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Live from their living rooms: Adobe Summit 2020 highlights

Live from their living rooms: Adobe Summit 2020 highlights

Friday, April 03, 2020

The Adobe Digital Experience Conference is a major annual event in our world. Usually, it’s a massive extravaganza (last year’s was held in Las Vegas) that brings together thousands of top industry professionals through offline collaboration, networking, entertainment and social events.

But 2020 is different in so many ways, and so was the 2020 Adobe Summit. At the height of the COVID crisis, this “event” was held entirely virtually. Respecting social distancing guidelines, Adobe executives and experts recorded their presentations from their home offices and living rooms, sending their content streaming into ours. It was a 100% cloud-based event from a company that leads the charge in how to decentralise and operate in the cloud. In a way, it was fitting.

So what has Adobe been up to, and what lessons can they teach marketers and businesses in these uniquely trying times? Here are our top five takeaways:

Digital is reshaping our daily lives

There has never been a more rapid period of sudden change and adoption of digital technology across every aspect of our lives. Times of crisis force sudden change. Shantanu Narayen, Adobe’s CEO, spoke about how this sudden acceleration of the adoption of digital technologies even among population segments who, until recently, have remained largely analog.

Teenage boy listening to music while doing homework

Suddenly, we’re all turning to ecommerce to order our daily essentials like groceries and household items. We’re using email, mobile, and web technology to disseminate essential information that previously may have previously still been communicated offline. The paperless office—long touted, never realised—may finally be happening, as hundreds of thousands of people are suddenly working from home without access to a printer. Traditional industries that were slow to adopt paperless contracts and e-signatures are making exceptions that will likely become the rule. The entire education field is mass adopting e-learning and distance learning practically overnight.

These are changes that may have taken many years to slowly happen on their own. The times we live in are forcing these changes to happen much more suddenly, accelerating us towards a new normal—but they can be jarring for businesses who are scrambling to catch up. We are seeing a lot of rapid innovation where perfection is being sacrificed for speed. Mistakes will be made in the short term, and that’s okay. It’s tough to get it perfect out of the gate.

Fortunately, consumers are exceedingly forgiving right now, which makes this a great time to take the leap. For businesses who haven’t adopted these changes until now because the risk was too great, this equation has changed. Now is the time, and what they do over the coming days and weeks will define how they evolve in the long term.

Digital is driving the economy

As consumers’ daily habits change, so must businesses adapt. The economy has taken a huge shock, with businesses and stores shuttered, millions of workers suddenly laid off or furloughed, and entire industries grinding to a halt.

On the other hand, these changes are driving huge spikes in demand for other businesses as consumers look to adapt to long-term self-isolation at home. Narayen cited the statistics that, as of March 31, ecommerce sales were up 25% in the US and 33% in the UK over the previous three weeks, as well as a 62% increase in click-to-collect orders year over year, including 100% in online grocery sales and 55% in home fitness equipment.

Delivering food ordered online while in home isolation during quarantine.

We’ve seen direct evidence of this as well. With offline media such as print, out-of-home, and event marketing almost halted, digital media is stepping in for many businesses to fill the void. Many large enterprises—our clients among them—are making massive shifts to their media allocation and targeting strategy almost overnight. They are using digital and social media to communicate with their customers regarding changes in opening hours, health and safety measures, business continuity strategies, and ways in which they are giving back and supporting the community in this time of crisis. They’re investing in ecommerce and online delivery platforms to shift their business models. They’re creating and offering streaming content in lieu of physical goods or services.

People buy experiences, not things

For businesses looking to move from physical commerce to ecommerce in a hurry (or to improve their ecommerce offerings to match the surge in demand), Narayen offered some additional best practice tips and insights:

  • “People buy experiences, not products.” Getting ecommerce right is about much more than simply putting your products online with a buy link. The most successful ecommerce brands are those who provide an immersive digital experience that conveys the emotional side of shopping, not merely the practical side. Now, when they can’t visit your stores, the online experience is more important than ever.
  • “Earning your customer’s loyalty means you need to understand them better than anyone else, and deliver what they want, when they want.” Now is the time to leverage customer data and insights to develop personas, understand the user journey and interaction points, and map your content and communications to each stage of this journey.
  • “Design for brilliance; wire for intelligence.” UX is about more than just beautiful design. It’s about understanding the journey that each user will take as they move through your website and platforms and optimising every step of that process for the best possible experience and highest conversion rate.

Digital transformation is hard, but a playbook can help

For businesses looking to transform rapidly to digital, Adobe offered some lessons from its own experience. Their transformation to a cloud-based company led them to offer some tips for other businesses still on the path to doing the same, offering an interactive playbook to businesses trying to get it right. They also identified six key areas of focus for digital transformation:

  1. Digital-first vision
  2. Data and insights
  3. Scalable content
  4. Optimised personalisation
  5. Customer journey management
  6. Pervasive commerce

We have our own digital transformation experience to share with our clients—from a print yellow pages agency with nearly five decades of history to a full-service digital agency. We share those lessons with our clients, helping them build roadmaps and playbooks to achieve their own digital transformation success stories. But businesses who were slowly evolving over a period of years are now under pressure to achieve these massive changes in the space of only days or weeks. It can feel daunting.

Our lessons mirror Adobe’s: Know your customers inside and out. Drive change from within, from the top down and involving every human in your organisation. Emphasise human interaction. Be relentlessly data-driven. And have a roadmap for success, and a playbook to get there.

Innovation is happening faster than ever

Each year, Adobe has a series of “sneaks” sessions, where the company introduces some of the technologies and innovations that are in their development pipeline. Not everything shown in the sneaks sessions will be released, and Adobe relies extensively on feedback from the audience. This year, given the online nature of its summit, Adobe welcomed voting and feedback on its website.

Here are just a few of the exciting innovations that Adobe showcased in 2020’s “sneaks” that have taken on sudden heightened relevance in light of current events:

  • Project Dually Noted: A tool for editing, proofreading, and collaborating on documents, layouts, and illustrator mock-ups. Useful for writers, designers, and anyone working remotely with a creative team.
  • Project Snippets: A platform providing the media companies with the ability to personalise content headlines, snippets, and images to individual audience segments and personas. This AI-based customisation tool could prove highly useful for content strategists and content producers.
  • Project Clothes Swap: Fashion retail brands, take note: Adobe is working on this ecommerce solution that allows clothing to be displayed on a wide variety of virtual models via a simulator. For stores forced to temporarily close and move exclusively to ecommerce, this could be a great way for customers to virtually “try on” your clothes on models that closely resemble them before they buy.
  • Project Access Ace: Accessibility for visually impaired, color blind, and other consumer segments requiring accessibility accommodation. Adobe is aiming for this to provide simple implementation to transform content, websites, and emails to make them more accessible to a wider variety of people, all while respecting accessibility guidelines in multiple jurisdictions.

A glimpse at the future?

So yes, this was a very different Adobe Summit than in previous years. But there were many lessons to be learned—and not only because it probably had the highest percentage of attendees in sweatpants in all of history.

Ultimately, this Adobe Summit may be remembered more for driving a long-term change in how we view business conferences and events moving forward. Adobe is an early adopter of what could become the “new normal“, with decentralised content being disseminated in an accessible way for all. The lesson here is that we can continue to share and exchange ideas, innovations, and thinking even in these trying times.


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