Innovating marketing

Adobe VP of marketing for APJ shares how he's fostering innovative thinking and creative and how data helps to achieve both

Duncan Egan
Duncan Egan

Leadership and anticipating customer needs have been key in this unprecedented time, says Adobe’s regional marketing chief, Duncan Egan. And they’re going to be critical as we progress to a new world state reflective of transformed consumer behaviours and expectations.

As nominations for the 2020 CMO50 list open, we catch up with the marketing chief to find out how he’s fostering innovative thinking, creativity, and harnessing data to achieve these ends.

A key theme of the CMO50 is recognising innovative thinking, and COVID-19 has required all of us to do more of that. How has Adobe innovated its marketing and brand efforts during this time?  

Duncan Egan: Hard times foster new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things, because you have to adapt in order to survive. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our whole way of working and living, but people are proving to be incredibly resilient and quick at finding opportunities to make a positive impact.  

For Adobe, like every organisation globally, COVID-19 necessitated a tactical redirection of our marketing activity to navigate extremely sensitive customer situations and to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees. Fortunately, we’re a data-oriented organisation with technology already in place to enable us to rapidly re-evaluate our approach to market, what we were saying to customers and our customer digital touchpoints. This allowed us to anticipate customer needs and look at how we could add value. We provided extended access to our product suite, offered online training and learning, and one-on-one access to our senior leaders.  

We used our technology solutions and infrastructure to find creative ways to share our experiences and deliver quality content to customers and the community. One example is customers readily embracing the reimagined digital format of our flagship event Adobe Summit. It went from a 23,000 in-person event in 2019, to 400,000 registrations from 195 countries in 2020. Summit is a great example of the growth mindset and can-do attitude and culture of Adobe.  

As someone who became VP of marketing just before COVID-19 lockdown, how have you built connection and collaboration with your teams and cross-functional colleagues?

One area the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted for me is that core leadership values are more important than ever. Teams working under prolonged stress and uncertainty quickly become exhausted and therefore less able to do what they need to do in their work and lives. Few people imagined living and working through a global pandemic, and I’m sensitive to the fact that extra uncertainty comes with a new boss.  

As a new leader coming into this unusual situation, without the benefit of meeting many of the team face-to-face, I felt a real urgency to connect and communicate with as many folks as possible. All my interactions were virtual and, in that format, I was passionate about sharing a little about myself and my leadership style to help assure teams, peers and colleagues I’m an empathetic leader committed to the success of those around me and our organisation.

I also wanted to impress on folks that I have an open-door policy, that I genuinely understand the competing demands of balancing work and life (particularly with the unique implications of lockdown for each person in the organisation) and that I’m sensitive to how extraordinarily hard people are working.  

In the first few months, I dedicated many hours to virtual meetings and phone calls to put faces and names together, build rapport and learn the nuances of the business. Adobe also has a world-class suite of technology to enable collaboration, which was invaluable for learning, teaming and making sure we were able to pull together to hit key milestones and collaboratively set fresh goals.  

Data-driven decision making is an increasingly intuitive part of modern marketing strategy. What’s one way you’re harnessing data to improve customer success?  

At Adobe, we believe customer experiences are powered by data. A couple of years ago, we saw an opportunity to better align our business with our customers’ needs through adopting a data-driven operating model, or simply ‘DDOM’. DDOM has fundamentally shifted how we operate by creating a common language around data and how we look at the end-to-end customer journey.  

The first step to DDOM is creating a strong data foundation to bring insights together across the Adobe products including Analytics, Experience Manager and Campaign, along with individual Creative Cloud applications. We then work with teams across the organisation to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the customer experience in both financial and non-financial terms. This is important as it empowers people to take ownership of their part of the user journey and ensures great alignment between teams.  

We also have to develop a governance structure and culture to encourage different stakeholders across the business to empower change and forgo traditional ways of working. DDOM has provided incredible insights on how people navigate our sites, how customers use our products and helps us understand where they are seeing value. It has taken the guesswork out of customer success.  

