Owain Cleary, client services director at TH_NK, tells us what he's learned from this week's Adobe Digital Summit.
As I sat in one of the breakout sessions at this year’s Adobe Digital Summit, I noticed a priest sitting in the audience. Of the 1700 digital marketers, analysts and technologists gathered in Battersea to see the latest digital marketing software and best practices from Adobe, a priest wasn’t the most likely character I expected to come across. He was undoubtedly meditating on how Adobe’s Digital Marketing Suite could help improve the Vatican’s conversion rates.
Aside from making me realise that one of the world’s oldest institutions has fully embraced digital marketing, my holy friend also caused me to reflect on the summit’s theme: The Digital Self.
The Digital Self
We leave sprawling traces of our digital self all over the digital world. But I think my fellow summit attendees would agree that marketers are struggling to make the most out of the data this generates. And here’s where Adobe’s proposition is strong. Adobe’s suite of products are positioned to help digital marketers fashion personalised, multi-device, digital experiences out of this meandering data trail.
Adobe has split its business in two: Digital Media and Digital Marketing. Their ubiquitous creative software suite (Photoshop, Illustrator et al) falls into the first category. But it’s the second category in which they have invested heavily over the last few years, acquiring companies like Omniture and Day. With its Digital Marketing Suite of 16 products, Adobe has begun to weave a seamless thread through personalised content publishing, analytics and optimisation.
Hence the theme of the Digital Self. As consumers demand highly personal experiences across touchpoints, our industry needs natively integrated, powerful software to understand and interact with these digital selves.
The Digital Soul
But this is where my holy friend made me think. What about our digital soul? The Vatican is certainly searching for it, but aren’t we all?
Obsessing about efficiency and optimisation can lead us to ignore anything that might actually touch our soul. As Rory Sutherland remarked in his keynote speech, there is no mathematical function that equates to delight or regret, no financial model that neatly incorporates human emotion. Human psychology, he argued, cannot be reduced to a spreadsheet. If we rely on graphs without understanding the fundamental beliefs and behaviours of human beings, we might optimise financial indicators, but we won’t build meaningful relationships. The sweet spot of successful business, he said, combines three things: psychology, technology and economics. His Holy Trinity might not replace the Vatican’s, but it’s not a bad framework for digital businesses.
I found this a useful counterpoint to the technical wizardry that was on display at the summit.
Transparency is the new privacy
And it helped frame the other big topic that goes hand-in-hand with personalisation – privacy. In a panel discussion chaired by Martha Lane Fox, industry leaders discussed the tension between these two uncomfortable bedfellows.
Technology undoubtedly presents us with the opportunity to track consumer behaviour like never before. According to one panel member from Boston Consulting, the healthcare sector stands to save 30% if it uses data more smartly. The business case for data being the new oil is clear. But as more applications collect data about our health and financial habits, the need to address privacy concerns becomes ever more important. It’s an ethical issue that cannot be reduced to bits and bytes. Just as the medical profession needs to debate the applications of new scientific breakthroughs such as stem cells, so our industry needs to take responsibility for debating the ethics of technological breakthroughs.
Today, there is often a huge gulf between what marketers want to use personalisation for – and what consumers actually see as its benefits. Personalised advertising – the creepy, spooky, ‘how did you know that?’ kind – is clearly not what consumers want. Useful apps – the likes of Nike Fuelband, Apple Genius Bar or Amazon Recommendations – deliver a huge benefit to consumers in return for relatively little data. What’s more, they are transparent in how they collect and use that data.
Here’s where the privacy regulator spoke eloquently on stage: involve the consumer in understanding the benefits of personalisation, don’t conceal things from them. Remember that we are dealing with people, not cookies.
Wisdom over intelligence
Arianna Huffington brought the same rallying cry to the summit in her closing keynote session. She begged the question: our industry tends to focus on creating relevance through personalisation, but do we really understand how to create resonance – long-term emotional engagement with people? The Golden Age of the Digital Revolution, according to Huffington, needs to be approached with wisdom, insight and humanity. And I couldn’t agree more: this is a human revolution, reinforcing many of the social ties that the industrial and financial revolutions have undone.
Our industry needs Adobe to keep innovating for sure. We need even more intelligence baked into the software and management systems we use. As John Mellor from Adobe put it: ‘Digital marketers cannot afford to keep throwing expensive prototypes off the cliff to see if we can build a flying machine.’ And if you consider GM’s recent decision to withdraw its Facebook ad spend, you realise that we’re guilty of throwing some pretty expensive prototypes off some pretty enormous cliffs.
We definitely need more intelligence. Not to generate more spreadsheets. But precisely because the more we automate intelligence, the more time we will have to understand real people and their real needs. As we equip ourselves with the software, so let’s equip ourselves with the wisdom to understand humans in equal measure.
Let’s be wise, not just clever
I didn’t get a chance to ask the priest whether the digital soul was worth more than the digital self – or whether Adobe had helped him increase his conversion rate. But I did come out with a firm resolution:
Let’s make sure that the digital revolution we’re leading is wise, not just clever.
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