Last year, I took the year off from writing about conferences because I needed to retool how I thought about them and, honestly, I was just burnt out at the number I was attending and I didn't want to write that many posts.
But I'm back.
I'm also reinstating my conference scorecard. If you don't remember it, I look at the components of the event itself and give each component and the overall conference a letter grade. I used to call it the conference report card, but that made me sound like I'm a third grade teacher, and that the event planners and participants are kids I'm grading. That is just so wrong.
I admire and am amazed at the conference organizers and event planners. I'm in awe of them. What they have to do is just staggering. Think about it. They have to pull off a conference that involves thousands of attendees and make them all happy and feel like their attendance was productive and thus, worth the days they spent. Plus they have to babysit their VIPS, be they analysts, journalists, or executives of companies who are partners or large customers etc. What a task. Monumental... and the effort is generally under-appreciated.
The value of these technology vendor conferences to the company putting on the show is immeasurable. They are nodal points, inflection points, not just in the history of the company, but in the feelings that a customer, prospect or observer will have over a year. Conferences determine how someone feels about a company from one year to the next.
Think of it this way. If I ask you in a year about Adobe's Digital Marketing Summit and what you remember, it won't be that much - one or two cogent things maybe - but you will remember that it was good/great/horrible/whatever conference and that you learned "stuff" that will color your view of what you think about Adobe. It's all about the impression and the content, not just the content. Otherwise, why would Adobe on Day 2 have Nate Silver, Steve Young, Michael Keaton and Wayne Brady? To impart great focused wisdom about Adobe? Adobe might say, they represented "reinvention" as actors and athletes and Nate Silver is data. But there are lots of people who could credibly and interestingly discuss reinvention. But they are also admired celebrities and the idea of a "cool vibe" doesn't escape the event masters. They want to keep the attendees engaged, and, like it or not, (I kinda like it), they are more likely to do that with famous people than not-famous ones.
Before I tell you what I am rating, there is an express caveat that the ratings are pretty subjective though I do talk to other attendees to get a feel for their thinking on specific aspects of the event. So its not just me alone speaking. However, to be clear, my "methodology" would fail any of the Adobe Analytics maestros legitimacy tests. Just sayin'. Ultimately, this boils down to a set of opinions, nothing more, nothing less.
I rate on nine categories, each heavily weighted. For example, without revealing the weights themselves, its clear that Keynote (Content) is far more important than Food (VIP) and is weighted accordingly. There is a 20-point scoring system that translates into a letter grade and then the weighted total score does the same. The underlying idea is that a conference is more than just a set of announcements and meetings, it is a consumable experience that impacts the customer's decisions to engage the company and impacts the broader experience (read: feeling) that the customer has with the company. The factors are not the norm of things that analysts cover, but then who ever thought I was normal?
Look, most conferences are minimally well done and occasionally works of art. I appreciate how much goes into it. These are realistically subjective guideposts to how some of the things that go on at a conference worked according to attendees and me that I randomly and not randomly spoke to. So take them for what they are worth. Unlike the Watchlist, this isn't me the SOB. This is me who appreciates the work of the event planners and managers. But sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. I'm not a quant but I'm trying to give the experiences I have at a conference a deeper thought and a recognizable way to identify the results.
So here are the categories and what they each cover:
Keynotes (Content) - This is the messaging, the focus, the details, the presentation and in this particular case, the presenters who work for the conference host, all taken into account in the assessment. That means how visionary, how practical, how detailed, what they said to an audience, given its mindset, etc.
Keynotes (Presentation) -This is the rest of the main stage speakers e.g. the celebrities, the lighting and the screens on the stage, the video content shown, the music, the quality of the demos given, and if demos are given,, and the feel of the whole main stage effort, among other things. The reason that the non-keynote speakers (those who don't work for the host, but are on the stage like at this conference Steve Young or Michael Keaton for example,) are included here is that they are only ancillary to a message not the message purveyor. So "reinvention" was a message that Adobe wanted to get across, Steve Young was asked about reinvention. They are not the prime deliverers.
Tracks/General Sessions - Did the content of the tracks and general sessions cover what the attendees needed and what the host needed to say? Did the titles meet the expectations of the attendees? For example, at CRM Evolution last year, we had a couple of glitches where the titles of the track didn't really follow the actual content of the presentation. What was the level of the presentations? Did the content get presented in a way that left something for the attendees to chew on?
