Adobe's Experience System of Record

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Adobe Summit 2018. 13,000 attendees. Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, and (at last) GDPR creeping into many conversations. A tech press corps firing questions at Adobe executives about social responsibility. Since when did collecting and analyzing consumer data become front page news, and not in a good way?

Strange times.

Credit to the hosts, then, for firing a clear message through all the white noise: “People buy experiences, not products,” said CEO Shantanu Narayen. “Experiences rise above everything else.” What does that mean for business? “Putting content and data to work at scale,” he said.

The new experience architecture

So, the experience business thing all over again? Adobe spoke about that in 2016, in 2017; so what’s new? What’s new is a clear move to rethink and re-architect the complexity of the Adobe cloud offering to reflect all the talk. Brad Rencher, EVP and general manager of the Experience Cloud laid it out plainly in his keynote product presentation. He calls it the “Experience system of record. A purpose-built technology that can manage and make sense of both data and content.” Yes, all the familiar components of Adobe’s solution still exist: Adobe Experience Manager, the Advertising Cloud, Target, Campaign, Adobe Analytics, the Creative Cloud, and so on. 

But the eco-system they’re serving, through multiple integrations, breaks down into data, machine learning (applied to unified customer profiles), and content. “The volume, variety, and velocity of data is one of the defining challenges for business today,” Rencher said. “The complexity is crushing.” Even if a business can gather all the relevant customer data it has, from behavioral to CRM, and put it in the same box, there remains the challenge of making it actionable. There needs to be a common taxonomy for data sourced from websites, apps, loyalty programs, ad servers and CRMs, and personally identifying data needs special treatment.

The next step is to apply machine learning to the data. Not generalized machine learning (“like predicting the weather or the winner of the election”). What’s needed is machine learning geared to specific business use cases: “attribution analyses, audience segmentation, customer scoring, and journey prediction. These are the fundamentals of the experience business.” When a customer is seeing multiple messages and ads on multiple devices, the challenge is to respond with a relevant next experience “in milliseconds.” The unified Experience Cloud profile, representing a constantly refreshed, total view of the customer, creates the opportunity to trigger the right content.

Describing the newly conceptualized architecture as a system of record represents, of course, a swipe at Salesforce. CRM is reduced to just another data feed. And there’s a quick feint at IBM when Rencher talks about using AI to predict the weather.

What about the marketing cloud?

But wait. Didn’t this all start with marketing clouds?

It certainly did, back in 2014 (which now seems pre-historic). Adobe offered what was, by common consensus, the first marketing cloud; and what was then regarded by influential analysts as the best, with Salesforce coming up hard on the rails. And it still exists today, in the sense that it’s main components — Experience Manager, Target, Campaign, etc — still pull together to drive marketing operations. Rencher gives it a brief nod, with his habitual remark that “we created the category.”

That’s about all you’ll hear about a marketing cloud at an Adobe event. The customer experience, the thinking goes, exceeds marketing (and advertising). It encompasses sales, service, loyalty, of course, but ultimately it’s more than that. It’s about brand affinity; potentially lifetime brand affinity. That’s where all the themes of the conference — including data protection and privacy — come together.

More on those themes to follow.

Leslie Jones photo courtesy Adobe. Adobe covered DMN’s expenses to attend Summit.

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