Adobe's on a mission with Marketo, but does it really know what it's bought?

James T Fletcher joined 17,000 of Adobe's partners and customers in Las Vegas last month for the company's first Summit since its $5 billion purchase of Marketo. Here's what he discovered

'Sin city' was the location for Adobe’s suave 2019 summit, where the glitzy Venetian hotel catered for over 17,000 Adobe partners and customers - including the newly acquired Magento and Marketo communities.

There’s no denying Adobe’s partner relationships are very different from Marketo’s. The names you expect to see in the room include companies such as Cognizant, EY, Deloitte Digital, and Amadeus, just to name a few of the consulting giants who were out and about at the event.

But what about the specialists such as Marketo (and Magento) partners – in other words, specialists like us at JTF Marketing? Well, there wasn’t much chatter about how things will change. In fact, you could hear “it’s so great to have you as part of Adobe” repeated to the point where you had to wonder: does Adobe really know what it's bought?

Despite this, one positive of the Adobe US Summit was how Adobe repeatedly played up the importance of these new partners (who have driven 70% of closed business in the previous financial year, no less). I appreciated how Adobe bluntly admitted: “You guys know the clients better than us, and we want you to open the doors; we will collaboratively work together to drive results for the client.”

For those of us who are Marketo partners, that’s a far cry from anything we’ve ever heard in terms of acknowledgment, so it left me feeling positive about getting better support and collaboration to do more with this marketing technology and reaching our clients’ goals going forward.

Adobe’s customer experience mission

Actor Reece Witherspoon with Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes

Oscar-winning actor Reece Witherspoon in conversation with Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes

Rattled off a million times was how Adobe is no longer a software company: it's a marketing company. Their focus is wholly on building great experiences, using technology to craft and personalise that user experience throughout the journey.

What is clear is that Adobe wants to lead the way using their own marketing team – referred to as 'customer zero' – as best practice. CMO Ann Lewnes told the audience about how her morning ritual is to wake up and check web traffic (because web traffic means customers) and how her team is stress testing the Adobe products to the max.

Marketo versus Adobe Campaign

It’s the big question we’re still asking ourselves, and it’s a question that only leads to further queries: How do they sit together? How do they sit separately? How will this work as they move forward? Will it become one platform? The list of common questions goes on. What was made clear was that Adobe are trying to be clear-cut about the differences between Marketo Engage (how the Adobe world keeps referring to Marketo) and Adobe Campaign.

The most baffling thing about the Summit was the distinct lack of Marketo specific content, which was bundled together in what felt like a cost saving measure. In my view it was clunky, badly communicated, and felt a bit disorganised, as if it had been haphazardly tagged on, with the odd buzzword of 'Marketo Engage' thrown in here and there to keep the people (both on stage and in the audience) satisfied that the purchase was, in fact, worth it.

During the conference, I attended one session called 'Campaign orchestration' which was led by the product marketing director and manager for Adobe Campaign. It was positioned as a presentation about how “both Marketo and Adobe Campaign can help you” and consisted of two to three slides they had cobbled together with what - in their opinion - were the key strategic differences between the platforms. They noted that, while there was some overlap of core functionality that will converge at some point, the audiences for each platform are very different. In their view, Marketo Engage is for B2B, and Adobe Campaign is for B2C. This opinion was justified by a few bullet points, after which they quickly shifted gears to talk about campaign examples using Adobe Campaign… and that was that.

What’s coming from Adobe

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen on stage at the Adobe Summit 2019

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen presenting at the 2019 Adobe Summit

What is apparent to me is that the purchase of Marketo for $4.75 billion was a meeting of great minds and ideas on the future of customer experience, but with no clear-cut plan on how these tools would co-exist (or even compete!) In one opening gambit, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen accompanied ex-Marketo CEO (and now SVP of Digital Experience) Steve Lucas and told of their meetings and excitement about converging product sets that Marketo offered Adobe customers, and what Adobe can offer Marketo’s customers. He pointed out how Marketo had some more advanced learnings in a few areas beyond Adobe, and that Adobe has a bunch of super cool tech which the B2C clients aren’t fully ready for yet.

Lest we go thinking that Adobe’s focus is only on buying shiny new things (ahem, Marketo and Magento), Adobe made sure to foreground some key updates of their own. It explained its analytics package now supports data driven operating models (DDOM) and nicely showcased how this works using a mock-up example of internal metrics. They also announced how Adobe Sensei will help predict campaign performance in the experience cloud, and talked about how their customer data platform (CDP) will soon feed all of the Adobe products - including Marketo Engage. In short, they set out to prove that they’re looking to build a more connected martech stack out of the box.

