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Modern brands are defined by the experiences people have with them: Adobe’s Ann Lewnes


Adobe’s products are used billions of times a day around the world. More than usual these days, as people stuck at home unleash their creativity in various ways. The company’s software is used to make documents, create art, ads and 3D designs, and Photoshop faces, bodies and banana bread.

Over a decade ago, Adobe was a familiar name but as a corporate brand it had a long way to go. It was Ann Lewnes’s job to transform the maker of digital media and marketing software into a brand when she joined the software company in 2011. It was not an unfamiliar challenge to Lewnes who was part of the team responsible for the ‘Intel Inside’ campaign for the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturer.

Lewnes who is Adobe’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, talks about the changes 2020 brought in the marketing ecosystem and the makings of a future-ready marketer.

Edited excerpts:

ETBE: What are your thoughts on the fast-evolving marketing ecosystem? How has the pandemic affected it and the equations between brands and customers, in your view?

AL: Agility has become a central marketing principle. A profound global event like the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the need for teams to move quickly, assess, and adapt. The ability to monitor and quickly identify shifts in the marketplace and customer base, rapidly respond and shift direction, reskill and bring in new talent, and consistently measure impact in real-time are now requirements for modern marketers.

But, agility isn’t enough. The most successful, digital-first companies are authentic, transparent, and intent on doing good for their customers and communities. Focused on innovation with their people, processes, and technology, they never lose sight of their mission and purpose. It’s these companies, driven by modern marketers, that will thrive most in the future.

ETBE:
What are you hearing from your customers these days – the areas of opportunity, and their concerns and challenges?

AL: The economy has fundamentally changed; we’ve moved from a “world with digital” to a digital-only world. In this unprecedented environment, technology has taken an increasingly critical role — digital experiences have become the norm to connect, engage, educate and transact business.

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The ability to deliver great customer experiences online is no longer just a nice-to-have — it is a competitive requirement. It is also a massive undertaking that won’t get far without a solid digital foundation. Strong analytics capabilities are needed to guide real-time decisions. You need a culture of testing. Job number 1 is optimizing your website for different audiences, and requires a strong digital platform and constant testing to ensure content and experiences are personalized for each visitor. This same rigor needs to be applied to all paid and earned media. Additionally, customer experience management (CXM) has risen to become a top priority for all organisations today and is an increasing focus for leadership.

In short, enterprises are faced with the need to close the gap between the customer, the channels they use, and most importantly, the experience they expect.

ETBE: What will be the defining trends of this year and how will they impact and shape the marketing landscape?

AL: Agility isn’t just the domain of marketers — it’s key to business transformation, and leaders will need to orient their people, process, and technology around the customer and drive innovation to do that effectively.

A focus on results. Because in the end, all that matters are results. And in a quantitative, digital-first world, being able to measure and monitor results has never been more important. Being analytical is a requirement today. Just like good communication skills.

Creativity has tremendous power to create change in the world in big and small ways. It has the power to unite us, we’ve seen that there’s never been more creativity than there is today. It’s helping people cope. It’s inspiring people. And it always brings us closer together. But now, more than ever, one of the issues that has emerged about creativity is that it needs to be more accessible. That’s why we’re focused on giving our community — our creative customers in particular — a greater voice to tell their stories, especially underrepresented minorities. We’re focused on fostering community and giving everyone a platform to elevate their voices and celebrate their creativity.

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When you think about business, you don’t automatically think about compassion. But this past year, it’s been top of mind for everyone.

ETBE: How do you make marketing an engine of growth, especially in tough times when cuts are deep and budgets are tight?

AL: We were very early to adopt digital, but we, too, have had to stretch the bounds of what it means to be agile during the pandemic. Marketing at Adobe has been on the frontline throughout this crisis, and it has forever changed what we do and are accountable for.

I believe that business success today requires cross-functional collaboration. A solid alignment between an organisation’s CMO, CIO and CFO can help break down functional silos and ensure that all teams are marching toward a common goal.

The growth of Adobe has been about entering into new businesses and supercharging the businesses we’ve had, taking advantage of the explosion of creativity, and I think that has ignited a sense of experimentation, of excitement about doing a lot more breakthrough things on the marketing side.

Also, aligning to an organisation’s core purpose can go a long way in making marketing a growth engine for the business.

ETBE: In your view, how has the role of the CMO evolved and how has the pandemic affected the role and accelerated change? The good, bad and ugly truth. How does the future CMO look?

AL: 2020 brought in many changes, not just in ways businesses operate and serve customers but also how we function as a society. The same is reflected in the discipline of marketing as well.

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Modern brands are defined by the experiences people have with them. In light of COVID-19, where every connection and experience is digital, engaging with your customers in meaningful, relevant, and human ways has never been more important.

The current dynamic environment demands that CMOs be courageous leaders who take bold decisions and help their organisations adapt to the realities of this new digital world.

ETBE: On a personal note, what are some important personal and professional lessons you’ve gathered in the past few months?

AL: The biggest takeaway for me really has been the spirit of kindness and compassion in people, and how that can bring the world closer together. I’ve been really awestruck to see our people outperform themselves despite the challenging circumstances.

This unprecedented time has spawned an amazing amount of creativity, productivity, collaboration, and innovation. Our Honor Heroes campaign, where we invited our creative community to design artworks dedicated to their personal heroes during the Covid-19 crisis was a highlight for me personally; we saw thousands of people globally creating portraits to celebrate a hero of theirs.

Small and large kindnesses are everywhere today. Despite how grim the world is, I’ve seen so much kindness. And I hope that lasts when we go back to the rough-and-tumble. Sometimes those good things that happen in bad circumstances wither away, and I hope that doesn’t happen.



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