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5 Things I Know About Marketing - Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes

Ann Lewnes is senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Adobe. Before joining Adobe in 2006, she served as vice president of sales and marketing at Intel Corporation. She spoke with Executive Director Kevin Lane Keller in April.

Keller: You’ve been at two really successful companies, and it's great to have this opportunity to tap into your wisdom and insights. What are some things that you firmly believe about marketing?

Lewnes: The first would be that good creative will always matter. Advertising executive David Ogilvy has always been my idol; he was all about the importance of a very crisp message and a strong creative that really pulls people in. I think that will always be the heart of really strong marketing.

1. Good creative will always matter.

Two years ago, we did an attitudinal study on creativity in five countries. It was pretty disheartening. Only one in four respondents felt that they were living up to their creative potential and 52% felt that educational institutions are stifling creativity. Seventy-five percent of respondents said that they are under growing pressure to be productive, not creative, at work. Yet people overwhelmingly felt that creativity is the engine behind culture and the economy.

So the question is, how do you continue to drive creativity? The tools and the distribution methods exist. Everyone is a creator, shooting, editing, and posting photos, making videos and then sharing them with their social community. Kickstarter is a great example of how to fuel creativity in our culture: they crowd-fund creative projects that might not otherwise happen. And Behance is a community of over 2 million creatives who showcase and share their work with each other.

My second thought—which is about testing—may seem like the antithesis of the first. Part of the process of getting great creative and getting that message to work for you is constant testing. Test, test, test is our mantra. We have employed a culture of testing here.

2. Part of the process of getting great creative and getting that message to work for you is constant testing. 

Rather than being viewed as an onerous process, people now think testing is exciting. Every day we find out something new. The ability to see in almost real time how tuning something can make a difference in how a customer responds and transacts—that is the most revolutionary thing I can imagine happening in marketing!

Keller: Creativity and testing: those are nice bookends. Marketing’s an art and a science—that’s what makes it fun!

Lewnes: My third thought is about taking risks. I’ll give Robert Redford credit for this one. I interviewed him in March at our Digital Marketing summit, and he said, “Not taking a risk is a risk.” That applies beautifully to marketing today. I think this is the best time to take risks because you can do it in a way that is safer and more calculated.

3. “Not taking a risk is a risk.” That applies beautifully to marketing today. 

Our decision in 2013 to shift from being a packaged software company to a cloud-based subscription business was a risk. We knew this was the right decision for us, and would ultimately serve our customers best, but there were some detractors. In fact, some of our customers even started a petition.

I think we were able to successfully maneuver through the situation because we were prepared for some backlash, listened to our community and tried to be extremely responsive. There was some confusion about what the shift meant to our customers so we had to really clarify the benefits of the new Creative Cloud service. And, in some cases, we needed to further customize the offering for certain segments of our audience.

You simply cannot ignore customer feedback. That’s instant death for a brand. While not everybody agreed with our move, I think most people appreciated us directly engaging with them and being willing to consider ways to mitigate their issues. 

Keller: You were going a different direction from everybody else and that defines risk right there.

Lewnes: We had been in the packaged software business for 30 years! No other software company was willing to cut the cord completely. But we felt that the only way to really grow our creative business was to focus exclusively on our cloud offering. We would be able to deliver an ongoing stream of innovation to our customers each month and have a more predictable revenue stream. The risk-reward ratio was pretty obvious to us so we needed to be resolute.

This brings me to my fourth thought which is that I think the biggest change of all has been around the people. In order to be successful in this new age, you just plain and simple need different skills. You need people who are creative, but you also need very strong analytical capability. You need web analysts, database analysts, social media practitioners. You need people to implement marketing technology. These jobs didn’t even exist three years ago. I think it’s incumbent upon marketing management to re-skill and train their people as well as bring in new talent in some specialized areas.

4. In order to be successful in this new age, you just plain and simple need different skills.

At the same time, organizational design has become really important. The hot department now is marketing insights and operations. It’s the power base in the company because those people own the data, and the data’s the power. Marketing nerds are hot! So I think the organizational and staffing changes are profound.

We just did some focus groups to find out what creative people and marketing people think about each other because we’re trying to unify these two worlds. And for the first time, I heard the creative people saying, “I want to test everything.” They want to see that their work is having an impact because that’s how they are judged. On the other side, marketers want to be able to give input to creative because that increases their job satisfaction and their value. So you’re starting to see these two worlds come together, which is wonderful and very different. 

The last thing that I would say is that marketing will never be done by robots. I get a lot of questions like, with digital marketing and triggered advertising and automated media buying, why will you need people at all? Judgment still plays a huge role in marketing. Instinct and judgment—at least for the foreseeable future—cannot be done by a machine. 

5. Marketing will never be done by robots.

Marketers' judgment and instinct will always be very important. I have a lifetime of examples of this. We decided to move into the digital marketing category five years ago. It was a nascent category and the adjacency to our creative business was not immediately apparent to everyone. But, we knew that the content creation business would be inextricably linked to the content measurement and optimization business. It looked like a risk to some people, but we had a long-term plan.

I’ve studied brands for many, many years and I think all great brands take risks. You take a stand and get people who have good instincts and then validate those instincts. And I think that judgment is always going to be an extremely important part of the whole process.

Keller: You've shared five distinct beliefs and yet there are nice interplays among them: creativity and testing, risk taking and good judgment. It's the very holistic view of an experienced marketer. Thank you.

Five Things I Know About Marketing Series

Related Links

Marketing by the Numbers
Ann Lewnes (2013) [Conference presentation]

 

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