As the top marketer at one of the world’s biggest marketing companies, Ann Lewnes has a view of the industry that few in her position can boast at a time when the risks and rewards of managing a brand have never been more pronounced.
Lewnes believes her business is in a “pretty good spot” to fulfill the needs of marketers, many of whom are adapting to having greater prominence in boardrooms worldwide. But earning a spot at the top table comes down to being able to demonstrate how they add value to the business in a way that decision makers can easily understand.
To do this, Lewnes argues that advertisers must restate the value exchange with their customers and is positioning Adobe around the technology, knowledge and training they need to make it happen.
This is particularly true now amidst debates on whether advertisers have over-invested in digital. Lewnes may see such concerns as merely “blips” in digital’s ongoing onslaught on budgets but even she can’t deny they also present an opportunity to flex Adobe's technological chops to businesses and marketers. The amount of budget dedicated to marketing technology to help tackle those issues will grow exponentially over the next decade, according to various market research forecasts. One forecast from Foundation Capital put the figure at $120bn by 2025.
“I don’t think anything that’s happened recently should change how advertisers look at digital,” opined Lewnes. “In any industry that’s evolving and transforming there are going to be little blips and challenges that you face both from a media standpoint as well from a client standpoint and I think these are natural consequences of natural disruption. I know there are some clients that are becoming a little uneasy and I think that will be a temporary thing. The floodgates have opened and there’s no going back to the ways things were.”
That said, Lewnes concedes that it's incumbent on “technology companies like Adobe” as it is media companies to be as transparent and responsive to client concerns. Adobe has “tremendous” tools and services like manual inspection to “guarantee to the degree that we can that we are providing clients with the best inventory and the best placements and that they’re not surprised by anything,” she explains.
The Drum delved deeper on how Lewnes sees the media transparency playing out for the rest of the year and what the fallout might mean for the martech industry.
The Drum: How are you looking to capitalize on how marketing and more importantly the role of media is being redefined in corporate strategy at the moment?
Lewnes: We’re in a pretty good spot because we’re probably the only company that really understands content and the value of it because we’ve been in the content creation business forever and we understand the value that is required from a brand to an individual. Our whole deal has been about experience but we were talking about it before it was en vogue. The expectations that individuals and companies have now of the experience that they’ll get is huge and every category is going this experience disruption…if you’re in the automotive industry and Tesla comes along suddenly the bar is very high in terms of the type of digital experience that youre going to expect from whoever your current car company is for example. I think all these disruptions that are happening in every category are creating opportunities for brands to really step up and offer that level of experience personalisation service that perhaps they though they didn’t need in the past.
The Drum: What does that mean for the type of opportunities and gaps in the market you’re seeing now?
Lewnes: There are always gaps and I think we fill those with partnerships. If there are issues within the industry then we like to identify them and then form partnerships so that we can take care of them. Brand safety is an area where we can excel in but we also want to make people aware that this issues exists and that is solvable. And so I think that will be another position that we want to play. We’re an independent industry player and we to be able to raise awareness about what’s going on.
On the media side, the market is still evolving for us. A big gap for us was video and now that we’ve filled that, we need to work on integration. It may sound boring but basically integration and partnerships are the two big areas that we’ve focused on.
People expect a certain level of personalisation based on their history with you [a business]. If you show up on the Adidas website for example and you have something in your cart then half an hour later you go and try and transact on your phone and the brand doesn't remember you, then you have to start it all over again. That’s a problem. When you’re signed in that normally does happen but let's say you’re signed out, how do companies optimize and personalise, making their experiences much more efficient every time they transact with you independent of the device? Yes, [it’s a hybrid of deterministic and probalistic targeting]
The Drum: What advice would you give any marketers looking to get their head around what has, at times, seemed like a fragile measurement framework in digital?
Lewnes: Depending on the company there can be all kinds of metrics. Retention is probably the biggest one we look at it; to make sure that our customers continue to stay with our product and what that requires for Adobe, which in some instances is just teaching them how to use the product. The number one thing a marketer can do is set up your indicators up front and then go chase after those otherwise you’re thinking of 50 different things you want to measure and that’s not going to help you.
The Drum: With artificial intelligence and machine learning being two burgeoning forces in the worlds of martech and adtech how do both fit into Adobe’s plans for marketers and its marketing cloud services?
Lewnes: We’ve had machine learning and AI built into our products for many years and they do very complex tasks Our AI is centrally focused on experiences. We’re not going to be following what some of our competitors are doing by trying to solve medical tasks or predict the weather using AI. Those are complex tasks and big, macro things that we’re not looking at. We’re firmly focused on content, marketing and experiences, that’s where we’re going to apply our AI and machine learning into those constrained areas because that’s where we think we can add the most value.
The Drum: Can you elaborate more on what that means?
Lewnes: For example, with PDF we will do things like document sentiment analysis whereby you can read a document or we can help you and tell you w hat that document is all about. There’s intelligence built into PDF that will you do that. From a Photoshop standpoint we can eliminate objects and then fill in the background as if it were never there. Previously, that could take days but now with the technology we have we can do that it in moments. Those kinds of very deep intelligence are based on historically looking at millions and millions of times that the function has been accomplished with the software, which is learning all the time. Those are the kinds of things we’re going to be focused on.
The Drum: It’s been seven months on from when Adobe announced it would acquire Tubemogul. How has the integration of the two companies panned out?
Lewnes: The integration is pretty far along. We’re integrating search and display capability with the video capability so that you can basically have one platform for buying all your programmatic. The great thing about Tubemogul, which is something we didn’t really know until recently, is that you can really buy across every single type of screen including linear. A lot of clients want us now to tell them every kind of video they can buy so that they don’t have to buy it from different places. We can do that across every single platform.
The Drum: You mentioned linear TV, a medium undergoing its own digital disruption now. What opportunities does the potential for something like addressable TV or programmatic buying on it pose for Adobe?
Lewnes: As an advertiser, we’re using addressable very effectively. Over the past six months to a year we’ve increased our buys pretty significantly. There’s a lot of client interest in the US and I’m sure there will be here as well. There aren’t many vendors that are doing it and I think that’s really the constraint because once you experiment and you see the results it’s very effective.
Around 75% of [Adobe’s marketing budget] goes into digital and any TV that we do is either addressable or when we do use linear it’s super surgical as in live sports would probably be the one area we look at.
The Drum: How do you think all the debate and disruption across the media supply chain will play it in the long-term?
Lewnes: Clients have huge expectations and agencies need to step up and satisfy those expectations. Agencies have always played an important role on the creative side and I think that’s going to continue. On the media side, with the help of companies like Adobe and the technology we can provide, those agencies can still be very relevant.
There needs to added value that agencies beyond perhaps what they were doing previously and that can be strategic consulting or that could be the insights that are required once you use the tools. You’re always going to need people to be able to really provide that extra later of intelligence.