Adobe on its future as rival Salesforce invades its turf

By:  George Slefo

Although Adobe has long held kingpin status among marketers with its cloud services, recent developments indicate its world is changing.

Adobe itself is doing very well — its stock is up 46 percent year-over-year — and products such as Photoshop, Analytics, Illustrator, Lightroom and Dreamweaver have allowed it to corner a market hellbent on personalization and so-called digital transformation. But the company turned heads following its $4.75 billion acquisition of Marketo last month, signaling to newfound rival Salesforce that it intends to move beyond the business-to-consumer landscape and into the realm of B2B.

At the same time, Salesforce is encroaching on Adobe’s business-to-consumer turf.

Salesforce has historically dominated the B2B world thanks to its deep pockets, charismatic CEO Marc Benioff, strong technology chops (especially when it comes to integrations) and rabid following among its users.

But as Salesforce invests more in its business-to-consumer offerings, marketers have two heavyweights to choose from when using the cloud to more effectively use data to solve issues.

It’s no secret that consumers interact with brands across multiple channels including voice, search, social media, email, in store and many, many others. Yet despite this, most brands are still operating in silos. For instance, employees in billing cannot resolve a customer return issue.

In most cases, data isn’t centralized. Rather it is placed in a variety of different buckets, which can often lead to consumer frustration.

“The world is changing and every business is getting judged by their consumers,” Amit Ahuja, VP of ecosystem development at Adobe, says. “Everything is turning into a subscription business, where the consumer is either going to stick with a brand or switch to a competitor.”

Both Salesforce and Adobe are pitching themselves as ideal one-stop-shops where marketers can tackle all their needs under one roof. That isn’t the case today, but it’s where both companies say they’re heading.

Below, Ahuja discusses what’s in store for Adobe’s future, how it works with agencies despite also working against them and what the company means when it says it’s in the “experience business.” The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

You work with agencies, but you also sell services just like they do. How do you navigate this so-called frenemy zone?
You are absolutely right; there are services that Adobe provides because fundamentally, it is important for Adobe to provide those services directly. It is required for us, but that has never been our focus.

Adobe is software and a platform. Although we provide services, the vast majority of what we do is provide the best tools for the market. A lot of our business has come from agencies and the really smart ones are constantly seeing pockets of opportunity in the market and they’re building ecosystems around them with our platforms.

In plain English, what does Adobe mean when it says it’s in the “experience business?”
We fundamentally think the world is changing, where consumers are judging every single moment, second, by the experiences our customers are delivering.

Expectations are also way up; consumers are coming through a million different devices and experiencing those brands in a much different way. We want to be the platform that helps our customers deliver to their consumers wherever they are right now, whether it’s a website, mobile app, email, social media — it doesn’t really matter.

And to do that you need two things: content and data.

Give me an example of how you make that happen with your tech.
A lot of data is collected from our partners and they’ll collect it from chatbots, call centers and a lot of data comes from Adobe Analytics or content.

We bring all that data into one platform so it speaks the same language and then use Adobe Sensei — our AI — to optimize the next experience; Sensei will look at the data and determine what’s the next best message to send and it will recommend that. We bring in all this data, connect it to a profile and then give intel to brands so they can deliver it to any channel.

What is the vision for Marketo and how will it fit into Adobe moving forward?
The deal hasn’t closed yet, but it is one that we are really excited about because fundamentally, it adds so many capabilities for what we can do. For starters, they are the No. 1 undisputed leader in B2B software management and this gives us massive capability around marketing automation and B2B; we now have a much, much stronger capability and presence in this market.

In the future, I believe we can combine so much of what they do with our tools and technology to make both sides better. We have so many capabilities around personalization and analytics and that we can make it such a valuable product in the B2B construct.

We are connecting all of these platforms, including Magento (commerce) which we just acquired, and embed them across our applications.

The whole thing we are trying to do from the experience cloud is looking at these services and asking how can I put them everywhere so that the experience goes wherever that consumer is, so nothing is isolated. If a consumer wants to buy something through an ad or email, they won’t have to be taken to another platform. And that is where I get really excited, because this is where it is going.