Adobe’s marketing team radically altered its mindset, talent and relationships with agencies to adapt to a new way of operating, according to John Travis, VP Brand Marketing, Adobe.

Speaking at Adobe Symposium in Sydney today, Travis outlined how Adobe’s marketing department changed as the Photoshop maker transformed from selling boxes of software to a SaaS model.

“Our entire culture, everything about the way we thought about the world was in a launch cycle,” he said.

“Basically we had an 18 to 24 month launch cycle, so we would spend six to eight months making the most perfect campaign we possibly could, then we would launch the campaign. And we would wait. And then three months later we would do some semblance of measurement.”

Adobe also didn’t know much about its customers, who in most cases bought their products from a retailer or reseller.

“Flash forward to now, we’re a cloud-based and subscription-based company, and we truly are in this 24/7 relationship with our customer.”

The goal is to deliver a relevant and personalised experience wherever people come in contact with Adobe, using the company’s own digital marketing tools which it has built out over the last decade since acquiring Omniture in 2009.

Travis used the example the company website illustrate the scale of the transformation. When he first joined the company 12 years ago was “sort of like a lovely online brochure” to learn about the products. Now it’s a multi-billion dollar direct to consumer ecommerce engine that gets 9.2 billion visits a year and is among the top 100 most visited websites in the entire world.

New skills

On the people front, the transformation required a “whole host of new skills” as well as constantly reinventing roles, Travis said.

For example, market research have become data scientists, and those professionals are now being asked to become storytellers. “They have to pick insights out from all sorts of data sets, turn that into a simple narrative people like me can understand and actually take action on. That is a totally different scope than the traditional data scientist or market researcher.”

The shift also meant Travis needed to think about the purpose of his role, from controlling the brand to being a “brand steward.”

“[Modern brands] are being virtually created by our customers and our buyer community. Opposed to trying to control that, I want to make that happen. I want them to feel a part of my brand, and that is very different from the way most people who focus on branding were raised.”

Travis said he also needed to let go of the culture of perfectionism to embrace a test and iterate culture. Previously, Adobe used to run two to three tests a month on now it’s well over 50.

Despite being happy with the results, Travis said it still took “a number of years” to get comfortable embracing experimentation.

“I have to be willing to throw out ideas, test new ideas, we see something trending on social media, we jump on it. That’s not just about a tool. And it’s not just about a process. It’s a culture.”

Adobe also changed the way they work with agencies, bringing in house functions like content production, ad buying, ad optimisation and search marketing.

“It was the only way for us to be agile, the only way that we could react and engage with customers of this 24-7 level,” Travis said.

He noted that the agency relationships they have today are deeper, more strategic and less transactional.

The impact of data

Access to transaction and behavioral data has provided the opportunity for Adobe to understand its customers, which has led to a re-engineering of its segmentation models.

“For decades we had a segmentation model that was based—very logically—on product. You bought Photoshop, you must be a photographer, I’m going to think about you and talk to you like that. You bought Premiere Pro, you must be a filmmaker,” he said.

“Once we started to understand how are these people using our product, what are they doing on our website and what are they talking about in social media, we were able to stitch that all together and we found that our segmentation was woefully out of date in two ways.”

For one, creative professionals tend to be multi-disciplinary working across photo, video or graphic design. Secondly, 50 per cent of the buyers of creative cloud are new buyers, who might not be creative professionals at all.

From there Adobe moved from product segments to focus on customer intent.

Historical data is also used to predict marketing performance using media mix modelling.

“We actually can predict how it’s going to perform before we even launched the campaign. It’s not perfect but it’s enormously powerful because we can actually go in to the heads of our company and we know what we need to go do and we know how much money we need.”

Those tools have been empowered to the marketing team.

“It makes people feel good about being marketers, it’s a huge boost to confidence. It’s been very powerful in ways that we didn’t really anticipate.”

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