Best Practices to Increase Adoption of Operator Personal Cloud Services

Hal Steger : Thinking Out Cloud
Hal Steger
Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Funambol. 20+ years of marketing & product management experience at high-growth, innovative global software companies.
| This blog is about personal cloud solutions, technology, trends and market developments. Its scope is to comment on and discuss several aspects of personal clouds.

Best Practices to Increase Adoption of Operator Personal Cloud Services

Here is an open letter to marketers of operator personal cloud services. Although this might seem to be of interest to a limited audience, it contains insights that could be valuable to people who want to better understand the intricacies of the personal cloud market or of marketing mobile services via carriers.

Say you work for a mobile operator that offers a white-label personal cloud service. To start with, it is important to understand why your organization is doing this, and there are several reasons. These often include revenue generation, subscriber retention, competitive differentiation or parity, and as a core element of an evolving ecosystem of mobile services and products.

When it comes to user adoption, however, there is a challenge, namely, most smartphones today come with a built-in personal cloud service. Users must turn these off if they don’t want it i.e. they need to opt out. Most smartphone users aren’t aware of this, don’t know how to do this or care much about it. This implies that most smartphone users just go with the device’s ‘default’ personal cloud service, from Apple, Google or Microsoft, even if users are only vaguely aware of this. In some ways, it is similar to Android devices that have multiple apps to play music, watch videos or manage photos.

Beyond the device’s built-in personal cloud services, there are also over-the-top (OTT) personal cloud services vying for user mindshare, such as Dropbox. So the pertinent questions for mobile operator marketers are: why would people use a carrier personal cloud instead of or in addition to these and what should operators do to maximize adoption of their personal cloud service?

This post addresses the second question as the first has been extensively covered elsewhere. In this post, it is presumed that operators know the advantages of their personal cloud service versus other personal clouds. These include cross-brand support (vs. iCloud), digital life-centric user experience (vs. file-centric, like Dropbox and Google Drive), flexibility, integration with their ecosystem, and tactics such as zero rating mobile data traffic for personal cloud users so their cellular access is free.

The other ‘given’ (assumption) of this post is that operators want to maximize adoption of their personal cloud service. Although this might seem obvious, some operators with a personal cloud service take a laissez-faire approach to marketing it. This might occur for a few reasons such as the operator:

1) believes it is sufficient to have a personal cloud service as a ‘me-too’ service;
2) isn’t sure how much the service will benefit them so they don’t spend money to market it – some operators are concerned that the more successful they are at marketing their personal cloud service, the more users they get, and the more it will cost, without considering the value created;
3) doesn’t make it a priority - people knowledgeable with operators say if something isn’t a top priority, such that the operator thinks it can generate their next big source of money, it goes on the back burner.

For personal clouds, this is problematic as:

1) due to the plethora of options, the operator must promote their service to get subscribers to use it;
2) a critical mass of subscribers is required for the operator to gain substantial benefit - this is a classic ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation that behooves the operator to invest significantly in marketing the service to obtain a critical mass;
3) the primary way that personal cloud services benefit many operators is via retention than direct revenue, which takes time and is hard to measure accurately due to noise in the value equation;
4) many operators do not have a track record of successfully marketing 3rd party mobile services, this can be a new thing for them and a personal cloud service might be viewed as a foreign entity versus their core services and products that they are more comfortable marketing;
5) unlike personal cloud services embedded in smartphones or with market cachet, it can be difficult to make subscribers aware of an operator’s service and to get the mobile app on user devices. It is one thing for someone to passively use a built-in device personal cloud, it is another when the person must download an app, install it, run it, and sign up for an account, which often involves integration with operator legacy systems. Though this should be a seamless process, for many operators, it involves effort, making the ‘first run’ experience more challenging.

These hurdles make some operators wonder if the effort is worth it. The good news is that empirical evidence shows that operators can be highly successful with their personal cloud service if they follow marketing best practices.

The rest of this post describes marketing best practices to maximize user adoption. Some can be done more quickly and at little cost than others. Some are ‘push’ oriented meaning they represent ways that operators promote the service, others are ‘pull’, meaning they generate demand to get users to acquire the service.

That said, there is no ‘one size fits all’ marketing cookbook that applies to all operators, as each operator has different needs and market conditions. Instead, there is now an evolving body of knowledge of proven marketing best practice approaches that operators should adapt for their situation.

Marketing best practice #1 is starting by setting aggressive yet obtainable goals for registered, active and premium users, and to create a marketing plan and cost model to achieve these. Then your organization should execute against these, measure the results, and tweak as needed.

Best practice #2 is viewing user adoption as a journey where people move through a sequence of steps on their path to becoming active. This journey starts with identifying eligible users, helping them discover the service, informing them about its value, and helping them get the app, sign up and start using it. It includes continuous use of the service for multiple purposes, such as managing photos, playing music, and sharing files or videos. It is important to focus on where people are at in the journey so you know how to unblock obstacles. For example, how many people are aware of the service but don’t believe it is worthwhile to use? How many want to use it but they’ve gotten hung up on a step? How many have tried it once but forgotten about it? Or they used it for photos but haven’t touched other parts? By focusing on the different stages, it is possible to take consistently effective actions to shepherd people towards becoming repeat users.

