“Marketing and product experience are one and the same!”

John Travis is Adobe’s Vice President Marketing for Europe, Middle East and Africa and therefore experiencing the ground breaking changes in the field of marketing first hand. In this interview we talk with him about the biggest challenges that marketers and companies face when adapting to the rapidly changing landscape of consumer experience. He gives some useful and interesting insights, talks about Adobe’s ways to embrace these new opportunities and also explains why there was never a better time to be in marketing.

Let’s start with a broad question: What has changed in the field of customer experience in the last three to five years? What are the most important shifts?

John Travis
John Travis

Where do I even begin? Honestly: Everything has changed. But I think one of the biggest changes has been the expectation of the customer. I’ve spent quite a big part of my career working in brand strategy, brand identity, brand communication. It used to be one-sided, where you push out brands’ messages and it was a one-to-many view. Now, in the world of digital, I feel like I’m no longer in charge of my brand. I certainly guide and influence the brand, but my brand is in a relationship now with people. It’s part of a big conversation. And that is a totally different world.

Today, customers expect that they should be able to engage and participate with a company like Adobe wherever they want to; that I should recognize them and understand their history with the company, understand what they are looking for. That is very different than what it used to be.

„I need to present a consistent experience“

Therefore I need to present a consistent experience. If I’m talking to Adobe on my mobile phone in a customer support line, then go to the website and then download one of our creative apps in a mobile context, it needs to feel like the same Adobe.

The good thing is: We know much more about our customers — anonymously that is. We understand their behavior. We understand what they’re looking for so we’re able to serve up a much more personalised experience.

So how has the job of a marketer changed in that timeframe?

Quite a lot. We’ve done research around the world with thousands of marketers, from senior level all the way down to a more entry level. One thing was pretty much consistent everywhere:  80% of marketers had felt, that marketing had changed more in the last two years than the last 50. The level of change and on-going change is just unprecedented.

One example is the blurring of marketing and product experience. If you download one of our creative apps, the relationship you have with that app is a product relationship and a marketing relationship at the same time. It’s a way to engage and communicate with the company. That has been very interesting for marketers. There is much more of a need for me as a marketer to be really connected with product marketing, product management, IT and all the other groups in the company. Marketing used to be very siloed. I was responsible for my PR and my advertising alone. But that has changed.

Take our Creative Cloud as an example. You come to our website, you decide to do a free trial of the Creative Cloud and you are immediately in the product experience. You don’t delineate between a marketing and product experience. It’s one and the same. That has dramatically changed how marketers work, who we work with, how we think. The great thing about that is: If you are able to pull those pieces together, you can delight your customer in a way that you could never do before.

That sounds like a lot of work and a lot to understand and embrace for a company. What are challenges in that process?

I’ll tell you what we learned at Adobe. One challenge that we faced when we made that strong right-hand turn towards digital was the process changes that needed to take place. I’ll take the Creative Cloud subscription business as an example. Back in the old days, really not that long ago, we would do a set campaign. We would plan it for a number of months, run the campaign, wait a number of months and then measure it. When you launch an online service like Creative Cloud, you’re marketing runs 24/7 and you have on-going customer engagement. Once they’ve purchased, you’re keeping a dialogue with them to make sure they’re getting full utility out of the product.

In other words: marketing is continuous. How did you adapt to that? 

Every Monday, a cross-functional team comes together: marketing, ecommerce sales team, product marketing, IT. All these people normally wouldn’t work together at least as seamlessly as they do now. This small team reviews the data from the previous week. How is the business doing? Where is it? How is the marketing doing? What’s performing well? What isn’t? They have a day of analysis. Ultimately, that evening, they publish a report with the findings and the insights from the data. On Tuesday, the management team receive that. We decide with them what needs to change. Maybe nothing needs to change. Or we have to make changes on the marketing immediately. We make those changes and we do it again the following week. Every week.

Every one of those stakeholders sign up to the same set of goals because we’re all responsible for making that happen. That is very different from before. I always joke that I’ve met more with IT in the last year than the last 10 years because now marketing and IT have really aligned.

What were other challenges that you and your team have faced?

One area is skill set. We had to hire analysts, search professionals, database managers — all these new skills in addition to some of those fundamental marketing skills that will never go away. But we had to supplement them with more types of skills than ever before. We brought a lot of that in-house because that’s the only way that we can function in a 24/7 world.

