Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen during Adobe Summit, the creative software giant's annual tech conference, on March 27, 2018.

Published: March 28th, 2018

LAS VEGAS – Shantanu Narayen began Adobe Summit, the San Jose, Calif.-based company’s annual marketing conference, by talking about his most recent vacation.

After his wife pointed out that their eldest son, who had grown up in California but recently moved to New York City, was about to spend his first birthday away from his parents, they bought a pair of tickets to New York, where they saw Hamilton and visited a number of tourist sites, buying tickets digitally every step of the way.

“It was only 48 hours, but when I think about that experience, it still brings a smile to my face – and I have happiness at home with my wife,” Adobe’s CEO told the Summit audience, to laughter.

Narayen’s point: the majority of customers don’t purchase a product, they purchase an experience – and even when it’s not a trip, or fine dining, or a theatrical production, the products they purchase have usually been designed to evoke, or advertised by a campaign designed to evoke, a similar experience.

“Coca-Cola has known for more than a century that it sells far more than just an iconic beverage,” he said. “Their recent marketing campaigns – ‘Taste the Feeling’ and ‘Open Happiness’ – say it all. The NFL… appeals to fans who may never buy a ticket, but consume everything they know about their favourite player, wake up on Sunday mornings thinking about their fantasy lineup, and are as loyal to their team as they might be to their family.”

(Both Coca-Cola and the NFL were among the Adobe customers showcased at this year’s Summit.)

For companies and marketing departments aiming to incorporate an equally appealing experience – or the suggestion of one – into their own campaigns, Narayen offered three tips during his opening keynote.

Tip 1: Design for brilliance

Great experiences don’t happen by accident – they’re designed that way, Narayen said.

“Design is not just the way something looks,” he said. “It’s about the absolute engagement that you have with your customers. We feel that all great experiences start with great design – that spark of creativity combined with a clear purpose to bring your great experience to life.”

Often, that design crosses multiple channels, he said, from the web pages that were Adobe’s primary platform when it first entered the marketing space, to mobile apps, to smart speakers, and even to augmented and virtual reality.

“It’s all very exciting, but only if it’s well-designed,” Narayen said. “And at Adobe we believe that focusing on this experience design is absolutely worth the effort, because we know that compelling and intuitive experiences are an absolutely proven competitive advantage.”

Tip 2: Wire for intelligence

Building great experiences requires rethinking not just the enterprise marketing plan, Narayen said, but the enterprise itself – and it starts with data. Customer data, and enough processing muscle to recognize the context that leads to every conversion.

“Data alone is not enough, because to ensure that every individual gets the experience that they demand, you need intelligence,” Narayen said. “And intelligence will speed up the learning process for an enterprise – it will notice anomalies, it will identify customer pain points, and it will infer their intent and desires.”

“And we believe that intelligence is what turns data into insights, so that you can take the right action quickly, and that’s when the real magic happens,” he continued, noting that if the company is smart it will also lead to new, personalized content.

“Content intelligence is just a scheme to generate the massive amounts of content that’s required for personalization at scale,” he said. “A deep understanding of this content, and how it’s composed, and how it’s delivered… allows you to deliver a consistent and exceptional experience every time and everywhere.”

Tip 3: Ensure you have the right enterprise architecture

The third ingredient crucial to building a great customer experience, Narayen said, is the right enterprise architecture.

“We’ve all experienced the frustration of not getting the innovation that we want as fast as we need,” Narayen said. “Personalization projects can take months, if not years. And the trouble today is… enterprise IT systems were designed for a different time and a different world.”

Without mentioning his own company by name, Narayen said he believed a new enterprise architecture, one designed to deliver customer experiences “across every channel imaginable,” was necessary if companies wanted to keep up.

Equally important, he noted, was breaking down siloes between departments, allowing the star performers in each to reinvent themselves in whatever way would best serve the adventurous company rethinking its customer journey.

“It’s [important] to rip out the costly and frustrating digital duct tape that might exist in the enterprise and is being used as a stopgap measure today,” Narayen said. “It’s an extremely tough challenge to solve, one that requires platform thinking and multiple years of deep investment. But at Adobe, we believe it’s the toughest challenges that are worth solving.”

To demonstrate the capabilities of its own platform, Adobe announced several updates to its various cloud offerings during the first day of Summit on Tuesday, including the self-serve Advertising Cloud Creative platform which allows advertisers to quickly change the copy and pictures used in display ads, and the Experience Cloud Profile, which combines a company’s existing CRM data with Adobe Experience Cloud data.

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