Adobe CMO interview: Ann Lewnes on data, customers and marketing's product remit

In this in-depth and exclusive interview with CMO, Ann Lewnes shares her views on marketing as product, tackling customer engagement through data, digital transformation and what it takes to be a modern CMO

Ann Lewnes
Ann Lewnes

Making data personal and actionable

Data is the lifeblood giving brands the ability to personalise customer experiences and interactions, and Lewnes believes Adobe is close to realising that vision of one-to-one marketing as a business through its segmentation, data collection and profile building activities.

She points to the importance of having a lot of touchpoints in order to build a very precise view of your customer. “It’s not just media or your website, it’s purchase history, psychographics, and a whole base of data and then synthesising that into what we call a profile,” Lewnes explains.

“Once you have that profile, understand what it’s going to take to keep someone. That goes well beyond acquiring customers and to lifetime value.”

Through all of its profiling activity, Lewnes stresses the need to form insights that are both useful and actionable in customer engagement.

“People are collecting reams of data but they don’t know exactly what to do with it. Form the profile, then come up with certain paths for your customer,” she advises.

“What are you trying to do with that person? For example, if you are from Sydney, in a certain age group, work in media as a journalist and so on, I will understand you’re more inclined to use our Creative Cloud than Marketing Cloud. You may have come to our website but never purchased anything, so I’ll put you onto a particular path. Or if you’re a Creative Cloud customer, but you haven’t downloaded Adobe Illustrator, there’s another path I’ll put you on for that.

“There is a lot of rigour that goes into forming these profiles of people. What I would tell my peers is not to just collect data for data’s sake. Come to it with a goal at the outset.”

All of the clues and hints obtained through data should also be informing an action. Examples for Adobe could be a spike in people downloading one particular feature within the Creative Cloud, or people struggling and asking for help in one feature or aspect of the platform.

There is a lot of rigour that goes into forming these profiles of people. What I would tell my peers is not to just collect data for data’s sake. Come to it with a goal at the outset

“That’s an indicator that we need to do something to help people,” Lewnes says.

In all of this, strategy, and not data, comes first, she says. “Your strategy should be your strategy whether you’re a great digital marketer or not. Digital should be helping you accelerate your strategy.

“At Adobe, our strategy was to get more people to want to buy creative products and to move into a different business, which is Marketing Cloud. We used digital to help us accelerate those goals. If people are looking at it the opposite way, that’s the wrong way.”

Lewnes also has strong views on experimentation as a vital step that one should have an end date.

“We like Periscope right now and have been using it pretty effectively as it’s great for doing product demonstrations. For now, we think it’s great,” she says. “So do the experimentation, but at some point you need to wean out the things that are not working. That’s when you’re using your data.

“And one of my big things is critical mass. If you’re doing 5000 things and spending $1 on each, it’ll never get your anywhere.”

Single view of customers

The other core element in actioning data is how it’s perceived and utilised by the wider business. Lewnes says Adobe’s Marketing Insights Group has been set up as the collectors and distributors of data.

“We do it by campaign or product type, so there’s a Creative Cloud single source of truth group and it’s multi-functional,” she says. “It includes people from marketing, sales, customer support and the business unit, so everyone is looking at the same data.

“At the beginning, we’ll say these are the things we want to know. We might be interested in traffic, or conversion rates, or trial downloads. We’ll collect these things… as these are the things we know drive conversions.

“There is an agreement and alignment you have to come to with all the people in this group. Data is not so automated now that everything is triggered and just robots are doing marketing. It probably never will be, because you still need judgement.

“What we have tried to do is put together groups of individuals who take a 360-view of the data, with pre-defined variables, so it’s somewhat controlled and bounded. Data can go wild. While you should experiment with data as well as have more structured plans, first and foremost you need to know what you’re looking for and set those goals.”

Another myth Lewnes sees in this new age of digital marketing is that it takes less people to make happen. “You need a lot of people to do this,” she says.

“We have in-sourced a lot of everything, in particular creative. If you are a data-driven marketer with a website, and you’re testing constantly whether the content is working, you need someone right there to rewrite it. If you have a display ad that’s not working, you need someone right there to redo it.

“We have content people galore now – designers, writers, and a whole crew of creative services professionals that need to be constantly iterating. If you want to test you need five things to test. There is a tremendous amount of content required and that’s human resource intensive.”

Retaining creativity

Through all of this data-driven marketing, Lewnes remains convinced creativity is the most important asset for the marketing function.

“Marketing is still a creative, hopefully message-driven, somewhat subjective art,” she says. “What has happens now, which makes it fantastic, is that there’s an ability to put some science to it. But if you take away that lovely, whimsical art and just do email all day long, that’ll be a miserable failure.

“When it was just creative with no measurement at all, it was dissatisfying. If it’s metric-driven entirely, it takes all the joy out of it. If you can marry those two things – there’s no formula – but that’s the magic.”

Lewnes’ top attributes for CMOs

  • Brand strategy. “It’s extremely important to develop a strong brand and for that to be the guiding light for your marketing. You need that distinct, interesting space for your brand.”
  • Support data-driven marketing but don’t forget creative. “You can’t just be a data-driven marketer without being conscious of your brand, understanding your audience and what creative approach would work for them. And I don’t see a future where you only have analysts in the marketing department. You’re still going to need the right brain, left brain elements to be really special.”
  • Stay focused on communications. “When I hire someone, I always want to see something they’ve written. Marketers still need to express themselves really well. I can hire a lot of specialists, but to be a really great marketer, you have to start with strong communication skills.”

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