Walking The Talk: How Our Own Tech Powered the First Digital Adobe Summit

Image from Adobe Summit online.

Twenty-five days. This was the time we had to transform our flagship conference, Adobe Summit, into a fully digital experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the health and safety of our employees, speakers, and customers top-of-mind, one of our top challenges was getting people to register for the March 31 event, all while our teams worked remotely.

Our initial goal was to get 3,500 registrations — modest for a conference that attracts more than 20,000 people to Las Vegas each year. In the lead-up to Summit, between March 11 and March 30, we had more than 1 million page views from visitors in 211 countries. As of June 9, nearly 129,000 people had registered for our digital Summit.

“When COVID-19 hit and we realized the live event was no longer happening, we were ready with a plan B for a live, online event that would have been incredible — until California’s “shelter in place” made that impossible. Nobody wants to accept plan C, but there we were,” says Steve Gustavson, chief creative director for Adobe’s Digital Experience business. “Luckily, we had the people, processes, and technologies in place to make Summit more successful as a digital experience than we could have even imagined.”

Creating content for a digital experience

For, Dan Cowles, Adobe’s executive creative director for video, smooth digital workflows were crucial to Summit’s success. “Given the situation, the video post-production process had to be done remotely and very collaboratively. That made it critical for us to use tools and workflows that integrate seamlessly. The Adobe video platform (including Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, Lumetri Color and Audition) is what made it all possible,” he says.

There were challenges, of course, specifically in getting the necessary recording equipment to keynote speakers and presenters for more than 120 Summit breakout sessions, all of which needed to be filmed in high quality. Working with virtual directors to capture the recording, as well as using Creative Cloud applications like Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, the Adobe creative team filmed and edited hundreds of hours of content in record time. Creative Cloud allowed teams to make edits remotely, from video stabilizing, to audio enhancements, to color editing. All of these features are integrated directly into the products so that everyone involved could work within the same parameters and deliver a consistent look and feel.

“It’s hard to imagine a better testing ground for our own technologies,” Gustavson says. “We were also fortunate that every speaker, from our C-suite down to our product experts, was willing to learn how to deliver the best possible presentations from their homes.”

New format, new roles

The demands of putting on a digital Summit also required employees across the business to broaden their roles and responsibilities. For example, the Adobe events team usually ran lead on Summit, but the web team suddenly became a central player in shaping the digital experience.

Josh Souter, who has been a senior creative director for adobe.com for five years, says this was his first time working on Summit.

“Our creative toolbox changed the second we started working remotely,” he recalls. “Where we would previously work with static files and go through multiple approvals with our project manager before going live, we were suddenly working in the cloud, building wireframes, and getting feedback in real time. All of this was possible thanks to Coediting in Adobe XD — our digital design product — that worked like a dream.”

From the UX team, to designers, to engineers coding the pages, everyone involved in designing the Summit experience could access the same files, which significantly sped up the process of getting the digital event together. It also forced teams to use a common language when working together.

“It seems like a small point, but we all come from different disciplines and use the same words to describe different things,” Souter says, “so avoiding misinterpretations was essential given our big ambitions and tight deadlines.”

Building a digital ecosystem

Adobe’s web team took on the task of shaping the Summit experience with the aim of delivering the most exciting digital event possible while simultaneously meeting our business’ registration and engagement goals. The entire experience is built on our own Web content management system, Adobe Experience Manager.

As Sergio Claudio, Adobe.com’s head of enterprise and commercial experience, recounts, his team had only created the supporting content for Summit in previous years, targeting customers and attendees seeking additional information.

“When we became the focal point of the entire Summit experience, we set out with three aims: to deliver engaging videos, to deliver content for our 120 breakout sessions, and to facilitate one-to-one connections,” Claudio says. “This final point is a challenge when speaking with a digital audience, so we experimented with new formats like chat to drive engagement.”

The web team did not just transpose the live experience online. It needed to deliver value for customers in a way that resonates on digital channels. For instance, in-person Summit attendees are happy to sit through an hour-long keynote from our CEO backed by beautifully designed visuals, but their attention span is significantly shorter online, at home. Therefore, the team had to cut down speeches, include video navigation features for the first time, and make experiences more snackable across the board.

