Three trends stood out at this year’s Adobe Summit in Las Vegas: the integration of marketing and advertising technology; artificial intelligence; and privacy. All of them have implications far beyond the Adobe ecosystem.
On the integration of marketing and advertising technology, for the first time it feels like Adobe has finally nailed the conflation of its creative, marketing and advertising offerings. The company has been talking up this story for years, but now, finally, it feels like it has delivered.
The 2016 acquisition of TubeMogul was critical to this, allowing Adobe to aggregate far greater capabilities into an advertising cloud.
It can for the first time build a credible and compelling narrative that it has combined the three core constituencies encompassing creative talent, the marketing department, and advertising into one integrated idea (four if you count analytics).
This is Adobe’s greatest strength — and one that is almost impossible for marketing cloud rivals such as Salesforce, Oracle, and Marketo to copy, if only because of the ubiquity of Creative Cloud. (Each, of course, would argue it brings its own unique proposition to the knife fight.)
As for Artificial Intelligence, Adobe has made huge strides with its AI services — bundled under Sensei — in what feels like a very short time (if you ignore how long it was bubbling in the labs).
Sensei is being rapidly bundled into the core offering, and it’s easy to see how machine learning (Adobe calls it AI) will dramatically raise the bar for marketers in the next few years. It will simply become an almost invisible part of how most marketers work.
Expect Adobe to apply Sensei to two of the most frustrating aspects of the marketer’s role: attribution modeling and journey mapping. In fact, the corridor whispers suggest that the company will take everything it learned from its Project Relay (an in-house attribution project to drive Creative Cloud sales that won an ANA award) and integrate it into production by this time next year.
Here be monsters
When it comes to privacy, though, analysts, commentators, journalists, and customers we spoke to were surprised at the company’s tin-eard response to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica imbroglio — which keeps threatening to get worse.
Adobe’s response was much like that of other big martech and adtech players, but that is hardly an endorsement.
CEO Shantanu Narayen, who is well respected by the analyst and commentator community, seemed simply not to register that a limit had perhaps been breached with the revelations.
His response to polite and then increasingly direct questions about how the rest of the martech ecosystem might be contaminated by blowback from the revelations didn’t even extend to canned platitudes about respect for privacy. (Answers in a panel discussion the next day where Adobe’s CMO soft-balled questions to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin only demonstrated once again that you can’t fake sincerity.)
It was such as obvious question, yet he and other senior Adobe execs seemed unprepared. In blunt terms, their response was: “Somebody else’s problem”.
But there is likely to be trouble ahead, for the whole sector.
Already the market is pricing in new regulation for stocks like Facebook, and eventually the investment class will understand that companies like Adobe have as much to lose from more aggressive regulation of data.
John Birmingham’s observation about Mark Zuckerberg’s complaint — that people used his monster making-machine to make monsters — might just as easily apply to Adobe. Afterall Facebook is but a single entity, but Adobe’s business involves selling monster-making machines to the biggest brands and data hoarders all over the world.
Regulators in the US — or more likely Europe — might simply decide that monster-making is a bad idea. Or consumers might beat them to the punch.
Adobe’s own researcher, Tamara Gaffney, identified the top customer expectation for successful experiences as the principle of “Know Me and Respect Me”.
On this final measure, the evidence from Las Vegas last week is that Adobe, like too many of its industry peers, is only halfway there.