Adobe VP experience marketing chats all things creativity, tech, future and more

Marketing sits down with vice president of experience marketing for Adobe, Alex Amado, to talk all things creativity and technology, a marketer’s most important skill, where Adobe’s media priorities lie and much more.

It’s so very easy to get overwhelmed when attending a technology conference. It totally shatters your confidence in everything you thought you knew. Walking around the showroom floor of Adobe’s 2019 Symposium in Sydney, surrounded by the buzz of revelation and the ticking of Australia’s sharpest marketing technology minds, you could be for given for falling down the rabbit hole.

So who better to crystallise everything for us than Alex Amado? As vice president of experience marketing for Adobe, Amado keeps himself busy leading the design and content media strategy for the world’s largest digital media and marketing solutions platform. As if that isn’t enough, Amado is also charged with running Adobe’s global corporate events – Adobe MAX for designers and Adobe Summit for marketers.

Marketing found some time in Amado’s schedule to chat to him about his role at Adobe, how he feels being at the top of marketing technology, the impending AI revolution’s impact on marketing, why Adobe seems so keen on augmented reality (AR) and plenty more.

Marketing: You’re in a particularly interesting position. You are a marketer marketing to marketers with the tools that they use to market. That’s fascinating because that must mean that you are constantly on the cutting edge of what you’re doing – is it sometimes anxiety-inducing to not have someone to look forward to? To be forced to be a trend setter?

Alex Amado 150 BWAlex Amado, vice president of experience marketing, Adobe: In many ways.

The other side of my job, just to share all of my anxieties with you, is running a design team for the design community. We’ve designed everything that shows up within Photoshop – which is the ultimate design tool – so we’re being judged on both sides.

It’s definitely got pros and cons. One of the pros is that I love being able to design for designers and market to marketers, because they’re really appreciative of this stuff. You have these interesting conversations with marketers, particularly the ‘how did you do that?’ conversation or the ‘did you really pull that off?’. That’s really fun because we craft the marketing. They notice the details that consumers are totally oblivious to. And the same thing happens on the design side.

I would not have the hubris to say that we are the cutting edge of everything, though. There are always marketers that we’re looking to that implement our own technologies often in really interesting ways that we didn’t even think of. It’s one of the great things that I’ve really enjoyed in my 14 years at Adobe: we build technologies to enable people to do cool stuff, and we do our version of that. I have an advantage because I get early access to the software and I know the engineers to call and solve problems. But the universe of creative marketers, the people out there who are solving problems with our technology always come up with creative solutions and ways to implement that we’ve never thought of.

Shows like this are a great opportunity to talk to marketers who are doing really cool stuff – and Australia, I would say, is uniquely advanced. A lot of the marketers I talk to here are doing really cool stuff. A lot of really interesting applications with AI.

Interesting applications of AI, for example, in a physical restaurant chain. I had to stop them and say, ‘explain that to me, you guys have people coming into a restaurant and ordering food – how is AI going to enter into that?’ It turns out that there’s a lot of user identification opportunity in things like drive through, order adjacencies and different market insights and digital signage and surfaces that can be optimised through AI in ways that are really fascinating. I’m always learning new things when I talk to other marketers.

Your colleague mentioned something earlier on stage, something to the effect of ‘robots will never do marketing’. That led me to think, ‘isn’t that sort of why we’re here?’ I get that the robots Adobe is building are supplementary to marketing; but as it’s been demonstrated through Photoshop and Lightroom, robots can do creative stuff too, they can ideate, they can fill in the gaps. Though we’re still very much in the infancy of what this technology does, is he wrong? Will marketers have a lot less to do in the near future?

The way that I think about it isn’t that robots will never do marketing. I think that robots will never replace humans holistically at marketing. What they’re going to enable us to do is spend a lot more time developing innovative ways and breaking barriers around connecting with customers through our marketing. A lot of it is automation, but a lot of it is automation in really smart ways. That demo that Steve Hammond showed where you have the dog on the beach and you can replace the dog – we used to do that.

