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Entrepreneur Ira Lessack kicked off the annual Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) conference by posing an interesting question to a panel of experts. Digital marketing has been discussed for years now, he noted, but where is it on a hockey stick curve?

For a variety of reasons, the consensus of those on stage agreed it remains near the bottom of the stick, a refreshingly candid view that may set the tone for the Evolve'14 conference that runs through tomorrow in San Diego.

"I think we're somewhere down towards the bottom," said Roy Fielding, senior principal scientist for Adobe. He said digital marketers have gotten very good at starting to analyze where they need more data, "but we haven't quite reached the point where we're able to communicate with others. So I think we need to focus more on the ability not just to perceive the data, but to understand it."

Expanding Vision

Two other panelists answered the question in ways that mirrored the expanding vision of digital marketing to deliver relevant, personalized content to individuals across any device.

"The global plan we have laid is so massive, and I think that keeps us on the lower half of that hockey stick," said Jacqui Kearns, vice president and leader of digital technology for Dun & Bradstreet. "Everyday we read something new. There's no expert in the field."

Similarly, Sean Browne, senior director of web marketing for the human resources company Success Factors, said many companies are blind to the ever-growing range of possibilities.

"Many companies don't understand what's possible right now. Many big companies do, but they're unable to take advantage of all the great tools," he said. "When you look around, I think the challenge is often just getting your colleagues to even imagine what's possible and to figure out a way to take advantage of that together."

Lessack himself said there's too much focus on small technical issues instead of the greater mission of delivering valuable messages to consumers.

"There's still a lot of noise," he said. "Things are still moving at glacial speed."

One factor that accounts for the sluggish pace has been the rapid growth of mobile devices like tablets and phones. Just as marketers were mastering the art of building websites, they needed to figure out how to serve other types of devices simultaneously.

"For us,  the challenge over the past 18 months has been how do you get there fast and not half-ass it, not put something out there that's not mobile-enabled and not tablet-friendly where you're trying to  take a browswer and just squeeze it in," said Kearns.

Getting Personal

"I think people want it personalized. They don't want to be spoken to en masse. They want to be spoken to one-to-one. They want to be spoken to in the language that they're in, whatever market that they're in," she added.

A bit later, Fielding came back to the challenge posed by mobile, noting that mobile development has a different focus than web development.

"One of the things we've been working on is trying to add more dynamicity into that process so you can build mobile apps the same way you build your website, using the same products, the same content," he said. Fielding said PhoneGap, the free Adobe mobile app development framework, is getting more integrated into AEM "so you can build your own apps in much the same way you build your own websites."

Related story: Discussion Point: Omnichannel Marketing in the 2014 Holiday Season

Title image by PhotoStock 10 / Shutterstock.