Best practice #3 is to copy device makers by embedding the operator personal cloud app on user devices. The challenge for operators globally is technical or cost constraints. In many parts of the world, operators do not sell many or any branded smartphones. While it is usual for a U.S. mobile subscriber to buy a branded phone from a large carrier with a subsidy, such that the operator has the volume and financial clout to preload their personal cloud app on devices, this differs for many operators worldwide.

One of our operator customers does embed their personal cloud app on Android devices that they sell. It is like iCloud or Google Drive i.e. it is part of the device activation and it runs by default such that users must opt-out if they don’t want it. This operator is highly successful with their personal cloud service i.e. a high percentage of their branded Android device users remain active. They quickly exceeded a million users. The moral is if an operator can do something similar, it is worth it, when you consider the difference in adoption rates between embedded and downloaded apps, and the marketing cost of acquiring personal cloud users - it is worth it to spend up-front to get the app on user devices, using whatever possible means.

It is not just putting apps on devices but this also means making the first-run experience ‘positive’. This is not rocket science but it can be challenging due to operator legacy systems. Still, it goes almost without saying it is worth it to do this as opposed to the alternative. Also as noted, it is important to explain why people should use the operator personal cloud service instead of or in addition to others.

There are two other marketing best practices that are proxies to embedding a personal cloud app on user devices, if that is impractical. The first relates to the operator’s mobile app for self-service that people use to check usage, do billing, get customer care, etc. Operators have exerted significant resources to get this app on user devices. The best practice is to leverage this to get the operator personal cloud app on the user device and make the user aware of it. This self-service app is used by 80% of subscribers, which makes it a great gateway to get users to also use the operator personal cloud.

Although it is infeasible to integrate the personal cloud app directly with the operator self-service app, the self-service app can promote and link to the operator’s personal cloud app. If someone taps a link in the self-service app to go to the operator personal cloud app, if the app is not on their device, it can open the right page in the app store to make it easy to download the app and start using it.

An alternative is to integrate activation of the personal cloud service into mobile account setup. When someone signs up for or reactivates an account, operators should do what they can to ensure the person not only has a personal cloud account but has the app on their device and knows about it. This might involve doing things in shops, via a call center or SMS. Our customers have done these things and have seen a big increase in people who sign up for their personal cloud service and keep using it.

This segues to another marketing best practice – leveraging the human touch. When Apple introduced iCloud, they ran TV ads to make people aware and they reinforced this in stores with signs. They trained store personnel to talk to iPhone users about iCloud. They did this for months for a critical mass of users.

A variation of the human touch store approach is Dropbox. Although Dropbox had no store personnel touting their service, the human touch was their users sharing files with others such that other people gained exposure to it. As this was from a trusted person and they saw how easy Dropbox was, this prompted them to create a Dropbox account.

Whether it is someone at a store or a friend who spreads it virally, this is what it takes for many people to learn about a personal cloud service and start using it. This is an advantage that operators have over OTT personal clouds i.e. the operator has human channels to interact with subscribers, such as people in stores, resellers and call centers. These human touch points need to be harnessed to create a critical mass of users. Our customers have done this using a variety of methods, but often, it involves training their sales and retail personnel, providing them with incentives to promote the service, and giving them tools. This should be part of every go-to-market plan for a personal cloud service.

Another marketing best practice is using a mobile engagement platform that does two things. First, it provides analytics about all facets of the service journey, for deep understanding of who is using it, how frequently, what parts they use most, etc. Second, the mobile engagement platform automates timely and relevant push notifications to segments of users e.g. to people who have not used the app in a while, it can send reminders or encouragements. A mobile engagement platform can implement a reward system that provides incentives for people to do things the operators want.

Another marketing best practice is performing demand generation ‘pull’ activities to make people aware of the service, motivate them to get the app, start using it and keep using it. Our customers have performed a wide range of activities including online, mobile and offline advertising, videos, SMS and email campaigns, e-newsletters, contests and other incentives to make people interested in their personal cloud service and to get them to use it.

One customer conducted a campaign that resulted in several million people signing up and getting a high percentage to buy a subscription. Their activities fell into three areas: user awareness & education, user promotion & incentives, and user resources. The activities that work best depend on an operator’s situation but in brief, operators are becoming much more adept at effectively marketing their service.

Sometimes, this might involve bundling their personal cloud service with other things, or adjusting its pricing or storage amounts to make the service more enticing. Other times this involves social media, app store marketing, integrated voice response (IVR) promotions, search engine optimization, public relations, and more. The marketing best practice is to identify and perform the activities that make your subscribers aware of your service and get them to use it.

In sum, the body of evidence is mounting that operators can be highly successful with a personal cloud service. Operators have a growing set of tools in the form of marketing best practices that make a big difference between a me-too personal cloud service and a strategic differentiator and money maker. The good news is that early adopter operators have blazed a trail that other operators can learn from and follow to achieve highly positive results.