Adobe's headquarters in San Jose, Calif. Adobe signage is on the front of the building.
PHOTO: Sundry Photography

Adobe holds its annual Adobe Summit this week, held in a virtual setting for the second consecutive year due to COVID-19 precautions.

And though it’s sad that more than 20,000 attendees, who usually descend upon Las Vegas to get the latest from the digital customer experience software giant, won’t get that chance — missing out on incredible food, entertainment and in-person appearances from famous people, to boot — it’s kind of fitting that Adobe’s tasked with putting on a digital show again. Can they walk the walk?

After all, that’s the promise of the San Jose, Calif.-based 39-year-old company: help businesses provide digital experiences with “a comprehensive and integrated platform and set of applications and services through Adobe Experience Cloud that enable brands and businesses of all sizes to create, manage, execute, measure, monetize and optimize customer experiences that span from analytics to commerce.” 

Acknowledging Work of Marketing

So the questions now are how is Adobe doing on those promises, and where is it heading?

For starters, we know Adobe is now not only investing in what kinds of digital experiences marketers produce for customers and prospects but how they do so in the vein of marketing collaboration. Adobe acquired acquired Workfront, a marketing workflow, project management and digital asset management (DAM) provider, for $1.5 billion on Nov. 9.

Expect to hear lots of those conversations this week: how Workfront is integrated into the Digital Experience business unit, which made Adobe $3.13 billion in 2020, up 12% from $2.80 billion the year before.

One of Adobe’s big competitors, Salesforce, also made an acquisition of a collaboration provider, Slack, a possible sign of a workplace-app-meets-DX-app trend. And further, Adobe also debuted April 27 Acrobat and Sign integration with Microsoft Teams.

“Having the ‘marketing record of truth’ with the addition of Workfront fills a hole they had in the overall Adobe DXP ecosystem,” Dan Knauf, chief technology officer of digital marketing and experience consultancy and Adobe partner ICF Next. “So there is naturally a lot of excitement around this acquisition, especially as Adobe continues to integrate all their clouds together to give marketers greater visibility and power to their workflows, campaign creation, execution and analysis.”

Related Article: Adobe Integrates Adobe Experience Manager Assets with Marketo Engage 

Updates to AEM, CDP

The big splash, product-wise, this week for Adobe are updates to its Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), Adobe’s web content management system (and also home to its DAM) and the centerpiece of its Adobe Experience Cloud, and its Real-Time CDP. Adobe also made other updates within its Adobe Experience Cloud.

AEM Updates Target Content Creation, Asset Tagging

The AEM updates allow for better creation of digital assets for various personas through artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, and democratizing access to content across the enterprise, according to an April 22nd blog post from Loni Stark, vice president of strategy and product at Adobe.

Highlights of the release include:

  • Creative Cloud-powered content automation capabilities in Adobe Experience Manager Assets (Adobe DAM) as a Cloud Service. Users leverage one master file to automate the development of digital assets that can be used across channels, while taking advantage of asset editing features from Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. This should be available in May.
  • Leveraging the Adobe Sensei AI engine to keep track of content that’s being created and enabling properly-tagged assets to locate in the DAM. This should be available the second half of this year.
  • Site creation features in Adobe Experience Manager Sites (Adobe WCM) to give marketers “an accelerated starting point for quickly implementing their designs and delivering compelling experiences like web pages without the need for back-end web development.” This should become available the second half of this year.

Real-Time CDP Update Targeting First-Party Data

Adobe’s acknowledging the pending demise of third-party cookies from web browsers and is pushing the collection of first-party customer data for targeting and personalization with its updated Real-Time CDP, announced April 27. Adobe’s customer data platform will help brands activate known and unknown customer data to manage the entire customer profile and journey in one system, without the need for third-party cookies.

It also includes:

  • Real-time, machine-learning powered personalization. This includes an integration with Adobe’s personalization engine, Adobe Target.
  • New segment match. Brands can expand their own first-party data sets through partnerships, and marketers can enrich their matching first-party profiles with segment metadata.
  • New Look-Alike Segments. Allow brands to identify additional customers who share similar attributes to their best-known customers.

Related Article: Ready for Yet Another Label for Content Management Software? Meet Agile CMS

What's Left To Accomplish?