Your colleague mentioned something earlier on stage, something to the effect of 'robots will never do marketing'. And I had a brief thought of, 'isn't that sort of why we're here?' I get that the robots you guys are building are supplementary to marketing. But as it's been demonstrated through Photoshop and Lightroom, robots can do creative stuff too, they can ideate, they can fill in the gaps. Though we're still very much in the infancy of what this technology does, is he wrong? Will marketers have a lot less to do in the near future? The way that I think about it isn't that robots will never do marketing. I think that humans will never replace humans holistically at marketing. What they're going to enable us to do is spend a lot more time developing innovative ways and breaking barriers around connecting with customers through our marketing. And being able to put a lot more of the repetitive tasks.... A lot of it is automation, but a lot of it is automation in really smart ways. That demo that Steve Hammond showed where you have the dog on the beach and you can replace the dog – we used to do that. I used to do that in Photoshop, 20 years ago, but it was just really manual. I'd used to have to individually grab pixels, and now I just select the thing and the computer, frankly, has learned from the fact that me and millions of people like have done those processes. So it's able to take all that and relieve that tedium. But deciding what that image should be, how to make the image better and whether or not the dog should be in the image is something that I think humans are going to continue to do because we're still connecting with humans, we're not connecting with computers.

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I used to do that in Photoshop 20 years ago, but it was just really manual. I’d used to have to individually grab pixels, and now I just select the thing and the computer, frankly, has learned from my actions and millions of people like me that have done those processes. It’s able to take all that and relieve that tedium. But deciding what that image should be, how to make the image better and whether or not the dog should be in the image is something that I think humans are going to continue to do because we’re still connecting with humans, we’re not connecting with computers.

I think I agree with you but I do see some portion of marketing being infiltrated by AI in a way that is scary to marketers. With that in mind, what would your advice be to marketers in terms of how they sure up their positions? Because let’s face it, some of those jobs are going to disappear, just like in all industries, AI is going to displace some people.

Totally. There used to be people, even on my team, whose job was retouching images and doing this minutiae – and now those aren’t jobs anymore because we do them with a computer in minutes.

Every time we as humans in society automate something that used to take a lot of human labour, we have 10 times more things to do that we can put that time and energy towards. Now that I don’t have designers retouching images in very minute ways, I have way more designers building way more content across everything. I didn’t reduce my design workforce, in fact, the automation may have improved our productivity by 20% or even 50%, but my output has increased overall by maybe 200% or 400%. The demand is there and every time we find more valuable ways to connect, it takes humans to figure out what’s really going to work and how we’re going to change our engagement with our customers.

In terms of preparing for the future, I think you’re totally right. In my journey at Adobe – and it’s been a journey of remarkable transformation – when we started we were selling boxed products, CD-ROMS, in retail stores – and that was pretty much our whole business.

Speaking of jobs that have gone away: one of the things that we actually miss is we put a lot of work into that packaging – making it really cool and amazing. It’s one of the few things that I really miss from that era: boxes were actually kind of cool and tangible, it was fun to make them. We’ve always been very sustainable so we used soy-based inks and recycled cardboard and all kinds of stuff. 

In that long journey [at Adobe], one of the things I’ve seen in myself, my peers and my employees is that the jobs are not the same. It’s less important today to train for a specific skill and become a master of that skill – especially on the marketing side, by the way – than it is to train for a mentality of being data-literate and taking time to understand you customers – we’re not optimising processes, we’re ultimately changing the way that we engage with customers.

That’s the thing, if you always keep your eyes on that prize, it doesn’t matter if we’re engaging with them through desktop computers, mobile devices or voice; what’s the future of voice interaction going to be? I don’t know, but I know that it’s going to impact us as marketers, and I need a team who’s going to figure it out, and I guarantee none of them will have learned it in school. By the time a whole generations of marketers has learned voice interaction marketing in school, we’re going to be onto something else. 

It makes marketing not for the faint of heart because you don’t get to go to school and learn a skill and execute that skill for the rest of your career. It’s a story in evolution and, to me, that’s what modern marketers need to do. They need to be nimble, and they need to be continuously reinventing themselves by seeing what’s going on in the market. There’s no text book for that reinvention.

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You said something interesting there about mastering a skill, really having this comprehensive understanding of one particular vertical. We’re seeing, particularly in the creative world, people not just being one thing anymore. You don’t have photographers anymore, you don’t have animators anymore – the same is true in marketing – everybody has to be a jack of all trades.

I actually think it’s the same phenomenon on the creative side. Even when we were first making those boxed-product softwares, a lot of our users would only use one product. They were a Photoshop user, a layout artist in InDesign or a video editor in Premiere. Now we have people who produce, edit, copyright, design, illustrate – and part of it is because the tools have enabled that. Frankly, if you had to learn the minutiae of removing that dog pixel by pixel, it takes so much time to really learn how to master that. Now that the computer can do that you can get to your vision more quickly and that’s what’s enabled people to master multiple skills and be cross-media, because we now live in a cross-media world.

It’s the same thing with marketing, whatever your skill base is. I have great examples on my team, people who grew up in traditional advertising who are now incredible at understanding and evolving our programmatic advertising strategies. Those strategies bear no resemblance to what we used to do when we were negotiating newspaper placements with the New York Times. The same people have really reinvented themselves and I try to recruit and retain people who have shown that ability to evolve and stay current, and to do what’s next and not just what they started with. That’s marketing.

