Digital's rise into the heart of marketing: Adobe's Brad Rencher

Adobe global digital marketing leader, Brad Rencher, talks about how digital needs to be part of a unified customer journey and the CMO battle between data and creativity

Despite their obvious importance, digital and social remain distinct activities within many marketing teams. But CMOs must integrate these channels into the one customer journey if they’re to remain at the top of their game, Adobe’s digital chief claims.

CMO sat down with the software vendor’s senior vice-president and general manager of digital marketing, Brad Rencher, to discuss the implications of digital marketing and technology on the role of the CMO, along with creativity versus science, during the recent Adobe Digital Marketing Symposium in Sydney.

For Rencher, modern marketers must harness an increasingly integrated offline and online channel experience. This is something Adobe itself is trying to address, he said, through its recent purchase of France-based campaign software management provider, Neolane. The deal will see Adobe bring a cross-channel campaign management framework into its Marketing Cloud offering, bringing together offline and online data streams into a unified approach.

“The digital marketing trend is not a fad, or something that will play out in the next one or two years,” he said. “This is a macro growth trend that will continue for the next decade or longer.

“We’re not far away from dropping ‘digital’ on marketing.”

By the same token, social is a part of marketing today, however people may perceive it differently, Rencher said. “Your social media programs and campaigns, and how you think about them, should be put in the context of your overall business and marketing objectives,” he said.

“What happened [historically] in a lot of organisations is that one person was told they were the social media expert, and to go and figure out Twitter, or Facebook. We’re multiple years into that and there are tools now available to help brands engage and calculate the value of things such as a Facebook ‘like’.

“If you’re in an elevator and you have 15 floors to explain to your CFO why you’re spending so much money on Facebook marketing, you can’t do that by saying you had 100,000 more likes. It really is getting back to terms a CFO can understand, and measuring what the value of these social activities are as part of your overall approach.

“Today, marketing is all about the numbers and understanding how to segment data, utilise big data, back-end technology and databases,” he added.

Real-time responsiveness

Hand-in-hand with the rise of digital is the speed with which marketers must make decisions about their customers and respond to them with engaging and relevant content. Rencher labels this trend ‘the last millisecond’, and said engaging customers today is dependent on being able to bring all your data assets together in an instant, to provide a complete picture of that individual.

“You don’t have six or eight weeks to figure out whether I should be a customer of yours or not. You have milliseconds,” he said. “When I come to your website, use your iPhone app, or come to your Facebook page, you have milliseconds to understand who I am, if I’m a return visitor, if I’m a loyalty member, or what the offers I may respond to if you’re a retailer. You have to be able to do all this.”

Faced with such a challenge, CMOs need to increasingly become numbers men and women and embrace technology platforms that scale, Rencher said. As a global digital marketing leader of a technology company, it’s no surprise he is supportive of science and data analytics playing a vital role in marketing.

One of the most hyped up data trends at present is the concept of big data, a mixture of unstructured information from an ever-increasing array of channels and information sources. Marketers should be making use of these big data assets to find signals reflecting customer behaviour, experience and desires, Rencher said.

“What’s important for marketers is getting to the data that matters,” he said. “There’s no value in having a Hadoop database under your desk, because just having that data isn’t going to do you any good or help you do your job better.

“Look for the data that provides a signal; what are your customers telling you they want from you? That’s what marketers should be listening to in order to provide the relevant experience.”

Rencher also advised CMOs to ensure any big data repository is tied to their marketing execution systems such as Web content management platforms, email engines and circulation information. “Otherwise you’ll have a mismatch in what you know and what experience you are delivering,” he said.

Rencher’s background lends itself to the data-driven marketing cause. For the past four years, he has sat atop the global digital marketing division at Adobe following the vendor’s US$1.8bn acquisition of Web and digital analytics group, Omniture. The purchase was Adobe’s first major step into digital marketing solutions, which sit alongside its traditional creative media business. He also studied marketing at the Kellogg School of Management.

Rencher actually commenced his career, however, in finance, and worked for Morgan Stanley’s technology investment team, where he executed mergers and acquisitions and capital-market financings.

While some marketing departments have rallied around data, there are still plenty burying their heads in the sand to their own detriment, Rencher said. Agreeing with Starcom MediaVest CEO, Laura Desmond’s analogy of ‘the lost generation’, he claimed said these marketers are in danger of becoming irrelevant in future.

“The skills they used to arrive to where they are at within an organisation are not the same skills they’re going to be able to leverage in the future to be successful,” he claimed.

Despite this, Rencher recognised the current battle between creativity and effectiveness and said CMOs can reconcile the art and the science.

“Adobe at its core is a creative company. We understand that creativity process to enable people to express what’s on their minds, in their hearts and for marketers to use that to engage with key audiences. That still matters,” he said.

“But I do think the opportunity to use data, to amplify and augment that, and provide new channels for marketers to reach their audiences to better leverage their creativity is how the market is evolving, and where we need to land.”

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