But format changes were just one consideration, Claudio says. The Adobe.com team also had to coordinate the efforts of all of its internal departments to bring the experience together.

“We brought in marketing communications, social, IT, and our platform experts to make Summit happen,” he says. “I cannot overstress the value of making sure all your work streams are aligned under a common goal.”

Every decision made was guided by two north stars: generating leads and driving engagement. Fortunately, the Adobe.com team had already collected a great deal of data over the years on which content types resonate with visitors, so it used this information to shape an ideal mix of experiences for the Summit audience.

Leveraging our staging environment for Adobe Analytics, we were able to use real-time data from the web team to build dashboards for launch day while the Summit experience was still being developed. Data reports typically take a few hours to produce, but Adobe Analytics gave us a direct window into how our content and referral domains were performing – insight we could then use to optimize the Adobe.com experience in real time.

“We also leveraged Adobe Target Recommendations to help drive engagement,” adds Adobe product manager Tamer Mina. The team used Target’s People Who Viewed This, Viewed That recommendations to surface up content that might interest someone based on the experiences that others have had on the site.

Adobe Target used Adobe Sensei, our artificial intelligence technology, to improve algorithms in the lead up to, during, and after Summit. With so many breakout sessions to promote, Adobe Sensei has proved invaluable in keeping Summit relevant since the live event.

“The best part is that our AI-fueled algorithms only become more accurate over time,” Mina says. “That means Adobe.com visitors can enjoy a more personalized experience each time they come to our website, and our business can build long-lasting connections with our customers and prospects alike.”

Taking the lead

While keynotes and customer presentations draw the biggest crowds at Summit, attendees also get a great deal of value from the many breakout sessions we have at our live event. The difficulty when delivering these online is to re-create the intimacy of live experiences and present complex information in a way that sticks.

Step one was to spread the word about the breakout sessions, which is where Marissa Dacay, senior director of global enterprise marketing at Adobe, her team, and the Marketo Engage solution for lead generation proved invaluable. The use of Marketo Engage exclusively marked another Adobe first.

“We had a clear plan,” Dacay recalls. “The first order of business was registration. Then, during the event, we wanted to build engagement and ensure people would come back for more. Once Summit passed, we shifted our attention to driving traffic to our 120 breakout sessions by attracting audiences with even more valuable content.”

The Marketo nurture campaign drew on what audiences had watched during Summit to engage them with personalized recommendations. By early May, the team had blown its registration targets out of the water and pivoted again, targeting attendees with industry-specific content and focusing on the message of business resilience during COVID-19.

“This ability to pivot, to be nimble and stay relevant, played a major role in our success,” Dacay says.

Mission accomplished

In just 25 days, Adobe’s creative, web, and marketing teams realized their singular goal: to use our own creative and marketing solutions and transform Adobe Summit from a live event into an equally compelling online experience. For Dacay, the biggest takeaway from this exercise was that everyone at Adobe developed an appreciation for the role they play in driving demand.

“My team is known as demand-gen, but everyone at Adobe now appreciates the role they play in engaging our audience,” she says. “We’re all ready to return to normalcy after COVID-19, but we’ve also learned a valuable lesson these past few months that will shape our working culture for the long term –and that is the power of collaboration, especially when driven by motivated people using the right tools to get the job done.”

At Adobe, we believe that everyone deserves respect and equal treatment, and we also stand with the Black community against hate, intolerance and racism. We will continue to support, elevate, and amplify diverse voices through our community of employees, creatives, customers and partners. We believe Adobe has a responsibility to drive change and ensure that every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. We must stand up and speak out against racial inequality and injustice. Read more about the actions we’re taking to make lasting change inside and outside of our company.

We also know many people are still impacted by the current COVID-19 crisis and our thoughts are with you. The entire Adobe team wants to thank you, our customers, and all creators around the world for the work you do to keep us inspired during this difficult time.