Digital transformation? Start, try it out, adapt. But never wait.

The old mar­ket­ing times are over. We know more and more about our cus­tomers, which makes it eas­i­er to respond to them and mea­sure the effec­tive­ness of our mar­ket­ing. This by no means kills cre­ativ­i­ty, but in fact cre­ates new oppor­tu­ni­ties and actu­al­ly puts mar­keters in a stronger posi­tion, explains John Travis, Vice Pres­i­dent of Mar­ket­ing for Europe, the Mid­dle East, and Africa in our interview.

“Now is a great time to be mar­keter,” explained John Travis at the Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Sym­po­sium 2014 in Sin­ga­pore, describ­ing his view of the pos­si­bil­i­ties offered by new tech­nol­o­gy. The accom­plished polit­i­cal sci­en­tist is respon­si­ble for the strate­gic and oper­a­tional devel­op­ment and man­age­ment of the Adobe brand and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. Travis came to Adobe from Intel, where he gained 17 years of mar­ket­ing expe­ri­ence at an inter­na­tion­al lev­el. At Intel, he was respon­si­ble for glob­al­ly suc­cess­ful cam­paigns such as “Intel inside” and “Pen­tium”.

Data, facts and results are the cen­tral cur­ren­cy of the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion. Is mar­ket­ing evolv­ing from a world of cre­ativ­i­ty into a world of control?

Travis: “My per­son­al phi­los­o­phy, one which is also shared by Adobe, is that cre­ativ­i­ty and instincts form the very foun­da­tions of mar­ket­ing, as the whole point of mar­ket­ing is to con­nect and com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple, on both an emo­tion­al and prac­ti­cal lev­el. Even with the best tools and the best data, this fact will nev­er change. It’s all about the emo­tion­al con­nec­tion you cre­ate between your cus­tomers and your brand. But we dis­cov­ered what has been trou­bling mar­keters for a long time: how can I prove my val­ue and the ben­e­fits I can offer to cus­tomers? This has actu­al­ly been the chal­lenge for the past 25 years, but so far we’ve nev­er had the tools to real­ly check and pro­vide evi­dence that what we do works. All we could do was appeal to peo­ple: trust my instincts, trust my creativity!”

So the new tools are cre­at­ing more new opportunities?

Travis: “Yes, because I now have data and ana­lyt­i­cal instru­ments that I can use to report to my CEO and show what I have done and how things are going. These data are extreme­ly mean­ing­ful and pro­vide worth­while insights. This makes mar­keters real­ly strong. It gives them a good posi­tion at the direc­tors’ table, because we now know so much about our cus­tomers, we can see how they behave, what they believe. This has result­ed in a dra­mat­ic increase in the strate­gic impor­tance of mar­ket­ing. More and more mar­keters I’ve talked to have dis­cov­ered the same.”

What does that mean for mar­ket­ing practice?

Travis: “Let’s go back to the old times, pre­vi­ous cam­paigns. Specif­i­cal­ly, a major TV cam­paign. It took three to six months to plan the whole thing and make sure that every­thing went per­fect­ly: arrange the accom­pa­ny­ing print adver­tise­ments, launch the cam­paign – and wait and see. Three to four months. Until the researchers deliv­er the results about how the cam­paign went. In terms of cre­ativ­i­ty, you’ve done won­der­ful, cre­ative things, but what did you real­ly achieve? The test ele­ments avail­able today have made it pos­si­ble to do much more. Some peo­ple might be con­cerned that infor­ma­tion kills cre­ativ­i­ty. I don’t see it that way. I can run through lots of dif­fer­ent ideas. I can try things out, and I can change my mind, even overnight. So I’m much more will­ing to get involved with new things. And I get feed­back. Imme­di­ate­ly. As soon as I upload some­thing to the web­site, pub­lish a video, post some­thing on social media – there’s a reac­tion. This allows all of us to be more creative.”

Is this already com­mon knowledge?

Travis: “Just as mar­keters believe that they’re ben­e­fit­ing from this, an increas­ing num­ber of cre­ative peo­ple are feel­ing the same. An exam­ple of this is the Cannes Lions, the largest cre­ative com­pe­ti­tion in the adver­tis­ing world, which I recent­ly attend­ed. We now have a Cre­ative Effec­tive­ness Award, so the results of cre­ative work are now just as cel­e­brat­ed as the work itself.”

