Adobe Hits a Solid Digital Experience Note, But Is It Missing an Opportunity?

by Charles Araujo | March 20, 2022

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Welcome to The Digital Experience Report, your source for news, analysis, and insights on the ExTech (Experience Technologies) market and all things related to the Digital Experience.

In this report, we discuss Adobe’s message during last week’s Summit, its missed opportunity, and a conversation with Brent Leary, Paul Greenberg, Doug Anderson and the CRM Playaz team. Also, a study by Sitel Group examining the relationship between the Customer Experience and Digital Transformation, a new Microsoft study shows that employees are prioritizing wellness, and a brilliant analysis in Future about a fresh look at measuring productivity. Plus news from Wrike, Progress, Webhelp, Oracle, Adobe, HubEngage, Forethought, Moogsoft, Medallia, Zmags, 8×8, Webflow, Dialpad, BMC, Gloat, Klaxoon, Qualtrics, Cresta, inFeedo, and Staffbase.

Adobe Hits a Solid Digital Experience Note, But Is It Missing an Opportunity?

When you have great respect and admiration for someone or something, you tend to respond in one of two ways. Some become unabashed fans and give unconditional adulation. There can be no wrong.

But for me, with great achievement and respect comes great responsibility — and great expectations.

That was the situation as I sat in on the Adobe Summit, its digital experience conference that took place virtually last week.

I have great respect and admiration for the company. It has long been at the forefront of recognizing the importance of the digital experience and the shift in value creation that I call the Digital Experience Value Engine.

And nothing that they shared or presented this week changed that.

Still, I have to say that I walked away from the opening keynote a little bit disappointed — not by what the leadership team said, but by what they didn’t.

It’s probably an unfair yardstick, but as one of the clear standard-bearers of the digital experience movement, I expect them to craft and share a compelling vision of the true and lasting meaning of the digital experience in the enterprise. And by that measure, they didn’t quite stack up.

The Digital Experience as an Emotional Connection and the Rest of What Adobe Got Right

Before I share the opportunity I feel it missed, let me start with the bits I think it nailed.

Company CEO Shantanu Narayen opened the event by talking about the changing nature of business in the experience economy. He said that “the distinction between the physical and digital is blurring” and that there are changing expectations about how we work.

Check and check.

He went on to say what I think was the most crucial part of his opening, “…at the heart of every digital experience is an emotional connection.”

I feel this sentiment is a critical statement mostly because it is so often missed in the talk about the digital experience as vendors and the organizations they serve immediately attempt to deconstruct it into its component parts and pieces.

But at the heart of why a shift to the digitally-powered experience economy is so dang difficult is that we, as experience consumers, don’t view it as the sum of its parts. We experience it on an emotional level — as an emotional connection.

Unfortunately, almost as soon as he said it, it seemed forgotten in the rest of the company’s messaging.

Still, they got more right as they went on.

Anil Chakravarthy, President of the company’s Digital Experience Business, shared that “personalization should feel fast, safe, entertaining, and engaging,” and that to accomplish that, enterprises needed (among other things):

  • Real-time customer data and insights to drive experiences in the moment
  • Content velocity to rapidly move from ideas to experiences
  • Seamless, personalized, omnichannel journeys

Again, checks all around. I can’t disagree with any of these statements and am glad the company was making the case. The challenge is that these are hardly new ideas or particularly novel in the market.

And therein lies my gripe. Adobe, in fact, does more than what it presented, and I believe it enables a much broader vision of the digital experience than the heavily marketing-focused version it shared.

The Vision It Enables, but Didn’t Share

Let me admit up front that my bias will show through here. If you’ve been following my work, you know that I view the digital experience as much more than just marketing or the buying journey.

I see the digital experience as the totality of the customer journey from awareness through consumption and their lifelong engagement — long past the sale. And from that perspective, the marketing and purchasing parts, while critical, are a relatively small part of the customer experience.

In addition, I don’t view the digital experience as exclusively synonymous with the customer experience. I believe that it extends to both the employee experience and the partner or ecosystem experience as well. I feel all three are heavily intertwined and co-dependent in creating enterprise business value.