Those aren’t quite the big-splash release presented on past Adobe Summit stages, for sure. Though you never know what Adobe has up its sleeve during its virtual summit this week.

That said, who can blame them if there are no major announcements? With Adobe, you’ve almost got that “what’s left” feel. They’ve already acquired most of the components that form a digital customer experience stack in the past 10 years: web content management, DAM, commerce, customer data management and marketing automation, to name a few pieces. And now with Workfront, what’s next?

“For years, Adobe was battling competitors in the DXP space for the honors of being the best. I believe that battle is over, with the acquisition of Magento, Marketo and Workfront as well as the launch of their new CDP, Adobe has set itself apart from the rest of the pack,” said Ali Alkhafaji, chief technology officer of digital consultancy TA Digital, an Adobe partner. “In fact, only Acquia stands to compete with Adobe's dominance after acquiring AgilOne CDP (in late 2019). Overall, Adobe is the only DXP that caters and enables world class content, experience, data, marketing and commerce.”

What about competition from hot new rookies, like Contentstack, a new entrant this year into Forrester’s Agile CMS Wave published in February? Founded in 2018, Contentstack was a "strong performer," and it's not too far from the leaderboard where Adobe leads. Praised for "strongest channel support" among all the vendors, Contentstack got a $31.5 Series A in late 2019.

“Contentstack tends to compete against Adobe and other ‘traditional’ DXP vendors where the hybrid offering is not enough and buyers want to go full headless approach in order to either modernize their tech stack, change the 'head' as in delivery/front end and presentation tiers or build multiexperience-focused digital experiences,” said Irina Guseva, senior research director with Gartner focusing on digital experience platforms.

Integration Realities

Does Adobe even want to make more acquisitions? The knock for years has been on integration and complexity challenges, something that still remains an issue to this day, according to Guseva. “Adobe’s challenges lie primarily in being a premium-priced product that also comes with complexities in implementation and training/usage,” she said.

The challenge going forward is always ensuring seamless integration and flow between all its tools. However, that task will be much easier in the future as they roll up all of their services onto the Adobe Experience Platform, according to Alkhafaji.

With those challenges, however, lies Adobe’s strength: the breadth and depth of the Adobe Experience Cloud product portfolio and ability to address sophisticated use cases for digital marketing and digital experiences, according to Guseva. “For buyers who want the all-in suite approach, this is an attractive play,” Guseva said, “as Adobe is able to offer most of the functionality for a typical DXP use case from under one ‘roof.’”

Alkhafaji also sees improvement opportunities for Adobe in the area of search. Adobe is sunsetting Search & Promote and is relying on third party tools and services to provide best-in-breed search experiences, something Adobe might decide to change in the future, according to Alkhafaji.

Opportunities in Educating Customers

Knauf sees opportunities for Adobe in educating marketers to use all their platforms in an efficient manner. While there is the Adobe Experience League to build a community, Knauf said Adobe still needs to invest in end-user education, training and certification.

“As a partner, we have access to certifications for roles such as developer, business practitioner, etc,” Knauf said. “I think Adobe can benefit from having the same for their end-customers. This will not only improve the adoption of their solutions, but in a time when companies are looking at every dollar spent to ensure their investments are being maximized, having formalized programs that people can participate in with validation of expertise would be very welcomed.”

What’s Next for Adobe?

The rest of 2021 will essentially be about fulfilling the promises made on the virtual stage this week at Adobe Summit. It will also want to further invest in its cloud offerings, like it did with Adobe Experience Manager as a Cloud Service, according to Knauf.

“I don’t see them pulling up from that investment anytime soon,” Knauf added. “With other solutions in the Low-Code/No-Code space making waves in reports like Forrester’s latest Wave on Agile CMS platforms, Adobe will shore up that area to keep their market competitiveness.”

Adobe will also focus on data with improvements to Adobe Experience Platform (AEP), which it calls the foundation of Experience Cloud products, as well as Adobe Sensei, according to Knauf.

“The data foundation for any experience will continue to be critical with the increased awareness and emphasis on privacy,” Knauf said. “Adobe’s solutions will need to rely on first party (behavioral), authenticated, and zero-party data to fuel personalization that delivers value. To have a full view of the customer and then power recommendations, personalization in customer journeys as well as interpretation of behavioral analytics is the future of value driven customer experiences.”