Analyst/Press Relations - How were the analysts and press treated? Did they have a working environment that allowed them to get out the coverage they needed on the conference? Did they have the materials they needed? Were the AR/PR teams responsive to requests? What was the general environment? Friendly? Standoffish? Neutral? Were the "asks" of the analysts or press met (e.g. one on one meetings) as best as possible (Note: its not always possible to accommodate everyone for everything they ask)?
Food (VIP) - How was the food and drink given to the VIPs which is often different or at least in a different location than the general session?
Food (General Session) - How was the food that was provided for thousands of people? This might not seem to be a matter of concern, but the bulk of the people there paid to go with meals of some level included. The quality and availability of those meals and snacks etc.
Exhibition Hall - The partner pavilions are critical parts of any event. Prospects, customers, analysts, and journalists, get a feel for who is willing to throw their lot in with the hosts of the event. Partner ecosystems are a critical part of a tech company in particular's offering. So who is represented? How wide are the pathways to walk to make it easy for an attendee to talk to the partner. What about the organization of the hall? The breadth and depth of the partners represented? The quality of the booths, etc.
Crowd Energy - How into the conference is the crowd? This doesn't mean how loud they are, but how involved are they in the event. There is a palpable energy that is highly noticeable over the course of an event. It has an impact on the residual feelings about the experience. Electricity works.
Ambiance - This is the conference center environment, the room set up, the hallways, the swag that all the attendees are offered, and the concert that may or may not be part of the event, the lighting and the Wi-Fi. All those things that add to a feeling in an environment.
The Adobe Digital Marketing Summit 2015 Scorecard
|Keynotes (Content)||B+||The content was solid, good underlying themes, Brad Rencher is always a lively good MC. The downside was the announcements of the product releases were done far too quickly and the demos at the end. While it was done to keep the session on time, a slower more elongated discussion of each new product and demos integrated into the announcements rather than grouped at the end would have enhanced the content. The other problem was the messaging catch phrases "product is marketing," "marketing beyond marketing" were hokey & ridiculous (see below for more on this though). However, perhaps the biggest problem, though it didn't take away from the content of the keynotes, was the lack of vision. There was no real clear visionary thinking presented - though market savvy thinking was. I'm not saying there was no vision underlying what was said, but, I hate to say it, Adobe, you should learn from the content of Marc Benioff's speech which, 8 times out of 10 are genuinely visionary and does what true visionary thinking and presentation does, pulls the audiences in.|
|Keynotes (Presentation)||A-||As always, the visuals were generally spectacular, most of the videos very well done, the audio great, the selection of celebrities for "reinvention" excellent. Most of them were very engaging and personable in their own ways. The use of lighting was done extremely well. The downsides were small but noticeable. They didn't leave the names of the presenters or interviewees on the screen long enough to remember who they were, they claimed to be the largest digital marketing conference and they are the third largest, with both Hubspot and Exact Target Connections being bigger (say what you want on this Adobe, whether you think its justified, its not the way its perceived) and the one minute commercial of the "old guy who didn't get it so lost his CMO job to a pink haired millennial he thought was a lowly person" was just awful. Wrong message entirely (explanation of why available on request) - and not to Adobe's generally brilliant standards (take a look at the baby pounding the buy encyclopedia button on an iPad from last year and you'll see what I mean).|
|Tracks/General Sessions||A-||Content was generally there for all sorts of needs - line of business, verticals, programmers, designers, analysts, etc. Some complaints heard from an analyst and several attendees were that the content didn't align with the title sometimes.|
|Analyst/Press Relations||A+||Couldn't have done this much better than they did. They were attentive, able to provide the services that analysts and press need to do their work, wonderful people as individuals, the infrastructure worked, and when something was needed quickly, it got there quickly. There were abundant 1:1 meetings if the analyst or journalist was so inclined. Literally a benchmark effort.|
|Food (VIP)||A-||Interesting choices of somewhat "foodie" fare; paid attention to restricted diet, e.g. vegetarian, gluten-free etc. Stayed out a long time and plentiful, various drink in between. Plus specialized dinners at good restaurants.|
|Food (General Session)||A-||Solid fare, continuously available drink and snacks, lines for food were well managed|