Managing your database and managing data is another huge challenge. Everybody had a different set of data, or some only had a little piece of data. Imagine this: You go into a meeting to discuss what you want to do. But everybody has a different viewpoint about what’s actually going on because they have their own data. What we did to solve that: We created what we call a “single source of truth”. We basically have one group at Adobe and they manage the data. They work on the dashboards and they publish the results. We call it MIO which stands for Marketing Insights and Operations.

„It’s never going to be perfect“

The last area of challenge is the willingness to jump in and do it. Why is that a challenge? Because it’s never going to be perfect. Digital is changing so rapidly, that if you wait for things to be perfect, or you wait to have the perfect process, you’ll never get anywhere.

Do you have some general advice for colleagues that want to improve their company’s customer experience?

Honestly I don’t know if I’m in the position to give advice to people. Clearly, there are things one need to do. You need to have basic analytics on your website for example. There are fundamental things you need to do as a marketer. But for me, what has been the most helpful is talking to other marketers. It has helped me, to learn more about some mistakes we’ve made and about things we did well. It also helps me to understand that I’m not alone, that other marketers are going through this change as well.

The second thing is, what I just said: You need to jump into this. There’s no playbook. There’s no binder or book I can go to that will tell me step by step what I need to do because it’s very fluid.

The third thing would be to embrace the changes. If you’re in marketing, you also really need to know and understand your colleagues and IT. You need to be connected with products and product marketing because you’re bringing insights from customers back to product marketing. The role has really evolved.

We have talked already about how the customer experience should be as seamless as possible. Are there examples that come to your mind that showcase that?

One example is Sephora, a large retailer for women’s cosmetics. They have beautiful stores and lovely merchandising. But the one thing I really admire about them: How they embraced digital very early and in particular mobile. And I don’t just mean their mobile website experience, but their mobile apps and how these compliment the in-store experience.

For example, you can download a Sephora app where you can get loyalty points. Furthermore, it has all your purchase history. So when you access the app and you forgot the latest shade of your mascara, it instantly comes up for you. You can also scan any product in the store and get a full product review. I could go on and on. Sephora has used digital to compliment and augment the experience, and they think of the total experience.

A second example is Audi, obviously a huge global company. They do quite a bit with digital asset management to serve up a locally relevant experience to you. They use our Experience Manager product for that. They have found a great way to personalize their web experience.

Another thing they do is a car configurator. A lot of car companies have something similar, but Audi uses the data also in their product development, or to help predict what features will be important in which part of the world. That shows by the way how marketing is having a seat at the table in business strategy because the customer insights are real-time and so powerful.

The third brand that I would mention is a small one from my hometown of San Francisco: Munchery. It’s delivery for organic, locally produced, amazing food, and I just have to tell you: Their customer experience and customer service across phone, mobile application, and website is unbelievably good. You can order up to 4 or 5 o’clock for same-day delivery. The app is so easy to use. It remembers everything you’ve ordered in the past. It makes suggestions. You get text messages when the person is 3 minutes from your house and 1 minute from your house. The person who comes to the door knows your name. In other words: It’s a seamless. It’s a great experience.

You already mentioned Audi as one example. Can you characterize the German market or how Germany stands from your international point of view in regards to customer experience?

I’ve traveled through Germany quite a bit and I do spend a lot of time talking with German marketers. I’ve also looked at data and when you compare Germany to other countries in the world adoption of cloud-based services is somewhat slower. There might be more of a cautious tone. At the same time I have to tell you, that the marketers I’ve talked with in Germany are just as excited about the move to digital. They’re just as aware of where their customers are going and how they need to adapt. I don’t see a big difference in terms of the level of change, the understanding, the opportunity ahead. I see it very consistent with other countries and other marketers that I talk to.

„The notion of total customer experience will become more and more important“

As final question: Could you give us a glimpse of the future? What do you think will be the most important trends and developments?

What I think is important now and will become more and more important in the future: the notion of total customer experience and I mean by that the fluidity of marketing and product experience and to look at those two as one thing. That’s especially true with mobile applications that bridge those worlds. I think location-based marketing is another area with things like digital beacons. This will be more and more prevalent.

But to be totally honest: I’m not going to even attempt to predict the future. And I’m glad that I can’t. To me, marketing for many years has felt like a discipline that was well-defined and was something that we all understood. Now with all the rapid changes we have discussed, it’s never been a better time to be a marketer. It’s never been more exciting. It’s never been more rewarding, because I can actually prove my value today.

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Jan Tissler

Jan Tissler

Jan Tissler is also known as "jati". He is a freelance tech journalist from Hamburg, Germany and lives in San Francisco, California. He started UPLOAD Magazin back in 2006.

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