I’ve been in marketing for 28 years; the first 15 years of that, there wasn’t all that much change. It was kind of the same things, we did press releases, we did advertising, we did direct mail. Over the last 10 or 15 years, the change has been radical. It feels like we’ve changed more in the last 10 years than we did in the previous 50. New streams of data, the way people engage; just when you start getting mobile, programmatic and those things figured out, then it’s voice and AR and I don’t what’s next – but it’s going to be fun.

Adobe seems to be leaning pretty heavily into augmented reality in its Experience Cloud. There are so many emerging media technologies to go into in 2019, why AR?

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know that we’ve totally cracked all of the pragmatic marketing cases, but I think there are going to be a lot of them and I’m confident this is one of those places where we’re going to put the technology into the world envisioning one thing – maybe inventory management – and in 18 months the solutions that people will have put that to, the innovation that the marketing community is going to bring to it is going to blow us away. That’s the joy of building technology like this.

AR is cool for Adobe in particular for two reasons: one is because it’s a very visual world, a visual execution medium. We know how to do that better than pretty much anybody else. The creation of AR fits right into the spectrum of capabilities that we’ve already been thinking about. We have a lot of baseline technologies, we’ve acquired new companies to enable 3D modelling and similar technology – and we think we know how to do that, so it’s in our wheelhouse. The second thing is: it’s easily accessible, so it makes it easier to imagine near-term use cases. It’s not at all unreasonable to imagine that it might be worth my time – instead of approaching a salesperson and asking if they have this or this in stock – to just point my phone at the wall and be able to see – do they have it in my size? What other colours might they have? Can they ship it? That’s just one example of a use case, everybody already has access to it, nobody has to look like a dork with a VR helmet on. 

It feels like it’s a technology that is right on the verge of breaking through and I think we’ve seen some early wins that have proven that it has the potential for mass adoption. Think about things like Pokémon Go, that had huge adoption, I know it’s a game and not marketing but it is real-world proof that you can get people to walk around using their phones as a second reality device.

Quickfire round:

What could Adobe be doing better?

A lot of things. Looking at Adobe as a marketer, I think as fast as we innovate, it’s still not fast enough. As we’ve scaled, it’s gotten harder to roll things out globally. We’re now a much bigger company than we were, and I feel like continuing to break through and embrace the next thing and not be complacent is our ‘forever challenge’. That’s the thing we need to keep our eye on, we’re not done with innovation.

A brand doing it right?

There’s a lot of brands that do things that I like. Though I think there’s a lot of things it does wrong, one of the brands I look to as one doing things right is Amazon in its relentless customer focus. We try to be customer focused. Everyone I’ve met from that company has impressed upon me that the customer is the sole obsession for that company. I want to continue to be more like. Also, Amazon’s appetite for innovation. Those are two things that are really serving that company well, and I think that’s exciting.

A trend you’ve seen in marketing or in other brands that you disapprove of?

One of the things I think a lot of marketers are getting wrong is using personalisation and retargeting technologies, especially in advertising, without putting the muscle into personalising context. It’s ‘I have this generic thing and I’m going to chase you around the web with it because statistically I’m seeing a benefit to that’ – as opposed to realising that the user probably abandoned [your cart] for a reason and you have to change the offer and message to try different angles, pull people back in and be sensitive to both where you’re advertising to them and where they are in their journey.

We [at Adobe] get that wrong sometimes and I get frustrated with us for not pushing that. It is expensive and hard, but that’s something I would love to see more marketers get right, because I’m really tired of visiting your site once and now I have to see your banners for two weeks and nothing else. Especially because it’s the same damn message every time – it’s not like you’re trying to move with me or give me different angles or reasons to come back, you’re just going to bludgeon me into it. Though it’s technologically easy to do that now, it’s lazy and disrespectful to the user.

Nobody ever annoyed someone into buying something.

Exactly. It’s very easy to do, but it’s not easy to be successful at.

If you could time travel back to the beginning of your career and give yourself a piece of advice, what would that be?

Buy Adobe stock when it was $8.

 

Full disclosure: the author of this article attended Adobe Symposium as a guest of Adobe.

*Update 29 July: this article previously stated that Alex Amado also organises Adobe’s Symposium events – Amado only runs Adobe’s global events, Summit and MAX.

 

Further Reading:

 

 

Image credit: Supplied

Josh Loh
BY Josh Loh ON 19 July 2019
Josh Loh is assistant editor at MarketingMag.com.au