Adobe Experience Cloud: The Data Piece

“Role that analytics plays is now completely foundational. You can’t do great marketing or great advertising unless you have great data behind it. The more data you have, and the more channels — as long as you can integrate them right — the higher resolution the view of the customer.”

That was Nate Smith, group manager for product marketing at the Adobe Analytics cloud, summarizing the way in which analytics has become a central driver for customer experience initiatives, rather than a valuable add-on for metrics and reporting purposes.

Adobe’s CX system of record

The context for the conversation was Brad Rencher’s keynote at Adobe Summit 2018 in which he re-cast Adobe’s Experience Cloud offering as a customer experience “system of record,” starting with the all-important data piece. I asked Smith whether this should be viewed as a big change or just a change of emphasis?

“Probably both,” he said, “as far as how the data is being used. One of the big trends we’re seeing is organizations adopting data at a scale we’ve never seen before.” He’s also seeing lines of business outside marketing, for example, “having a need to utilize data to make decisions that affect the CX.” Take the mobile app developer, using analytics to optimize the app experience; that may seem remote from customer-facing work, but of course the customer will directly touch the app

Not only are brands consuming customer data across a range of functions, but they increasingly need analytics generated at high velocity. “The need for insight is becoming more real-time than ever,” said Smith.  Getting reports a week later, or a month later, is no longer acceptable; especially when it comes to optimizing CX. Customers have high demands:  “We want an experience now.”

The make-up of teams needing data, and the speed at which they need it, has been “changing the vendor landscape,” said Smith. “How do we make data available to all these groups which have not been trained in analytics, are not data scientists – but they are customer touching?”

Access to insights

Analytics has, in the past, been what Smith calls a “destination type of tool. You did your analytics, and there was usually an output: a predictive score, a segment, an audience. But having these insights is not enough. Action is the key word. Those insights need to be ingested by other technologies, which embed the analytics, and which can automatically take action taken in real time, whether it’s for content or ad optimization.”

Adobe has two main solutions to the demand for instantly actionable analytics from business teams not deeply engaged with data science. First up, there are the recent enhancements to the Analysis Workspace, giving business unit stakeholders the opportunity to drill deep into data without hand-holding from experts. Secondly, there’s Sensei, Adobe’s CX-specific AI engine, working behind the scenes to surface insights and make recommendations for actions.

The data quality question

As Rencher, GM for the Experience Cloud, had explained, the new “system of record” is designed to ingest customer data from a wide variety of sources, apply a common taxonomy (Adobe is promoting an open standard data model for the experience business, XDM), and make it available for execution, whether in Adobe Experience Manager, Campaign, Target, the Advertising cloud, or other Adobe cloud environments. The two main use cases, for now, are driving the customer journey through timely deployment of relevant content; and optimizing the ads customers see; both parts, ideally, of a seamless CX.

Processing many trillions of transactions every year, the Experience Cloud itself is a rich source of data. But the system of record also taps into external sources. For example, CRM. Famously, Adobe offers no CRM – and currently has no plans to do so. But ingesting data from third party CRMs – Salesforce, for example – inherits incompleteness and inaccuracy from the source.

“So…if data doesn’t exist, you can’t do anything,” Smith acknowledges. “What we do provide, however, are capabilities to help organizations identify blind spots, whatever they are.” The long-standing partnership with ObservePoint contributes to the monitoring and validation of tags. Sensei can alert users to gaps in the data too. As for CRMs – said Smith – Adobe offers “best-in-class technology to hook into CRM systems, or any type of enterprise data warehouse.”

If there’s nothing in the CRM or data warehouse but crickets, and some out-of-date customer records, that’s a problem external to Adobe. But in the case of CRM, it’s a problem largely restricted to the B2B space. And the Experience Cloud is overtly making a big play to the B2C enterprise, where audiences are huge, data is plentiful, and nobody is waiting for a sales rep to update a record. Indeed, one highlight of Summit for me was having Michael Klein (director of industry strategy for retail) and Ryan Green (senior manager of commerce strategies) walk me through demonstrations of how Sensei can power personalization in the eCommerce space.

I asked Smith whether third party (largely probabilistic) data had a role to play here. He told me that any client pulling, for example, LiveRamp data into their DMP can indeed plug it into Audience Manager (Adobe’s DMP) and use it to power “more intelligent types of activation.” Adobe itself, he said, ingests third party data through parnerships with “lots of adtech and martech companies.”

Stitching it together

This crushing mass of customer data only really lends itself to meaningful activation to the extent it can be consistently connected with actual identities. Smith cites the success of Adobe’s Device Co-Op, an environment in which brands can share (anonymized) information to help each other improve and validate customer profiles (in effect, it helps brands compete with the Facebooks and Amazons of the world by aggregating what may be smaller quantities of customer data into a bigger communal pool. 

“It was a slow burn at first,” Smith admits, but since bigger brands like the NFL have joined the co-op, demand has been “like a hockey stick. Just practically speaking, you can actually do people-based measurement (rather than using cookies, say, as proxies). You can go back and stitch together all the places I have been.” Which also helps users tell which marketing channels are most effective.

For the future, Smith sees data and analytics driving not just the Experience Cloud, but other Adobe clouds. The Creative Cloud, for example. Indeed, one of the most striking demonstrations on the main stage at Summit showed Sensei powering countless versions of Creative Cloud graphics to build content for the Advertising Cloud; one of the most convincing responses I’ve yet seen to the “creative gap.”

No shortage of challenges, then. There’s the partial reliance on data from external sources, and the need to cleanse and manage it. There’s Sensei’s requirement for large quantities of up-to-date data, and the ongoing task of stitching identities together so that, as consumers, we get an experience which delights – not, as so often, an ad for a hotel or flight we already booked.

Adobe’s Experience “system of record” may not have all the answers yet. But it sharpens the questions in a clear and valuable way.

Above: J.J. Watt on stage at Summit. Adobe covered DMN’s expenses to attend Summit 2018.

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