|Exhibition Hall||D+||Near total disaster. The room looked empty and had an unfathomably bad pathway setup. The partners represented were generally very small narrowly agency focused and seemed to provide primarily tiny incremental improvements to the agency-like features of digital marketing cloud. The only strategic partners there were the larger systems integrators. There was only a couple of genuinely standout tech vendors like Gigya there. The atmosphere was lackluster, traffic poor. Even the Adobe "part" of the Community Pavilion setup was a yawner. The actual booth setup looked weirdly random relative to the floor with a wide floor area for a car or battleship available and then squished together partners. Kinda grungy too.|
|Crowd Energy||C-||The best and nicest way to put it was that the crowd wasn't terribly demonstrative. As two separate speakers put it (to paraphrase a combined version of their comment) "I thought I did well, but the crowd was so quiet. Maybe I didn't." I saw one of the speakers. Trust me, it wasn't his problem. Low key even at keynotes in on first day, the kind of low key one or two "whoos!" in strength. J|
|Ambiance||B+||The Salt Lake City Conference Center (Salt) was a nice easy to move around in venue and the room setups easy to handle. Crowd control was occasionally a bit bunched up but all in all, there was a pleasant nicely established well-organized feel about the venue and the audience. They provided swag to the entire audience, which, while it may not have rivaled Oprah, was still pretty good - a one year free subscription to Creative Cloud Photography (a lite version of Creative Cloud), a free Under Armour light jacket, and a box of Girl Scout cookies - to all 7000 in the audience. The concert was Imagine Dragons - an excellent contemporary headliner. The only real downside plays back to crowd energy - just a bit too low key and laid back ambiance. Doing those things that dial up energy a notch or two next year would be a good thing.|
|OVERALL||B+||All in all, a very well done conference with a lot of good content for whatever job description one had; The people are accessible and good hearted at the company; the customers excited about the products and seemingly the company's direction. With a few fixes, this could be better next year perhaps, but honestly, not much. It was worth the trip.|
What Adobe said, did and is going
As you know, Adobe was a CRM Watchlist 2015 winner who I have already written quite a bit about so I'm going to focus on a few things that I think are critical that came out of the Summit itself, and, if I can avoid it, not reiterate what I said, though, in advance, if I do, forgive me.
To understand Adobe and the world they live in, is to know that Adobe, remains, even with the prominence of the Creative Cloud in its portfolio and how Creative Cloud is used in the world, a product and engineering driven company, regardless of themes and messages to the contrary. But know this - this is a company that is moving quickly into a prominent place in the marketing world and is ambitious enough to want to move into the larger universe of engagement, using their tools as their golden ticket. Since the incredibly smart acquisition of Neolane in 2013 they have become major players in the marketplace. That is not going away. Their trajectory is nothing but up, and the Summit indicated that clearly in several ways. But, as in anything, there are pitfalls and some of those pitfalls could trip them up in the future if they aren't careful.
Okay, peeps, time to review.
It would be easy to dismiss what many felt (including me) were horrible tag lines and catch phrases that defined the messaging. The message catchphrases " the product is marketing" and "marketing beyond marketing" are just awful. The consensus leaned in that direction pretty strongly but it would be a mistake to deny the strength of the underlying idea, despite the serial silliness of the tag lines.
Adobe is right to a large extent to where they see the market going. They know that marketing is evolving once again beyond what it was. Originally, if you look at the history of marketing over the 20th and the 21st century, you could see a couple of very big trends - the first was that the message was controlled by the brand and that that message was pushed into the marketplace at its target audience regardless of the desires of that audience. Its purpose was to capture the interest of the audience; it pushed the messages against a competition - e.g. Camels cigarettes competed against Lucky Strike cigarettes.
But with the evolution of the digital customer and a whole set of highly scalable new delivery mechanisms, two things happened. The competition became, not just similar brands, but ALL the messages that were being broadcast via TV, the web, direct mail, email etc. every day regardless of the type of product or service offered. The brand began to compete, not with other brands, but the sheer volume of messages being delivered daily to each individual. If the number is to be believed, that would be between 247 and 5000 per day per person in multiple channels, depending on you read. It became a competition to capture attention, not to capture a lead. Lead capture was no longer the first objective, initial engagement was.
