Adobe Insights, where customer data meets method acting

Steve Smith, marketer at Adobe

I don’t like the word “consumers.”

When brands refer to people as consumers, it implies that human beings only exist to absorb marketing content and buy products. That kind of language treats the customer relationship as a passive, one-directional exchange that gives little credit to our audience. Frankly, that’s not how I see the world.

In fact, my role’s entire existence depends on understanding how people interpret the stories we tell them so we can tell our stories better.

“I believe, ‘Why?’ is one of the most creative questions a person can ask. People generally think of science and creativity as opposing forces, but when I’m developing a hypothesis about Adobe’s customers, I’m drawing on all the knowledge and imagination at my disposal to see the world through their eyes.”

- Steve Smith

What I do

As a Senior Insight Partner at Adobe, I lead customer research for our EMEA Integrated Marketing team. To put it simply, I work with teams to shape and review our marketing activities so that our marketing campaigns are as customer-focused as possible. Our customers’ success is our company’s success, so it’s critical that the voice of our customers shapes everything we do.

If I could sum up my role in a sentence: to help Adobe’s marketers tell stories. For some customers, that might mean showing them how they can build their micro-business through Adobe Acrobat. For others, it might be about how they can use Adobe Express to tell their stories through social media.

My role is tied closely to my passion, which is to understand human beings, and the factors that influence their decision-making. It all started at university, where I completed my PhD in sociology with a focus on ethnographic research (which is the study of the people within any given community) to understand the interplay between people and brands. Today, that passion inspires me to help Adobe connect with the people in its community – our customers — and improve their lives.

I need to be inquisitive and imaginative in order to help customers tackle those challenges. I need to look beyond my own life experience and place myself in the customers’ shoes so I can imagine the world from their perspective.

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Adobe logo artisitically formed

“Why?” matters

I believe, “Why?” is one of the most creative questions a person can ask. Why should people stop and see, watch and listen to the experience we create? People generally think of science and creativity as opposing forces, but when I’m developing a hypothesis about Adobe’s customers, I’m drawing on all the knowledge and imagination at my disposal to see the world through their eyes. And by answering a customer’s “why”, I’m also answering the “why” for our marketing team so they can speak directly to our customers’ challenges.

I like to say that my job sits at the crossroads of market research and method acting. And just like the actor may ask, “What’s my motivation?” before the director yells action, I ask myself what motivates our customers, before tackling their unique challenges. It’s an art to inhabit someone else’s mind and see the world from their perspective, and one that I find endlessly compelling.

For example, consider an online retailer that’s looking to adopt digital document workflows. There could be many objectives behind that decision ranging from administrative headaches to headcount limitations, to governance issues. My job is to look beyond the solution that the customer thinks they want or need and uncover why it is that they need it.

Data is just the beginning of the story

It's a journey of discovery through the eyes of our customer, where I need to tap into my own curiosity and throw out the status quo of what I think I know. Most rewarding of all, my research directly improves the way Adobe speaks to our customers. That’s the very essence of creativity, to question what we think we know, test something new, and get better at our craft.

That mindset applies to the way I interpret data too. It’s not just about transcribing data points into reports, it’s about uncovering the story behind those data points and approaching customers’ needs with empathy.

In fact, empathy is how I view every customer pain point, whether I’m imagining the life of a small business owner looking to speed up their document workflows to make more time for their children, or the pressures on a team leader at a large consultancy firm who needs to motivate a large and dispersed team during a global pandemic. The list goes on, but the best part for me is getting beneath a customer’s functional needs to address their operational and emotional pain points at the same time.

Creativity looks like… PDFs.

My most rewarding project came two years ago when I was asked to uncover ways to make our campaigns for Adobe Acrobat more meaningful to customers. I began with a creative laddering technique, starting with the functions of our solution and laddering up to the tangible differences those capabilities can make in people’s lives. For instance, the ease of annotating in Acrobat helps people work faster, makes their businesses more efficient, and leaves them more time to spend with their families. My framework proved successful, and now Adobe is using it to shape our story around a range of other products, including Photoshop and Premiere Pro.

It's been four years since I joined Adobe and I’ve never looked back. In addition to nurturing my passion for understanding what makes people tick, Adobe gives me the space to use my imagination to uncover those insights in whichever way works best for me. On my research team, there’s no set approach to gathering insight. When faced with a business challenge, my job is to suggest the best way to go about answering the problem, rather than sticking to a strict research protocol. We’re essentially encouraged to write our own job description for each new project, which is a totally unique opportunity.

Not only do I have freedom in how I do my job, but I also have the backing and resources to deliver results. Everyone at Adobe works very collaboratively, and we all shape our roles in creative ways that benefits the people around us.

We are all drivers of our own success. I’m lucky to work somewhere where my success is a direct result of helping our customers and my colleagues.