Emily Tan
Mar 28, 2014

Fights, wine and data: Adobe's marketing-technology journey

SALT LAKE CITY - Ever since Gartner forecast that by 2017 the CMO would be spending more on IT than the CIO, marketing and tech departments have been striving to break down silos and work more closely. Adobe shared its experience with delegates at its annual marketing summit.

John Travis
John Travis

Seven years ago, Adobe's marketing department was “really traditional”, Adobe CMO Anne Lewnes commented during a panel late in the conference. Today, the technology firm spends nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of its budget in digital with the bulk of day-to-day marketing done in-house.

“To say that it required an amount of change is an understatement,” confided John Travis, VP of brand marketing, in the session on IT and marketing. “We had to fundamentally change our relationship, not just with IT but with all our colleagues.”

One of the biggest steps the company had to take was to “bring the nerds into marketing”, laughed Travis. “We joke about it, but it works.”

Although everything's mostly hunky dory now, it wasn't easy, admitted Gerri Martin Flickinger, SVP and CIO at Adobe. “We did have fights. More early on, but we still fight. The disagreements though, happen behind closed doors so it's clear we're pulling for the same team.”

One of the major disputes that the CMO and CIO often have to settle is, 'Who holds the budget?'. “And it's not an important question, the corporation holds the budget," Flickinger said. "What is important though, is transparency. It has, however, taken John [Travis] and I a lot of long talks over red and white wine to get here.”

When sourcing for talent, Adobe, as a company, had a major advantage in its large pool of tech-capable people, so it was able to source necessary talent from within. “We utilised our marketing cloud to insource our activity from search marketing to display optimisation and content copywriting," Travis said. "We still turn to the agencies for big creative ideas that will push us forward, but for the day-to-day content, in-house was just more nimble.”

Plus, if the company had brought in a third party to manage the daily content marketing, site building and community management aspects of the business, Adobe would have lost an entire layer of valuable data, pointed out Flickinger.

Of course, by getting the 'nerds' into marketing, that meant working hand in glove with the IT department. “IT is part of the marketing team now," he said. "They sign on for our marketing goals as much as we do. The relationship is so important, I want their presence on my hiring committee.”

Flickinger underlined the importance of this. “You have to get the teams together. At the end of the day, if the people in marketing don't want to deal with the team in IT and vice-versa, it doesn't matter what your execs think.”

And if there are people in the organisation who absolutely won't mix with other teams, maybe it's time for them to move on to something else, added Travis.

When asked by an audience member where certain functions, such as website coding, sat in the organisation, the answer was “it changes”. “We often move teams and units around, not because they were in the wrong place but because the industry changes that rapidly," Flickinger said. "And as soon as we feel that the current arrangement isn't working, we have to be flexible enough to adapt.”

Another major shift was to move away from the urge to nurse and tweak each idea for months into absolute perfection before releasing it into the world. “We still put in a lot of effort to make everything absolutely lovely and perfect, but we put stuff out all the time with a focus on testing and reiteration," Travis said. "We can always just take out stuff and try something new. It took a long time to get our marketing department wrapped around the idea though.”

Now, once launched, each campaign's progress is tracked and fine-tuned “on the fly”. Results from the full campaign are of course analysed and fed back into the department's econometric model, which in turn helps to inform the next campaign.

The learnings from this process have been interesting, said Travis. For example, Adobe is finding that PR as an aspect of marketing really helps close deals. “It's the credibility factor of marketing. This sort of detail really helps us fine-tune the mix.”

In learning to work together, both teams have to become hybrids of each other. “We have opposite brains fundamentally," Flickinger said. "People in IT are analytical in nature and need to learn to be more open to the creative side.”

“Marketers...you gotta love math," he added. "I secretly do." Marketers should embrace it because the advancement of data and metrics for marketing has made this the best time ever to be in the industry. “As a marketer I used to hang my head and moan, 'I'm not woooorthy... I'm not woooorthy,' when it came time to go to the CEO and say, 'Trust me! I know what I'm doing. It's going to work, I know it's going to work'. Now, we have proof that it is working, and the impact of what we do every day is so visible, it's never been better.”


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