You can probably see my challenge here.

While Adobe billed the Summit as “the digital experience conference,” it almost exclusively focused on marketing and the sales journey, with a nod or two to content creation (which is mostly still part of marketing and sales).

The great frustration is that Adobe does more than that, even if it’s often a bit of an aside.

For instance, in its messaging for the Adobe Experience Platform, the data platform that underlies the Adobe Experience Cloud, it talks about enabling customer support to deliver the right customer experience and the need to connect into the enterprise data stack to bring together data from within and outside of the Adobe ecosystem. It also offers Workfront, which provides broad strategic management and workflow execution.

The challenge is that most of that broader messaging — the message that enterprise leaders need to hear, and which I expect Adobe to help lead — was missing from the conversation at its Summit.

More to the point, the company seemed to miss the opportunity to present a cohesive and compelling vision of a digital experience-first future, even though it’s one it may be best positioned to help enterprises enable and realize.

Sharing a Vision for a Digital Experience-First Future

To be fair, part of the issue is that my vision of what it means to truly enable the digital experience goes far beyond what Adobe’s suite can deliver — it goes far beyond what any one company can provide.

But that’s not the point.

A company does not need to deliver on an entire vision to espouse and promote it, particularly if it is what best serves its customers. Moreover, I think leading companies like Adobe must go out of their way to help enterprise leaders see through the day-to-day muck and find that true north that will guide them into the future.

That comes in the form of making clear vision statements and in more simple things like assembling a cohesive and easily understood product portfolio that helps enterprise leaders understand the pieces they need to conceptualize and realize their own vision for the future.

After the keynote, I joined the CRM Playaz for an off-the-cuff analysis of the event. But just before I jumped in, Doug Anderson, Sr. Product Marketing Manager for Adobe, joined Brent Leary and Paul Greenberg to provide a little more color and insight.

In that conversation, Anderson hit all the right notes. He talked about the criticality of data as the glue that binds the various elements of the digital experience together, about the need for Adobe to enable and support the broader enterprise ecosystem, and covered the company’s recent investments in industry-focused solutions, which is another critical element that Adobe underplayed during the Summit.

Overall, I left simultaneously encouraged and frustrated. I was encouraged because it’s clear that Adobe gets the real stakes involved and challenges facing enterprise leaders — and frustrated that they are not leading the industry more strongly into this future.

I get that striking the right balance and message is tough — especially when you’re delivering an event virtually and, as a result, trying to keep it “tight.” Still, the reality is that genuinely grasping the stakes and complexity of transforming an organization around the digital experience is even tougher. So we need leading companies like Adobe to champion the cause.

Are You a DXO?

If you’re an enterprise executive that understands the critical role that the digital experience plays in creating value in the modern enterprise, then you’re a Digital Experience Officer — or DXO — and you should be a part of our DXO Council. 

Worth Reading

Customer Experience & Digital Transformation: Insights from the Boardroom

A recent study and white paper from Sitel Group examining the connection between the customer experience and digital transformation.

A Microsoft survey finds employees are putting wellness over work

Though they might look like the same people, those who left the office at the start of the pandemic have dramatically different priorities, expectations, and needs than those who are returning today, according to Microsoft’s second annual Work Trend Index.

On Workplace Productivity

A brilliant analysis from Future, Andreessen Horowitz’s media property, on changing the way we measure productivity in a post-industrial and hybrid workplace.

The Digital Experience Live

The changing face of service management in a world of hybrid work

Join Charlie on March 23rd at 11 am EST when he joins ManageEngine for a live webinar to discuss hybrid work and the trends that have been driving the shift towards it. Learn how service management teams can equip themselves to tackle the hybrid work era and adapt in their support efforts. Click here to register.

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About the author 

Charles Araujo

Charles Araujo is a technology analyst and internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise, the Digital Experience and the Future of Work. Researching Digital Transformation for over 10 years, he is now focused on helping leaders transform their organizations around the digital experience and to reimagine the future of work. Publisher and principal analyst of The Digital Experience Report, founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation, co-founder of The MAPS Institute, and author of three books, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and advisor to technology companies and enterprise leaders.

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