AI and ML are undisputed focal points for Adobe, who are keen to ensure they can make use of big data, and importantly add predictions across the board to help marketers understand what works and maximise their technologies.

Marketo Engage becoming part of the Adobe Family

Adobe’s products have great UIs. There is no denying it. One constant criticism Marketo gets is the clunky, dated UI - which for us fans is a bit like someone trying to tell us to move on from Windows XP because Vista is much cooler and faster. The Marketo Engage team showcased the new UI for Marketo Sky (stating it was up and running for 60% of its customers) and assured us that they will continue to roll out the updated UI across different elements of the product throughout 2019. Whilst I agree this updated UI is indeed coming along and a huge improvement, from a day-to-day practitioner perspective, it’s not production-ready yet – it’s absolutely in beta. Saying it’s ready, in my view, gives a false sense of hope for those who need a simple UI and don’t know the powerful featureset of Marketo.

One thing I was hoping to see from the Marketo Engage guys at Summit was a clearer roadmap. Instead, we were shown lots of shiny new objects: image editing using Adobe Photoshop directly in Marketo Engage (apparently, with no extra charges), some Adobe Sensei integrations to provide predictable results, and some machine learning capabilities in Marketo Engage… but these won’t be in beta until late 2019.

My view is that what Adobe was talking about in terms of Adobe Campaign (using automation to build great experiences, connecting and developing data-driven and omni-channel campaigns) is all stuff some Marketo Engage customers have been using for at least the past three to four years. The downside for Marketo Engage is that having such a superior product set didn’t help them sell more, and its various VCs didn’t aspire to build the best platform on the market, focusing instead on turning around a great piece of technology for a good profit margin.

We all love a stat

Throughout the weeklong conference there were a tonne of different statistics thrown out by the Adobe crew, promoting how this growing community was dominating the market and how Adobe have transformed from an in-the-box software provider to an SaaS giant, with some impressive stats reeled off the autocue by Adobe’s CTO Abhay Parasnis.

Microsoft plus Adobe (and LinkedIn)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen on stage at the Adobe Summit 2019

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (left) on stage with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

Now, there are not many conference experiences I can say I truly enjoyed and felt excited about, but catching two of the world’s most powerful tech CEOs on stage, at the same time, chatting about how great leadership is important for digital transformation (and, importantly what empowered teams can create) was a whole different experience.

But why the partnership? In Adobe’s eyes Microsoft represents the holy grail of the relationship with the CIO: they are the folks who buy the software that will revolutionise the businesses – the ones with the big-ticket budgets. “The CMOs we know” were the words of Adobe, “because we’re a marketing company, everyone needs great marketing tools like Photoshop/InDesign etc.”

That said, it was obvious that both companies were stating a not-so-subtle 'we’re coming for you message in the direction of Salesforce. There were also a few subtle digs at Google, on how Adobe uses Microsoft Azure because it’s the best cloud platform... and let’s not forget Google’s majority share in the analytics market, and growing share in the enterprise analytics market.

But what is the real goal here for Microsoft? More Microsoft Dynamics CRM installs? More cloud deployments? Someone else doing the leg work? I couldn’t quite figure it out, but what I do think is that both Microsoft and Adobe are teaming up to lock in more enterprise accounts and keeping Salesforce out of the picture just as they've done to vendors including Marketo Engage.

General consensus

Adobe has some pretty ruthless plans to be the number one marketing platform in the world, and they’re gonna take the multi-billion dollar company route of 'if we can’t make it, we’ll buy it”. This has already been demonstrated by its acquisition of Magento and Marketo. Or in Adobe CEO Shantanu’s words: “We're now the only comprehensive platform that can help every single enterprise with [... ] high-volume email campaigns, personalisation across all channels, and driving, basically, from leads to revenue across B2B and B2C.”

But much to the conversation at B2B Marketing’s GetStacked event, marketers are still struggling with understanding and using their MarTech stack. At Adobe Summit there was regular conversation around how education from both Adobe and partners (the experts) will help clients realise the potential of these amazing marketing platforms. As B2B Marketing’s MarTech Agency of the Year, we have helped clients not only implement new technologies but importantly plan a roadmap for the development of maturity of their martech stack.

I believe Marketo have found themselves a good home, but I worry we’re going to go a few steps back before we go forward. Nonetheless, I hope I'm wrong. The lines are still blurred on which platform fits which use case: in my view, Marketo fits every use case but plays best in those spaces where the sales cycle is complex and requires a pinpoint-precise journey.

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