Adobe CEO, Shantanu Narayen, says we’ve entered the decade of CMO-CIO partnership. Why is this executive connection so important for CMOs and what are the foundations for creating such a partnership?

The most successful digital businesses in the world share a few common attributes, one of which is a strong partnership between the CIO and CMO. Traditionally, CMOs have held marketing and communications expertise with deep knowledge of customer journeys, while CIOs understood how to build systems, bring data together and keep businesses running. Those interactions were cordial and aligned but also often functionally driven. Ironically, as technology has enabled marketing to become more data-driven, CIOs have become more customer-centric.

That’s because the technology that operates any successful digital business cuts across the entire customer journey and runs across an entire brand. Technology platforms, ideally selected jointly by the CMO and CIO and other members of the c-suite, support every customer interaction with a brand, from the moment an individual enters the ecosystem as a prospect, through the cycles of research, purchase, post-sales support, services, training, upgrades, technical support and, sometimes, even financing. 

The customer experience doesn’t actually begin or end with any single business function. Customer experience touches every business function but as the role of marketing is to understand buyer behaviour, engage and nurture prospects into leads and leads into customers and customers into referrals and repeat business, our function demands sophisticated, integrated technologies generating measurable impact. This deep marketing requirement for robust technology means the strategic alignment of CIO-CMO partnership is critical for collective success.

How do you ensure creativity thrives in the midst of data and technologically-led transformation?  

In many ways, creativity and data seem like uneasy stablemates. Creativity is an essential component of marketing success because customers respond best to campaigns which change a perspective, trigger a positive emotion, appeal to something we care about or bring meaning to us. In the past, marketers tended to tap into creativity instinctively or repeated patterns of previously successful creativity. Today, our ability to capture and manage data, replaces instinct by helping inform creativity and giving it space to flourish.  

For example, we know that, no matter how small, customer experiences matter. The tiniest negative impression of a brand can be enough to make a customer turn their back on your brand and tell their friends to do the same. Technology enables us to capture the small interactions that make up customer experience as data which, when transformed into insights, informs marketers about what customers like, and don’t like, and how to personalise an experience to make the customer feel the interaction is tailored just for them.  

Just as it’s critical for leaders to be data-driven, it is also really important to stay creative in a data-driven world. Ways I nurture creativity as a leader are to brainstorm ideas with colleagues and teams, look for solutions to problems, observe what is happening in other industries, and coach teams to embrace an open mindset. It’s also essential to dive into the data to understand the stories it holds on how to do things differently in our own house. Where possible, I also try to reserve budget for testing and learning to help nurture innovation as a continuously exercised muscle.  

Businesses that accelerate away from any kind of disruption are those that embrace  and take calculated risks. One of the most strategically sound ways to assess risk and uncover opportunities is to use data to drive decisions.  

Continuous learning has become the catchcry of modern marketing organisations in the face of rapid change. What does continuous learning mean to you?  

The benefits of continuous learning – or lifelong learning as Adobe believes – are twofold. First, to continue to grow and scale, companies need to be agile and adapt to changing business practices. Many skills and capabilities businesses need today didn’t exist only a couple of years ago. The onus is on leaders to ensure they can retrain and upskill their teams to adapt to new customer needs and experiences.  

Second, a focus on lifelong learning and development helps drive connection and gives people a sense of belonging. Employees are more likely to be engaged at work when companies offer workplace learning and development opportunities. I like to do this by working with individual employees to create a professional development plan, to better understand their career goals and aspirations.

Adobe is changing the world though digital experiences. We help our customers develop and deliver high-impact experiences that differentiate brands, build loyalty, and drive revenue across every screen, including smartphones, computers, tablets and TVs. Adobe content solutions are used daily by millions of companies worldwide—from publishers and broadcasters, to enterprises, marketing agencies and household-name brands. Building on our established design leadership, we enable customers not only to make great content, but to manage, measure and monetise it for maximum impact. For more information, visit

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