Adobe Summit

For one week this month, over 7,000 users, press, and partners descended on Salt Lake City for the annual Adobe Summit, an event built around a business that a lot of people have no inkling Adobe is involved in. While products like Photoshop and Flash factor into the equation, the Summit was designed to highlight Adobe's Marketing Cloud, which is just what its name suggests: a cloud-based suite of tools designed to manage all facets of marketing. Adobe says it’s the world’s largest marketing cloud, hosting 384 billion dynamic creative assets.

It is used, they say, by all ten of the top U.S. banks, all five of the top media companies, and seventeen out of the top twenty Internet retailers.

The focus of the conference this year was on digital marketing.

Brad Rencher, SVP and GM, Digital Marketing, Adobe Systems
Brad Rencher, SVP and GM, Digital Marketing, Adobe Systems

“As technology and behavior change, so does the nature of marketing,” Brad Rencher, Adobe’s senior vice president, Marketing Cloud, pointed out. “Customer experience has become the brand for organizations, and their gauge for success.”

Day One of the conference was all about product. Adobe announced a collection of new features to help marketers develop, distribute, and analyze the results of their campaigns. Two products, Adobe Primetime and Adobe Audience Manager, were added to the Marketing Cloud, an Internet of Things component was introduced, and a new software development kit introduced.

In addition, Audience Core Services that let marketers bring together CRM and behavioral data collected via websites, apps and IoT device engagements and mine customer profiles for unique behaviors based on specific attributes entered the mix. Adobe says that brands will be able to use the functionality to deliver more personalized email campaigns, web and app content, social media engagements and more. And, it says, by integrating legacy CRM data from Salesforce, Oracle and SAP, Audience Core Services offer the most granular audience segmentation in the industry.

On the analytics side, anomaly detection will allow marketers to find and understand those little data blips that could conceal important insights.

But, Adobe was quick to remind us, today marketers shouldn’t think about campaigns, they should think about the overall experience.

“Experience” is the buzzword of the year. We hear it from all sorts of vendors, driven in large part by the explosion of mobility in all facets of business. Today, said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, we’re swimming in devices and data, and the pace of change is ever accelerating. But at the same time, he noted, the principles of marketing don’t change – great creative is a constant.

“As a community, we need to stretch our focus,” he said. “Your product is marketing. The new question to ask ourselves is, are we thinking broadly enough?”

In retail, in travel, in services, they have always known that marketing is the product: it’s how they sell, not what they sell, that differentiates them, he went on. And Adobe has learned from that, and also learned that mobile and desktop can’t be treated separately – they’re both part of the overall experience (there’s that word again. We heard it a lot at Summit). Adobe is now instrumenting its desktop products so it can more easily implement features from the Marketing Cloud.

Two keys to successful experiences, Rencher said, are consistency and continuity. Every time a customer interacts with a brand, the experience should be consistent. “Every time I interact, don’t expose me to your org chart,” Rencher said. “I don’t care. I need you to know me, and love me.” And that experience can no longer be episodic; it is a mashup, and brands thus have more opportunities to delight customers, or to disappoint them.

“In the age of digital everywhere, brands have a responsibility,” he said. “Consumers commit to brands as long as the brands commit to them. If (the brands) don’t, the consumer thinks they are in breach of contract. At each touchpoint, we win, or we lose.”

Rencher cited three principles at the core of the marketing cloud. To be effective, a cloud has to be comprehensive, providing both totality and breadth. All relevant data, whatever the source, has to be available. It must be integrated, combining to see the whole person. And it must be actionable, not just data and content without context.

”People want to understand the implications beyond implementation of technology,” noted Adobe’s SVP and CMO Ann Lewnes. There are process changes involved, and potentially people changes. Companies need more employees who understand the technology, how to use it, and its impact, so they can use it to drive their business.

Conference Day Two flipped from technology to reinvention. At the beginning of the general session, VP of strategy and business development John Mellor reminded his audience that the principles of digital marketing are at the epicenter of transformation.

“It’s easy to talk about the aspiration to consumer experience, but it’s hard when you talk about how to do it organizationally,” he said. “Some companies now have a CXO – a Chief Experience Officer.” Still, he said, Adobe’s research shows that marketers are excited, optimistic, and encouraged by the industry’s progress. Being a change agent involves risk and hard work, he said, figuring out how to turn impossible into possible.

To inspire its customers, Adobe brought in several keynoters from unrelated industries to describe their personal reinvention. A pair of climbers who were the first to free scale the challenging El Capitan, the chief marketing officer of the Girl Scouts of America, an NFL Hall of Famer, and actor Michael Keaton (who, when the interviewer mentioned that he had been Batman, retorted, “I still am.”) talked about how they coped with the challenge of change.

In between the laughs (and there were plenty of them, along with some terminally cute Girl Scouts), each made his or her point: you need an open mind, imagination, and persistence to succeed. And, as footballer Steve Young put it, “You can’t reinvent yourself, you can just figure out different ways to deliver and receive.” But, he added, that doesn’t mean giving up. “You can tell me the odds are against me, but don’t tell me I’m out.”

“We understand that reinvention is easier said than done,” CEO Narayen said. But when it comes to changes that affect its customers, he said, “We are customer zero for all innovations.”

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