That was coupled with the increasing difficulty of acquiring and retaining highly savvy, much more demanding customers that had existed in the past. Study after study shows that customers are more demanding than ever - and what they are demanding is a personalized experience and set of interactions from and with the brand. That means what it takes to acquire a customer is to capture their initial attention with a personalized message that resonates more so than the other 246-2999 messages of the day and then keep them with personalized content as they become qualified leads, opportunities, and if successful closed deals either in the B2C world - which means a purchase of something ,or the B2B world - which means a contract for something. Of course, that is a huge simplification.
This kind of upward pressure from empowered customers who are even acting entitled at times, has increased the pressure on companies to keep those customers once they have them. This is starting to drive an alignment of sales and marketing departments across the country, one that Peppers and Rogers saw back in 2008, as beginning and one that now has spread to significant numbers of companies.
In practical marketing terms, this means not only that the conditions for marketing handing off qualified leads to sales departments has changed. Now, once the sales cycle is proceeding, marketing has a new and increased responsibility to drive content to those active leads so that they are continuously engaged, or else they will lose interest, more quickly than they ever did in the past, given the number of choices available to them.
In the B2C world, marketing isn't just responsible to run campaigns to capture customers, but also to continually provide content that drives ongoing customer interest. . Hence, the videos you see being produced by companies, or user generated content solicited by those same companies to keep their customers interested.
So if you see what I am saying, then marketing beyond marketing, as hokey as it is, has a solid underpinning and shows that Adobe has a firm awareness of the market that can't be discounted by the cheesiness of the phrase. But, they really, really, really need to come up with a better way of saying it. Really.
The sheer volume of announcements at the product level was breathtaking, though interesting, no one product was so mind blowing that it made you choke on a Coke (I'm in Atlanta, so pardon the rhyme).
But, that said, so what?
What the products can enable at businesses was potentially breathtaking. There was an onstage demo of what Under Armor is doing with Adobe products that just has to be seen to be believed. So watch it here:
See what I mean?
All in all, the product releases were largely incremental with a couple of important new capabilities. What made that just fine was that the increments were BIG increments. Due to the volume, I'm going to concentrate on three of them, but trust me there were a lot more. Target, Analytics etc. each had improvements of note, but I'm going to focus on Adobe Campaign, Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Marketing Core Services and Mobile Core Services.
Adobe announced Adobe Campaign Standard - which is actually something that added email marketing to the campaign management mix - and that was good and necessary and justifiable.
But that wasn't what I think was the most important thing. A year ago, about eight months into the Neolane acquisition, the integration of Neolane's capabilities had begun but was pretty raw. But the current integration reflected through Campaign is miles ahead of where it was and is part of a continuous effort by Adobe to integrate Neolane and Campaign into all the other internal products and to external sources. It is the central commanding focus of the Adobe Campaign leadership and it is absolutely the right one.
While some day, there may be a transition away from what we call campaign management due to the fluidity of real time interaction, right now there is nothing more central to contemporary marketing (and traditional marketing) than campaigns. Adobe Campaign is the centerpiece of the stitching of the Digital Marketing Cloud into a unified ecosystem.
Realistically, as it stands now, Adobe's Marketing Cloud suffers the same issues that Oracle's and Salesforce's Marketing Cloud suffer - a huge array of individual assets that are mostly independent of one another. It's a problem for all of them. Adobe's thrust with Campaign provides them with the opportunity to create the operational center of an ecosystem and a narrative for contemporary marketers. Note I said "opportunity", not that it is doing it. But that said, the integration path for Campaign has gone like this so far:
They have several other external integrations such as Campaign's integration with Salesforce and SAP hybris.
What makes this delicious is that Campaign's trajectory is the continuation of internal and external integrations for the next long period - which allows them to become a centerpiece of the stitched version of the Marketing Cloud that they so sorely need.
Adobe Experience Manager
A couple of the analysts I spoke with over the course of the Digital Summit said that they didn't think that what Adobe Experience Manager Screens represented was much at all.
With all due respect, I differ. Adobe Experience Manager itself is my favorite Digital Marketing Cloud product (I have to admit of all Adobe products, I really like Adobe Acrobat Pro probably the most) by a fair amount, and I think Screens, while not taking it to a new level, opens up a whole array of new possibilities for Adobe.
The demo for Screen was interesting in its facility. They used the live AEM Screens product at the Salt Lake City Conference Center to change the video showing on one of the Times Square Jumbotrons in NY and they did it in real time.
