For those not among the hordes of digital marketers currently inhabiting Las Vegas, Nevada, this week is the annual Adobe Digital Summit.
Having migrated to Las Vegas after a decade in Salt Lake City, Utah, Adobe has been doing things up right for its first year in Sin City. But I’ll save coverage of the refreshments, after parties, and perks for another time.
The objective here is to start unpacking the insights Adobe executives and other digital marketing luminaries are dishing this week. That process got started early in the day with the first General Session.
Themes that are emerging very early on:
- Marketers have known for a while that we should focus on the customer. Now we can actually do that in increasingly meaningful ways.
- Disruption is all around us, and it will continue to happen at an increasingly rapid pace.
- Customer expectations are on the rise, and, like disruption, the frequency of expectation jumps is only going to increase over time.
The Power of Marketing While Not Missing the Point
Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen took the stage first, and his inspired (and inspiring) tone was echoed by all the other speakers.
“I think companies everywhere are doing great digital marketing campaigns. But if that’s all we talked about we’d be missing the point,” he said early on.
The point, it seems, is that customers expect meaningful experiences with brands.
As marketers, our choices are to deliver on those expectations or to be surpassed by disrupters in our industries who will.
It’s not surprising that Shantanu focused on things like, “harnessing the power of computers to work harder and smarter” and the need to, “bring together these large volumes of content and data with the right leverage to deliver these experiences.”
And then, Adobe EVP and GM of Digital Marketing Brad Rencher laid out the historical reasons why customer centricity isn’t an option any longer.
Riding the Third Wave of Enterprise Disruption
According to Brad, we’re currently in the midst of the third wave of enterprise business disruption, which he referred to as the Experience Wave. It was always an inevitable by-product of the first wave, which started with the back end office software of the 1960’s:
3 Waves of Disruption in the Enterprise:
- Back Office Wave
- Front Office Wave
- Experience Wave
The Back Office Wave
With the emergence of manufacturing software, enterprises could begin to more effectively manage their production and reduce inefficiencies.
Companies who got it right were able to take a huge amount of control over their business processes, ultimately improving their bottom lines and bypassing their competition.
Then the competitive advantage receded as the back office wave swept over all the remaining enterprises.
Effective back office software became table stakes. From then on you needed it just to get in the game.
The Front Office Wave
The next wave of software innovation hit the front office; it was centered around the emergence of customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Prior to this wave sales people were hired based on the power of their Rolodexes, because all you really needed to sell effectively was a phone, a Rolodex, and your personality.
Then the wave hit, and expectations around the sales process fundamentally shifted. Those who saw the trend and adopted CRMs early enjoyed massive gains.
Then, once again, the competitive advantage was neutralized as CRM adoption became a requirement for enterprise success. From then on, basic account management software became table stakes.
The Experience Wave Hits
And now we’re experiencing the third wave of disruption, which this time is centered around customer experience expectations.
As Brad pointed out, it means that marketing is now about, “moments over materials. Every person expects you to know them and deliver a consistent, compelling, continuous experience.”
This is the new battleground, where enterprises will enjoy huge competitive advantages or experience serious setbacks.
And, unlike the other two waves, this wave of disruption isn’t about our organizations. It’s about our audiences.
And now, unlike the other two waves, they’ve got huge social media platforms with which to express their dissatisfaction with laggard experience wave adopters.
The potential benefits are huge, but the possibly consequences could be catastrophic.
Marketing in the Experience Era
The fascinating thing about this third wave of disruption is that it’s the only one that is centered outside of the organization.
Whereas the first and second waves focused on us — how we could do our jobs better — the third wave is all about our audiences.
This doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy wave for marketers to ride.
On the contrary, Brad wasn’t pulling any punches in outlining what it’s like to be a marketer in this disruptive environment. He outlined four key areas in which our consumers will evaluate our success at creating powerful, meaningful messages that are relevant to them:
- Know me and respect me. Anticipate, predict, and then deliver the experience that I want before I ask. And do it all while respecting my privacy and preferences.
- Speak to me in one voice. The message always needs to be in context. Marketing, sales, support, and beyond should all sound the same. They should engage with me in real time and deliver relevant messages.
- Make technology transparent. The medium is not the message, the experience is. Forcing my gadget into your marketing process just because you think it’s cool is not cool.
- Delight me at every turn. Rapidly innovate and disrupt your own marketing, because today’s 5-star experience is tomorrow’s 1-star disappointment.
Are We Ready for This?
Although there is (so far) a high level of optimism and a strong emphasis on inspiration at the Adobe Digital Summit, there’s also an understanding that the stakes have never been higher.
Brad told ten thousand marketers that, like software computing power, their audiences’ expectations for their brand will be doubling every 18 months in the future.
Are we ready to meet those expectations, or will we be swept away with the tide of change?
(follow me on Twitter to get live updates, insights, and terrible marketing humor from the Adobe Digital Summit)
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