Adobe Calls for a ‘Customer Experience’ Coup

“People buy experiences, not products,” so “focusing on experience design is an absolutely worthwhile effort.” To follow through on this, Adobe President and CEO Shantanu Narayen called for companies to align around the customer experience in order to cut through the red tape and silos that undermine positive customer experiences. He also proposed a new, marketing-lead enterprise technology architecture: “The Experience System of Record.”

Adobe Summit 2018 proposed companies align around Customer Experience Systems of Record.

In the opening remarks of Adobe Summit, Adobe President and CEO Shantanu Narayen gave one of those welcomes that seems innocuous until you unpack it: By calling for companies to align behind the customer experience, didn’t he really call for marketers to take the lead of their companies?

Customer Experience in the Driver Seat

“Every business should think of themselves as a subscription model,” said Narayen. Meaning, they should understand that after every interaction, customers can cancel or go elsewhere with a single click if the experience doesn’t convince them to come back.

“People buy experiences, not products,” he said. “Focusing on this experience design is an absolutely worthwhile effort.”

Brad Rencher, Adobe’s EVP and GM of digital experience, put it differently: “It’s time for marketers to change from experience thinkers to experience makers.”

Adobe calls this “Architect for Action,” and it would align your company around the customer experience in order to cut through the red tape and silos that undermine positive customer experiences.

They also propose a new architecture: “The Experience System of Record.”

A Marketing Power Struggle?

This new vision would put the customer experience at the center of the whole company, not just marketing.

Some companies already work this way, but I think you’ll agree that most do not. This idea, as more companies adopt it (and I do think more are adopting it, both according to my own customer experiences and what I hear from the people talk to in the industry), has the potential to transform the corporate landscape.

It also heralds a bit of a power struggle. Who controls that customer experience? Usually that’s a marketing function. So, does that mean the marketing department controls the company? Or does it mean the CEO and other departments should be taking responsibility for the customer experience for marketers?

If and when this plays out, marketers will either take on more powerful roles or cede power. Things will not stay the same.

The ‘Experience System of Record’

Narayen’s and Rencher’s wider point was a swipe at the dominant IT architecture of modern business.

“Enterprise and IT systems were designed for a different time and a different world,” said Narayen. “We think a new architecture for enterprise architecture is required.”

ERP and CRM systems are fundamentally insufficient for handling the data and actions needed to deliver today’s customer experiences, said Rencher. The old system of record is inadequate, with each system treating the customer individually. You either need to recombine their data elsewhere, or — like many companies — you never do and they are effectively different people in each system.

This undermines the consistent, instantaneous experience customer expect and crave today. It also worsens headaches around data-focused regulation like GDPR, where identifying records across the may different customer data systems if a significant challenge for companies trying to comply.

Adobe proposes that today’s experiences require an “experience system of record.” And that would mean a new structure for your enterprise data: Connecting data + semantics and control + machine learning + action + content workflow and content pipeline to create a seamless customer experience.

Adobe wants to do all of that for you. In fact, Narayen, Rencher and a number of other speakers during the opening keynote claimed Adobe is the only company that can do that for you. (I imagine other cloud makers would differ with that, but it’s the gauntlet Adobe threw down.)

“It’s a far more complex world than when adobe was first started,” said Narayen. “It’s no longer just about that Web page. … It’s now about anything that has a surface or a digital interface.”

“Adobe experience cloud is an engine to get the right data and the right content to the right places at the right time,” said Rencher, putting a new spin on the old saw that good marketing must put the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Adobe now sees this as the role of all enterprise systems, and is aiming to position its system as the way to do it.

And by the right time, Rencher means under 100 miliseconds — the speed of the Web. “It has to streamline integration of any system you might have on the back end and in the front end, the front office” around the customer journey.

Is It Time for an Enterprise Tech Revolution?

I’m not going to evaluate whether or not Adobe has the tools in place to replace your entire data architecture and become the defacto “experience system of record.” Right now I’m only interpreting this based on what was said in yesterday’s keynote, I haven’t been hands on with anything. (Not to mention, being “hands on” with a proposition of this size would be difficult without a full installation and several years invested.) Adobe also announced a lot of new initiatives and features that are worth checking out on the Adobe Summit website.

But you’re in the trenches. You’re working between disparate systems standing between your customer data, real-time customer activity and the kind of customer experiences everyone is saying you need to deliver.

Can that experience be done with the ERP-based enterprise architecture we have today? Do you need an experience system of record?

I think most marketers would say the vision Adobe has outlined would be a big improvement on the capabilities hey have today. … Even if it takes a bloody coup to become realty.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

3 thoughts on “Adobe Calls for a ‘Customer Experience’ Coup”

  1. @Thorin Great review. I’ve been suggesting companies differentiate on the basis of CX for a while given that the bar is so low with companies focused on monthly and quarterly revenue well before CX. Perhaps we’ll also see a realignment of budgets to focus on CSAT and CX rather than simply lead gen.

    As Narayen, thinking as your offering as a subscription model will get management and employees to realize you must always be thinking about re-earning the customers’ business.

    1. Thanks Tom! I thought it was a pretty interesting approach from Adobe, but it makes a lot of sense.

      When you compare the messaging from Adobe, Salesforce and IBM, it’s revealing what part of the company they’re speak to, and the vision for that role each one wants to be a part of.

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