This is back end control of high touch engagement - a digital asset manager that lives up to its name - and provides a product that has an excellent UI, easy and intuitive navigation, and scales to seriously high levels. What makes it an almost unique offering is that it is concerned with digital asset delivery across platforms and devices.
Their release of Screens was a significant upgrade because it began the integration of the digital and physical. There is an increasing realization now that digital and social are moving past the hype, as the two have never been a replacement for the physical experience or physical engagement. Both of them are important to varying degrees, depending on who you are as a business and what you are trying to do.
What Adobe Screens allows you to do is to move that digital asset to any screen in any venue - be it a Jumbotron in Times Square or a computer monitor to a back end logistics and supply chain discussion or the front end of an iPad to converse with them about the product - all with the push of a digital button or the flick of an actual wrist. The Under Armour demo was a perfect example of this. See it here.
The best way to characterize AEM is that it is a marketing resource management product unlike any other on the market. It is a leading edge version of how asset management and delivery have to be enabled in the coming years. It doesn't have the overall robust capabilities that say, Teradata Marketing Applications or even the Market Pilot part of Microsoft has, but it is it is easy to use, and does stuff fast.
And that is invaluable.
Core Services including Mobile
Adobe has had Core Services for a while now. There is nothing entirely new here - but it is important. If I had to characterize it, it is a system of record with a strong management layer and analytics that allow for optimized engagement via either normal digital or mobile means. The upgrades that were announced were around AdTech and mobile.
The mobile upgrades were built around "simplifying the mobile app lifecycle by providing a new mobile app framework. The idea is to standardize the mobile apps technologies via this framework to enhance their interoperability. This is a wise move since point solutions have driven the development of many mobile apps, even in the same industry or company. This gets rid of the awkwardness of mobile apps development from different places and mitigates user acquisition and engagement differences.
Again, maybe not a homerun, but a good solid double here.
Of course I have concerns. What kind of analyst would I be without them? :-)
There were a few things that bothered me. Briefly, since I don't want to take away from the value delivered at the conference, they are:
- Typecasting as "Digital marketing for agencies" is a possible danger. The message was a strong agency, AdTech message, some of the products were focused on it and the Adobe train seems to be riding squarely on the agency tracks. Witness the Exhibition Hall the bulk of which was agency related small vendors who were offering some tiny incremental improvement in some almost universally agency related aspect of the Digital Marketing Cloud. Another case, the first analyst meeting was Adobe/Digitas/LBI and joint customers. I'm not going to harp on this. I just think that given that Adobe has much wider reach than the agencies, and AdTech, who admittedly are a great set of partners for them, they need to be watching for possible typecasting.
- The stitching of the Marketing Cloud needs to start now and the narrative that it provides needs to be evolved now. They are up against a lot of dead serious competition and they have to get past their feeling that they are different. They are different, with the integration of the Creative Cloud and the solidity and history behind some of their products, like Target and Analytics, but they are also playing against companies that are far bigger than they are for the most part. So time to stitch and tell a story.
- This isn't really a concern, but an out of left field suggestion that I think has a lot of merit. It was clear at the conference that the SAP/hybris alliance didn't work at all - in fact seemed to be an utter failure. From a large presence in 2014 to no presence in 2015, it was obviously something that didn't work. Well, what I would suggest is a strategic alliance with Microsoft (I'm writing these words as Microsoft Convergence gets set to launch). They are a partnership made in heaven. Despite Microsoft's assets in the marketing world, they are nowhere near Salesforce's, Oracle's...or Adobe. Adobe doesn't have the reach or the additional integration that Microsoft has. I'll examine this more later. But if I were Adobe (and Microsoft), I'd start looking into a discussion now, if there isn't one already. There seems to be some admiration for Microsoft at Adobe, judging from conversations I had with various folks at the Summit. Turn the admiring glances into a handshake and action. Let the drumbeat begin.
Adobe's Digital Marketing Cloud continues to be an impressively evolving and seriously competitive piece of work - the art and the science that they represent is unique to the industry and something that most any company should be taking a look at. The Summit was a clear indicator that Adobe came to play and that they are not going to rest until they get what they need to right. They do get it, but they trip over their own tongue a bit in expressing it. However, no one should underestimate what a formidable force they have become as Neolane's integration as Campaign continues to provide a foundation for what was already something that deserved a place at the table.