Do these new find­ings and new pro­ce­dures have an effect on col­lab­o­ra­tion with­in the company?

Travis: “For the cus­tomer, there is of course lit­tle dif­fer­ence between mar­ket­ing and the prod­uct expe­ri­ence – it’s always the brand that they have a con­nec­tion with. And they’re con­stant­ly in touch with the com­pa­ny, in all kinds of loca­tions, with lots of dif­fer­ent devices, at any time. Some­thing has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly here. And this will also change the way we com­mu­ni­cate with­in the com­pa­ny. Pre­vi­ous­ly, mar­ket­ing was often trapped in its own bunker, respon­si­ble for PR and ad place­ments. Now the trend is mov­ing away from the pre­vi­ous cam­paign-cen­tred struc­ture towards a con­tin­u­ous mar­ket­ing process which is reviewed from week to week.

At Adobe, for exam­ple, we have a meet­ing with an inter­de­part­men­tal team every Mon­day. This meet­ing is attend­ed by mar­ket­ing, e‑commerce, prod­uct man­age­ment and IT. We dis­cuss the data col­lect­ed over the past week: how busi­ness is run­ning, what went well, what needs to be changed. Although each of these stake­hold­ers in the com­pa­ny has indi­vid­ual objec­tives, inde­pen­dent of each oth­er, we’ve all com­mit­ted to a uni­form matrix of goals. When it comes to the fun­da­men­tal ele­ments of our busi­ness, how many depart­ments we want, how much web­site traf­fic we want to cre­ate and so on, we’re ulti­mate­ly all respon­si­ble. Some­thing has changed there. I like to joke that I’ve had more inter­ac­tion with our IT depart­ment in the past year than in the four pre­vi­ous years combined.”

This strong­ly sug­gests there will be some con­se­quences for the per­son­nel structure …

Travis: “We need to recruit ana­lysts, search engine pro­fes­sion­als, data­base man­agers; we need a wider range of knowl­edge than ever before. How­ev­er, they need to be able to work togeth­er. Take the data land­scape as an exam­ple. In the past, every­one intro­duced a spe­cif­ic set of data to the dis­cus­sion, and they wouldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly fit togeth­er. We solve this issue with our “sin­gle source of truth”, as we call it. At Adobe, we have a spe­cial group called MIO, Mar­ket­ing Insights and Oper­a­tion, which man­ages all the data, puts the dash­boards togeth­er and pub­lish­es the results.”

So you just need to hire new peo­ple, change the orga­ni­za­tion and every­thing will work?

Travis: “The main thing is to actu­al­ly do some­thing with all of the new data, because a mod­el will nev­er be per­fect. The dig­i­tal world is chang­ing so fast that you’d nev­er fin­ish any­thing if you wait­ed until a process was pre­cise­ly bal­anced. You can always change an idea once it’s up and run­ning, as you’ll be mon­i­tor­ing it con­tin­u­ous­ly. That’s what I always tell my mar­ket­ing col­leagues out there – start, try it out, adapt. But nev­er wait.”

If it’s pos­si­ble to main­tain and inten­si­fy the con­nec­tion with cus­tomers at all lev­els and across all chan­nels and devices, many will sure­ly do that soon. Doesn’t this result in an over­load for cus­tomers, who will then just ignore all of these inputs as back­ground noise, like they do with TV advertising?

Travis: “Mar­keters do indeed need to watch out for this. But I don’t see it as a risk in any case. Let’s take the exam­ple of mobile phones and you as a Pho­to­shop user. In most cas­es, I prob­a­bly already know the best way to make con­tact with you, and let’s say for one par­tic­u­lar cus­tomer, I shouldn’t send any mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als to their smart­phone. I have data and insights about cus­tomer behav­iour, but increas­ing­ly cus­tomers also tell me which chan­nels they pre­fer that I use. Dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion in mar­ket­ing means that I’m now able to deliv­er a tru­ly per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ence for each cus­tomer. Mar­keters who don’t strive to pro­vide this are falling behind.