Adobe APAC leader on martech models, personalisation and Australia's CMO might

Marketing technology vendor's Asia-Pacific president points to a transformation of the agency and implementation landscape

Paul Robson
Paul Robson

It’s only a matter of time before we starting seeing enterprise marketing functions outsourced and the emergence of more ‘marketing-as-a-service’ business models globally.

That’s the view of Adobe president for Asia-Pacific, Paul Robson, who CMO caught up with during the recent Adobe Summit in Las Vegas to discuss maturity around martech platforms and approaches, the impact of data security laws such as GDPR on personalisation in customer engagement, and the gap that still exists around creative and content velocity.

In support of its broadening digital marketing and enterprise software solutions stack, Adobe has been investing regionally into a partner network for Marketing Cloud, an ecosystem that not only includes traditional agencies and consulting houses, but also a growing number of technology implementation partners. The vendor recently brought on IT industry stalwart and former chief of Intel in Australia, Phil Cronin, to lead the partner network charge around its customer technology practice regionally.

Robson pointed to a growing trend where agencies shift from an advisory role around marketing technologies, to implementation and run. He attributed this evolution both to rising maturity and complexity of technologies, as well as the need to connect martech into other enterprise-wise systems in order to improve customer experiences end-to-end.

We’re moving forward with our reseller model with our Marketing Cloud, which is a core strategy for us in terms of go-to-market,” Robson told CMO. “Secondly, as the business matures, it’s less advisory and more about implementation and run. I want my partner to have a seat at the table, making it work and run.”

Robson compared transformation of the marketing partner ecosystem to the technology sphere 20 years ago, and the rise of IT implementation and management giants such as EDS, HCL, Wipro and CSC. These companies took the IT infrastructure out of enterprise organisations and ran it on their behalf.

“It’s the same evolution we’re seeing now around Marketing Cloud,” Robson said. “Where you find more and more partners popping in, it’s literally around implementation. Because when it comes to integrating ERP, CRM, your data platform and martech – it’s the architectural implementation of how it all works together that’s vital.

“In the old days of technology, companies would also manage your IT infrastructure for you. We’re not yet at a point where agencies in the martech world are offering that level of service. But there is huge growth to come in the concept of agencies outsourcing the marketing function for the enterprise.

“Typically, agencies in the marketing space have been media or creative; they supplied ad placement and creative services, it was never the marketing management. I see a lot of companies now saying they want to offer that form of marketing-as-a-service business.

“I’m not sure what the timeframe will be, but it’s on the way.”

Personalisation, data, and the content velocity gap

Robson also contrasted awareness of data privacy and ethical use, triggered by fresh regulation such as GDPR in Europe, and Australia’s Privacy Laws, versus the extent to which customers welcome their data being used for personalisation.

With rising investment into first-party data stores, use of third-party data analytics such as that supplied by Quantium, growing data sharing ecosystems such as Data Republic in Australia, and Adobe’s own Co-op in the US for sharing device information, personalisation is now being achieved at levels many consumers don’t necessarily realise can be done.  

Adobe took its own step further on this path, unveiling at this year’s Summit a new Experience Profile across Adobe Cloud, the underlying platform that supports Marketing Cloud and Creative Cloud. This ‘experience record’ is being supported by several new data services that the vendor said will allow users to create a unified profile of their customers in real time, in order to target them more effectively.

For Robson, using data legally and ethically comes down to the perceived value of data exchange and service between customer and brand.

“How willing are you to give away more of who you are, what you do and what you like, in order to in turn receive a much richer, amazing experience? That changes by the individual,” he said. “I’m super happy to give away data to some organisations because I like to have the feedback. With my bank for instance, if they are going to recommend a better way of banking, I’m happy to have that engagement.

“It’s on the customer to make a decision on how much of themselves they want to give away in order to get that experience back.”

Robson added brand pursuing personalisation was to know and understand customers really well in order to use data well. “Marketers inherently know what will and won’t resonate well.”

