Adobe continues its march to the cloud

Adobe, once known only for its creative suite, has become a huge player in the broader marketing space. I sat down with an exec ahead of their EMEA conference to reflect.

adobe systems headquarters san jose
Adobe Systems

Maybe I haven’t shown Adobe enough love in the past year.

For whatever reason, the company reached out to me and offered an exclusive insight into news coming up at its Summit EMEA, and the chance to sit down (virtually, I must add) with one of its execs to talk about all things Adobe.

For those who don’t keep a steady eye on Adobe, it might be interesting to discover just how broad their offerings are. Turn back a few years and Adobe was known for offering a handful of desktop software solutions targeted to the creative sector. Those “colored pencils and crayons” people over in the creative field used Adobe to create and manipulate images and the like.

Fast forward to today and Adobe has expertly executed two fundamental changes. Firstly, it is perhaps the best vendor example of transitioning from traditional desktop perennially licensed software into a cloud-based subscription model -- for that they deserve much kudos. At the same time, Adobe has broadened its offering into what it calls the Experience Cloud -- essentially a combined offering of a number of assets that covers both content creation and content delivery. In the words of Adobe’s highly-paid marketing folks:

“Adobe Marketing Cloud, part of Adobe Experience Cloud, empowers marketers to deliver experiences that differentiate their brands. Adobe Marketing Cloud includes Adobe Experience Manager, Adobe Target, Adobe Campaign, Adobe Social and Adobe Primetime, and helps brands manage, personalize, optimize and orchestrate content, campaigns and customer journeys. The tie-in with Adobe Creative Cloud makes it easy to quickly activate creative assets across all marketing channels.”

In layman’s terms, that means they offer ALL of the crayons and colored pencils (and even paint brushes too!) as well as the canvas and exhibition space within which to display them. This is a marked extension of its original focus and is a fascinating process to watch.

Anyway, I spent time talking to Aseem Chandra, vice president of Adobe Experience Manager & Adobe Target about the company’s focus, the news from the show, and the competitive landscape.

First up, and since they offered me the exclusive, here is a brief summary of what Adobe is announcing this week:

  • Simplify bringing an email from conception to execution: Adobe is eliminating the tedious process of moving back and forth from design software to an email marketing solution. Integration of Adobe Dreamweaver with Adobe Campaign allows email designers to create emails in Dreamweaver that automatically sync with Adobe Campaign and send personalized, contextual emails faster than ever before.
  • Streamline workflows to keep content fresh and relevant on brand properties: Adobe is making it easier and faster for marketers to activate content designed in Creative Cloud via Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). With AEM’s digital asset management system, content is automatically identified and synchronized based on metadata applied in Creative Cloud in the industry-standard XMP format.
  • Develop custom, programmatic workflows between Creative Cloud and Marketing Cloud: For the first time, developers can opt to receive notifications when a new event in Creative Cloud occurs, then take action on that content, whether applying additional metadata, or moving assets into Marketing Cloud for execution.
  • Quickly deliver content to any connected screen in the moments that matter: Adobe is helping marketers surface the right content precisely when an individual needs it – regardless of the device that person is using. With Fluid Experiences, within AEM, content and layout is automatically adjusted to power any connected experience, whether it’s a website, mobile app, ATM, VR console or IoT device.
  • Intelligent image discovery: Adobe is evolving Smart Tags, part of AEM. Smart Tags enables marketers to easily add tags and find relevant images with the help of Sensei-powered automatic tagging. For the first time, Smart Tags can leverage a brand’s taxonomy to tag brand assets, such as logos, more precisely.
  • Extend opportunities for optimization: To optimize the countless number of digital touch points, Adobe Target updated its implementation framework to create the new Experience Optimization Framework.

That's a whole lot of in-the-weeds news that will be interesting to customers (and competitors) but speaks to a broader story here -- that of Adobe’s growing intention to deliver across the totality of a customer’s engagement with a brand.

