ICF Next's chief technology officer provides his top three most exciting takeaways from the top three areas of Adobe Summit 2021
Now that the virtual curtain on Adobe Summit 2021 has drawn to a close, it’s time for us all to catch our very real breath. Whew! Summit was a whirlwind of content, screen shares, and Braindate networking. Now, more than a year deep into a global pandemic, digital transformation has been accelerated beyond any forecast or prediction. This year’s event was centered on enabling businesses and partners to keep pace with the dramatic shifts of customer expectations, business models, and the next normal.
I’m recapping this year’s Summit with my “Top 3x3,” which is my top three most exciting takeaways from the top three areas of Summit: product launches, disrupted behaviors, and the Summit event itself.
1. Product launches
Adobe Summit has always been a great format for announcing new product changes, features, and even some might-be future products. This year we saw the push deeper into the cloud, a slew of enhancements with Adobe Experience Cloud, the proliferation of Sensei, and updates on the two most recent Adobe acquisitions: Workfront and Magento. With so much going on, here are the product announcements I am most excited about:
- Journey Optimizer: The pandemic drove omnichannel solutions (and challenges) through the roof with customers bouncing between digital channels, and safely acquiring products in the physical world. With customers bouncing around channels in new ways, the new Adobe Journey Optimizer solution will resonate with a lot of B2C and B2B companies. Brands are now better able to stitch together data from multiple interactions and drive contextually relevant experiences easier than ever before. Journey Optimizer is a native application built on the Adobe Experience Platform (AEP), which represents the future for Adobe. I predict we’ll see more native applications on AEP by Summit 2022.
- Customer Journey Analytics: I’m excited about this product because it helps the marketer understand the customer’s story as she interacts with the brand—all made possible by the power of AI and data science. The real excitement comes from the ability to draw together so many data sources at once, make it seamless for the marketer, and democratize data-driven decision making. Market-leading customers have been increasingly data-driven for years, but Customer Journey Analytics brings this power to enterprises of many shapes, sizes, and data maturity. This is a huge win for both B2B and B2C marketers who will have this power at their fingertips.
- Worker productivity with Workfront and ServiceNow: Adobe’s acquisition of Workfront was a stroke of genius ahead of the pandemic. The very real impact of lockdowns and remote work was a fundamental disruption how work actually gets done in many companies. Likewise, ServiceNow and Adobe have been partnering since pre-pandemic times to “workflow everything.” These two tools, integrated across the Adobe Experience Cloud, really set the stage for changing the perspective of the way work is done. I’m so excited about the capabilities these tools add because clients can unlock more time to focus on great customer experiences and outcomes. As an Elite partner with ServiceNow, I’m very excited about ICF Next’s ability to help customers be smarter and more efficient with getting work done.
While these are my top three, I must hand it to Adobe for a robust set of innovations this year. The power of Experience is real, and the combination of Adobe and ICF Next’s approach to Participation is shaping up to be a winning combination for our customers.
2. Disrupted behaviors
Living in the next normal is something we are all getting used to. That rings true for consumers and marketers alike. As customer interactions with brands have dramatically increased with digital channels, marketers and brand teams have been navigating how to cope with the change from their home offices. Behaviors of how we engage and support that engagement have been disrupted and will never go back to the way they were pre-pandemic. Here are my top three takeaways from Adobe Summit that address these disrupted behaviors.
- Not just any digital channel—every digital channel: Digital transformation really became the focus of 2020 as customers' behaviors changed and flooded all digital channels. The profound transformation that took place last year changed customer expectations and buying behaviors like never before. The transformation of a company into a digitally mature enterprise requires a deep understanding of and a true 360 view of your customer. Adobe’s investments in AEP and the new Adobe Experience Platform Real-time CDP is the tool businesses need to get a complete customer perspective. They key learning I took away from this behavior change and the way companies respond is that companies really struggle to have an all-in-one system of record for data. What Adobe’s real-time CDP does is integrate and consume data from other systems, meaning you have the benefits of real-time data in one place, without the organizational tug of war of who owns which systems. Finally, brands have a way to truly focus on the customer perspective from every angle.
- Make the work part of my job easier: Adobe released its position on Marketing System of Record by combining Adobe Marketing Cloud and Adobe Workfront. This has the potential to be a game changer of efficiency for organizations and this position directly addresses the need to make work easier. More integration between the platforms where strategy, resources, and work align means more time available to focus on the customer. Important but mundane tasks, such as approving assets in the DAM, can now be done directly from Workfront workflows, avoiding the need to log into two systems to do one job. What really stands out, in my opinion, is the ability for companies to be more agile with their way of working and empower teams to be self-organizing with centralized data and communications.
- The cloud should work harder for me: One theme that rang true in my customer interactions during Braindates was the feeling that the cloud should not just be something that helps scale technology capacity, but takes work off the plate of the marketer. Transforming assets, tagging content, analyzing images in the DAM, and using Sensei to automate more of the marketer workload was a topic that came up multiple times. The new Adobe Experience Manager Content Automation Services capability addresses this expectation directly. This new feature puts the cloud to work for the marketer by eliminating tedious metadata entry, automating image transformations in Adobe Creative Cloud, and tagging all at once.
3. Virtualization of Adobe Summit
It would be hard to talk about Adobe Summit and not face the issue of having to run everything remotely this year. Rounding out my Top 3x3 is the Summit itself. First, I want to hand it to Adobe for pulling off what should be considered a major victory. Summit was heavily attended, well run, and the volumes of content provided by Adobe, customers, and partners was quite good. My top three takeaways from the virtualization of Summit are as follows:
- Going virtual has its benefits: Making the big and costly trip to Las Vegas each year created a barrier of entry for many marketers, customers, and prospects. Making the Summit free and accessible eliminated this barrier. Now, opening to more people doesn’t mean more prospects or customers. We should expect more noise in the system as some attendees might not be serious about Adobe. My perspective is it’s better to reach a wider audience and going virtual solves that problem. I have a lot of respect for the partners of Adobe who sponsored this event and had to really hustle to attract customers to Braindates and the virtual booths. Without the "trapped" audience in a Las Vegas event space, it really drove us to up our game.
- The future should be hybrid: I really and truly look forward to getting back to face-to-face interactions at the Summit. Hopefully by next year we’ll be in a better position to do so. Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that our next normal for Summit will be a hybrid format. The magic of the big stage presentations makes the Summit feel more exciting, but there is also a huge benefit to having real-time interactions with customers during presentations. I had the pleasure of chatting with customers in real-time during our Fitness in the Next Normal session co-presented with Goodlife Fitness. Real-time responses made the event feel engaging and authentic even though the session was pre-recorded.
- B.Y.O. happy hour? Adobe Summit is an intense few days of drinking from a firehose of ideas, perspectives, and customer stories. It’s important to take a break and relax in order to stem the non-stop sessions. With the virtual format we could jump from session to session seamlessly, and that eliminated the snack breaks and casual happy hours. One particular event I love at Adobe Summit is the Sneaks. Dan Levy hosted this year and did a fine job, but I think the in-person happy hour would have made this a lot more fun for everyone. Perhaps next time we should bring-our-own for the remote sessions!
As we move forward, we know life has changed forever. Adobe has done a great job at keeping up (and in some cases advancing early) to support a myriad of customer challenges, expectation shifts, and needs. This year’s Summit was not just good, it was great because of what Adobe and the partners were able to pull off. Next year I do hope we return to in-person with some form of digital support, and regardless of the format, I look forward to meeting you then.