a Business

5 Insights I Learned While Growing My Business from a Startup to a 500-person Company

Scaling a startup from 10 people to 5 hundred is thrilling, but navigating the growth can be tricky. Here are 5 hard-won insights to help you transform your startup into a structured business with a clear roadmap and the right team behind you.

Growing a Business

How AI Startups Can Increase Their Chances of Success in Today's Landscape

The AI B2C sector is set to take off for startups that identify their market and address the tech challenges.