UPDATED 12:00 EST / OCTOBER 18 2017

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By customer demand, NetApp reinvents itself for multicloud data management

When does a hot-ticket company in a cooling market jump on the bandwagon of a new technology? NetApp Inc. is transforming its healthy storage business into data management for multicloud computing environments. Tuning out media hype and Wall Street analysts, the company instead let customers, empowered by interactive marketing, call the play.

“Our customers aren’t talking to us about storage anymore; they’re talking to us about data and what their data challenges are,” said Jean English (pictured), chief marketing officer of NetApp. NetApp is helping existing customers, like storage admins and storage architects, move to cloud; it is also reaching out to new customers, like cloud enterprise architects.

English and her colleague Annalisa Camarillo, head of global content strategy, development and operations at NetApp, explained the company’s new direction during the NetApp Insight event in Las Vegas. They spoke in exclusive interviews with John Furrier (@furrier), host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, and Keith Townsend (@CTOAdvisor), guest host and principal at The CTO Advisor. (* Disclosure below.)

This week, theCUBE spotlights Jean English and Annalisa Camarillo in our Women in Tech feature.

Customers help NetApp help them

Of all storage sellers, NetApp may have the least reason to hurry out of the market. Global enterprise storage technology factory revenue dipped down 0.5 percent year over year in the first fiscal quarter of 2017, according to IDC Research Inc. It rose a mere 2.9 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2017. NetApp placed third in Q217 storage revenue behind Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. in second and first place, respectively. However, with 16.7 percent year-over-year growth, NetApp is the only company in the top five to grow its storage profits in the past year; all others suffered losses.

Nevertheless, NetApp has read the signs and understands that simple storage is not going to satisfy its customers going forward. Data monetization and multicloud have come up far too often in conversations with customers recently. And NetApp is heeding and branching into these areas, according to English.

Years ago, the company faced a similar sink-or-swim challenge: “Virtualization, virtualized environments could have killed us; made us stronger,” English said. Today, the company is confident that it can turn cloud to its advantage in much the same way. “We embrace it holistically,” English added.

Aside from technology to integrate data and drive insight from it, NetApp is also increasingly invested in compliance. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) is a growing concern. Here, again, customers’ opinions are informing NetApps’ approach.

“We’ve been actually consulting and talking with customers about what they want to do with data compliance,” English said.

Watch the complete video interview with Jean English below:

Getting the content marketing story straight

In these ongoing efforts to better understand its customers, NetApp strives for a two-way conversation instead of simply blaring advertisements at them.

“I love it because it’s now more about human behavior,” Camarillo said. The company is using customer data analytics to pre-tailor messages that speak to them personally. “We’re paying a lot of attention to prescribing content to the reader and being more of a reader advocate than being a company that’s focused on […] selling products and pushing products,” she said.

Insights from data help marketers better understand who customers are and what they want — and then to deliver “that and only that,” Camarillo explained. Today’s customers’ threshold for ad annoyance is quite low thanks to ad blockers, voice-assisted mobile searches and other technology that puts users in control. Many companies have taken the hint and have replaced reviled popup ads with content marketing. Eighty-nine percent of business-to-business marketers have some type of content marketing strategy, according to a report compiled by Content Marketing Institute, a UBM LLC company. But how many of them are creating content that is substantially better than old-school ads?

“Companies still have the mindset that they want to do product launches and push their products. They want to sell how they want to sell, and they don’t want to change the focus, addressing how the buyers want to buy,” said Barbie Mattie, senior research director of emerging growth strategies for SiriusDecisions Inc., in a Forbes.com article. “And because they can’t solve that massive shift to audience-centricity, lack of aligning the content to the buyers’ needs is an output of that.”

To stand out and connect to customers authentically, Camarillo suggests marketers get out of the ad mindset. “It is about bringing journalistic value to content — just telling the story,” she said. “Our audiences now get to interact with content that I think is more direct, that I think is truthful, that I think is transparent.”

Customers sharing content on social sites like Facebook and Twitter can increase engagement, Camarillo added.

Watch the complete video interview with Annalisa Camarillo below:

NetApp hits multicloud milestone

One proof point for NetApp’s constant attention to its customers’ wants is its new tech for data orchestration across multiple clouds. This uses NetApp’s Data Fabric to “seamlessly integrate across multiple clouds or on-prem environments,” English explained.

This is not simply doing different things on different clouds at different times — that is largely what multicloud has meant thus far. If cloud orchestration with Data Fabric works the way NetApp claims it does, it represents a breakthrough in true multicloud or intercloud.

Be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of NetApp Insight US 2017. (* Disclosure: NetApp Inc. sponsored this segment of theCUBE. Neither NetApp nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

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