For Robson, the number one challenge deeper personalisation has created isn’t necessarily regulation of data and privacy, it’s “content creation velocity”.

“The more deeply personal you become, the more iterations of the content you need to serve and need to have. And you need to have it in real time,” he said.  

As an example, he pointed to Qantas’ 15 million Frequent Flyer program members. In order to deeply personalise an email message, the airline not only requires information about the individual’s preferences and behaviours, it also needs to be able to recognise and respond to contextual factors in real time.

“To do that, you’re talking about 15 million pieces of content that need to be served individually in real time,” Robson said. “That is a content velocity issue.”

Adobe’s modus operandi is not only helping marketers manage and execute using data, but helping to create the emotive connection a customer reacts to, which is all about content, Robson said.

“Hopefully what you are seeing with each and every summit is that we’re bridging that gap at a deeper level. You’re seeing it with things like Adobe Sensei, Content Auditor, the speed with which you can use Photoshop and Illustrator,” he said.  

To illustrate the challenges with content at velocity across channels, Robson pointed to an FSI organisation Adobe works with.  

“Traditionally, a brand campaign was limited by whatever asset took the longest to create,” Robson explained. “In this case, the assets were the pull-up banners sent around to branches nationally. The lead time it took to get creative to and from the designer, to the printer, and then the shipping, was six weeks. So they had a six-week lead time to create the longest asset.”

By contrast, using digital signage and fresh content on-demand cuts this to seconds and minutes, Robson said. “If you use RFID or beacons onsite, I could walk into a bank and that screen delivers me a personal message...That is such a different experience. You’re talking about real-time content delivery.

“That’s the exciting thing about where we are today, but that’s also the velocity challenge. For that velocity of content, you need workflows, approval mechanisms, and you need to either empower the machine or empower the marketer to sign off on campaign iterations mid-flow, 24/7.”

So across the Australian organisations Adobe is dealing with, how close are we to achieving that real-time marketing ability?

“There are a couple piloting that right now, and getting really close. They would be in our top five users of technology not in terms of size and scale, but in the complexity and how they’re pushing it,” Robson said.  

“Australia is a top five market for us globally. But also, if you look at what some here are doing, use case is up there, too.”

Australia’s CMO power

Robson was also confident of the strength and influence of the CMO role in Australia and said the power of marketing leaders locally is significantly higher than in Asia-Pacific.

“The CTO or CIO in Asia remains in a more powerful position and the budgets haven’t moved as much,” he said. “You also see a lot more on-premise technology as opposed to cloud-based technology, because they have invested in the local data centre and want to use that.

“We also see Australian marketers pushing as hard on the product, and thought leadership, as markets like the US and UK.”

Robson highlighted Tourism Australia, Coca-Cola’s Australian business, and Western Sydney University, through its award-winning story around Alumni and Sudanese ex-soldier, Deng Adut, as example of those pushing the envelope both in terms of technology and creative.

He also brought this fusion of technology and creative back to the inevitable evolution of the agency, noting Accenture’s acquisition of creative agency, The Monkeys, plus restructures of WPP and Publicis at a sub-agency level.

“That says the concept of data is only so much; the content is critical. When Accenture goes and buys a creative agency, surely that validates that position,” he said.   

Robson said Adobe hasn’t forgotten about its own responsibility as the vendor to better help clients implement and integrate its solutions either, and agreed vendors need to continue to invest in service and support. In FY18, Adobe across the Asia-Pacific region allocated 90 per cent of new headcount to non-revenue generating, customer-focused, customer service roles.

“The maturity of the company we sell the tech to impacts the success model significantly. It’s not OK with me if there is a perspective that we’re not supporting our customers enough,” Robson said. “There is a huge focus on driving customer success.”

What’s also clear success comes down to a successful combination of people, process and product, Robson concluded.

“The difference between the leaders and laggards today is so broad. A few years ago, the industry was moving as a pack. Now, some organisations are so far ahead with people, and process, the way they implement and use the architecture versus those that don’t,” he added.

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Summit as a guest of Adobe.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook:, or check us out on 

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