Adobe consolidates the marketing cloud

If you’re Brad Rencher, Adobe’s senior vice president for digital marketing, and you’re standing on stage in front of almost 7,000 people at Adobe Summit, the largest digital marketing conference in the world, you have a problem.

But it’s a nice problem to have.

When your product is the perceived market leader, you’re not going to tear it up and start again; nor are you going to announce a radical rethink. While the “Reinvention of Marketing” was the theme of this year’s Summit, the reinvention of Adobe’s digital marketing cloud was not on the agenda.

The message I took away from Rencher’s first day keynote, and a series of meetings with Adobe digital marketing executives, was that existing solutions were being more deeply and richly integrated—plus, to be fair, a vision of hotwiring the customer experience out of the digital environment, and back into the real, physical world.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said, in his own address to the conference, that the task is “integrating data with content to get the right message, to the right person, at the right time.” Any modern marketer can sign up to that manifesto, but the devil, of course, is in the detail—and there are many detailed pieces to the jigsaw Adobe has been putting together.

Let’s be honest. The complexity of the interactions between all the moving parts of Adobe’s proffer can be daunting. There are a lot of jigsaw pieces to the puzzle. But if I just move those pieces around a little, a clearer might picture will emerge.

Stepping Up to the Cloud

The first thing to understand is that the marketing cloud now hosts eight key solutions, all supported by a platform of what Adobe calls “core services.” Here are the big eight:

-Experience Management;

– Analytics;

– Campaign;

– Target;

– Social;

– Media Optimizer;

– Primetime; and

– Audience Manager.

Primetime is familiar enough. In partnership with NBC, it delivered the Sochi Olympics online and on-demand to any connected screens, through tens of millions of authenticated streams. Audience Manager, the customer data management platform, has been around a while too (Forrester ranked it best of breed back in 2013).

What’s new is that Primetime and Audience Manager now join the top line of solutions within the marketing cloud. That means two things.  Most obviously, it will make it easier to align Primetime video content with the creation of customer experiences, and to leverage Audience Manager enhance customer profiling across all the solutions. It also means, as Loni Stark, Adobe’s senior director of strategy and product marketing, told me, that “when a solution is part of the marketing cloud, we now manage it on the same development roadmap as the rest of the cloud.” Think of it as Primetime and Audience Manager winning their stripes.

Building the Experience

What customers increasingly demand, said Rencher, is a “consistent and continuous” experience across all channels. This need was underlined for me in a conversation I had with Giles Richardson, head of analytics for the Royal Bank of Scotland. His mission has been to “offer an effortless digital experience to customers, an experience so simple for customers to deal with that they’ll give you more business.” The experience needed to be consistent across three brands—RBS, NatWest, and Ulster Bank—while reflecting the brands’ differences; and the experience needed to be implemented via “a technology that can be democratized.” RBS didn’t want a solution that would need to be siloed for the use of specialists, but something which could be used by the same people selling savings accounts and mortgages.

These staff members—referred to as customer “journey managers”—are empowered to control, change, and deliver content, using Adobe Experience Manager, or AEM (which Richardson called “simple enough”). Analytics are played back through dashboards which show both KPIs and drivers and KPIs—dashboards which had to be highly accessible: in Richardson’s words, “Five seconds and I get it.”

Symantec, the security, storage, and recovery vendor, had different needs. With a $1.8 billion global market for its security products, spread over more than 60 countries, it had already seen success using the “Test&Target” features of Adobe Target to enhance customer communications. As Ravi Mohan, Symantec’s director of engineering, explained to me, even a small improvement across such a large audience “is huge for us, because it all adds up.”

Symantec’s problem was sluggishness in exploiting the results derived from Target, because content management was built into a complex stack architecture. So, Symantec started talking to Adobe about Experience Manager, and it’s been live in their system—as part of a move towards a “much more decoupled architecture” since September. The benefits include lower bounce rates and higher conversion rates, actually derived from fewer software and human resources.

The Beneficial Cycle

Stark called it the “trifecta” of the marketing cloud, the increased integration of experience management, audience targeting, and analytics–experienced by the user, in effect, as a single product. Create the experience, deliver it to the right customers, and use the results to refine the experience. RBS’s Richardson identified the same solutions and described their interaction as a “beneficial cycle.”

The same concept underlies the integration of Adobe Target with Adobe Campaign to create emails with content which resolves only when opened by the recipient. Users can already build email or other campaigns by dragging and dropping assets they’ve published into AEM (if they have it; if not, into the shared assets repository at the core services level of the cloud). The new feature uses algorithms to develop highly personalized messages, not at the time the email is sent, but for the real time context in which it is read, taking account of everything from the time of day to the weather. Potential customers needn’t read offers which closed last week.

And again, there’s the opportunity to test and optimize the messages, using response metrics to re-craft the experience.

Kerry Reilly, director of product marketing with Campaign, described another new offering they’re calling Campaign Standard. Based on evidence of wide dissatisfaction with email service providers (ESPs), Campaign Standard will draw on the “richer understanding of the customer profile,” and better audience definition, to target messaging more precisely. As Reilly observed, “There’s no incentive for ESPs to send fewer emails.” Campaign Standard aims to reduce “contact fatigue” in the audience. It’s also enabled for mobile, and has templates which can be populated from the shared assets repository, so email campaigns can be built and executed on the run.

Moving Into the Physical World

Stark discussed how we don’t segment human beings across channels. We don’t have a spouse we talk to in person, and then a phone spouse, to whom we need to repeat the face-to-face conversation. “That’s where this is all going,” she said. “We create these great experiences, but we need to connect them.”

Marketers are familiar with the demand to connect experiences across traditional, web, and mobile channels, but the customer experience is about to move into a new kind of space, a digital environment Rencher calls not the Internet of Things, but the “Internet of Experience.” Certainly this means extending the customer experience into the things around them—the features of a smart home, for example—and indeed the things they’re wearing—smart headsets or watches. But when the experience moves from device to device seamlessly, the devices themselves may not matter any more.

The potential for connected experiences was sharply illustrated by showing how content could be transferred from a mobile device to an AEM screen with a  flick of the wrist. AEM screens may look like big, flat, digital ad displays, but they’re highly interactive. A main stage demonstration by Jody Giles of sportswear manufacturer Under Armour, showed how the screens could be used collaboratively to design products and campaigns. But they’re also geared for use in physical retail locations, where customers can use them to customize product choices.

Consolidating the picture

If I’ve been at all successful in making a coherent picture out of all these puzzle pieces, what does it look like? Try this. Adobe is trying to help the modern marketer:

1.     Create a compelling, continuous, data-driven experience for…

2.     A precisely defined audience, using…

3.     Feedback from analytics to always keep making it better.

There’s that trifecta again. And truthfully, the modern customer expects and demands nothing less.

Adobe is covering The Hub’s travel and expenses to attend the event

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