I started off positing to Chandra my view that consumers are increasingly savvy and are growing skeptical at inauthentic marketing that isn’t backed up by the more operational parts of the organization. His view was that if consumers think about their favorite brands, it is generally those brands that come through for them, that make their lives easier. These positive experiences build engagement. Chandra thinks that personalization is not enough, content is not enough, and mobile is not enough. Rather consumers demand an end to end journey and interaction.

As he sees it, most brands are falling short on providing this, and while most technology is being used in purely marketing based use cases (a massive opportunity in and of itself) it is generally being applied in a silo. He wants to elevate Adobe’s view of the market -- it is not specific to marketing use cases. As he told me:

“Think of marketing overall, what is it that fuels great experiences? Our belief is that it is ultimately fueled by great content. Marketers struggle with demands on their time and resources. We are simplifying the role of the marketer -- to enable more content, more quickly and with fluid experiences. We allow marketers to take content from a variety of different sources and then organize it in a meaningful way and deliver through multiple channels. It goes beyond simply responsive design -- powering decisions on what content gets shown and how it gets organized based on our A.I. offering [Adobe Sensei].”

Chandra’s perspective is that while in the past most marketing content decisions where based on layout and appearance, they are rapidly moving into personalization and context -- the material to show a customer on a big screen in a retail setting is very different than on a mobile device. Location and form-factor, tied to personalization based on habits and prior expressed interests is where it’s at.

I then quizzed Chandra on the thorny issues around competitive landscape. Adobe’s arch rival in the marketing cloud space is Salesforce. But whereas Salesforce comes to marketing from a customer and transactionally centric perspective, Adobe does so from a content perspective. A secondary issue is that both vendors are quick to talk of the value that a suite solution brings, but in Adobe’s case, they rely on partnerships (in particular with Microsoft and its Dynamics CRM offering) to tie their own solutions into transactional systems of record.

On the best of breed versus suite question, Chandra was diplomatic, suggesting that both have their place. In his view, the real power is to bring data and content together in one place, and to apply smart algorithms over the top of it to achieve the desired marketing impact. While there is some agility to be gained from point solution, he conceded, the tradeoff is that as requirements increase, users end up with data siloes.

In terms of the competitive landscape, Chandra stuck to his script:

“Adobe was first to market with a marketing cloud, and first to expand that to broader experience business. Obviously competitors will follow suit. Stories start with great content which fuels customer engagement. Since the majority of content we interact with originates with Adobe products on the creative side, Adobe is uniquely positioned to apply programmatic workflows between its creative and marketing cloud.”

All of which Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, would dispute. After all his marketing cloud is directly tied into Salesforce’s native CRM system and a world of ecosystem partners on its own platform. Chandra reiterated the value that Adobe brings:

“We have deep integrations into customer-facing solutions such as e-commerce. Our Microsoft partnership gives deep connections into Dynamics CRM. While Salesforce is offering a suite that is customer facing, the true value of a suite is data and content -- how open as a platform are you for that to take place? Our focus continues to improve upon what we do best and to partner with organizations who bring value to our customers.”

Chandra finished pointing out the fact that even Salesforce build partnerships with third-party players to open up their platform.

MyPOV

Horses for courses, really. Do you prefer a marketing solution that is content-centric, or one that is centered around customer transactions? Does your marketing strategy push content as the key component or do you prefer to leverage customer metrics and data? Really, that’s what the Adobe/Salesforce conversation comes down to.

On one level, I continue to be impressed and amazed at how well Adobe has morphed into being a true cloud player. In the consulting work I do with traditional software vendors, I always hold Adobe up as an exemplar in that regard.

Clearly it still owns the lion’s share of the creative industry, and has a strong and growing commitment with the marketing department. How well it continues to achieve that growth will be interesting to observe.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Computerworld's IT Salary Survey 2017 results
Shop Tech Products at Amazon