Adobe Summit 2017: Winners take it all


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(post updated on March 25th: Post-Summit thoughts included!)

As we gathered yet again -Sweetspot’s 4th!- for arguably the most relevant Digital Marketing event in the world (if not in terms of content or vision, certainly in terms of attendance and impact), I believe it is worth leaving all the “nerdy hype” of daily announcements, sales pitches and “sneaks” (yes, JourneyAI was extremely cool) behind and zooming out for a second in search of a true state of affairs of data-powered marketing in 2017.

Meaning? What would we be left with if we:

  • Looked beyond our ever-evolving toys and a natural passion to admire technical features with little regard for their actual impact on the organization
  • Took a look around and accepted that technology, not marketing, prevails in the balance of skills and expertise of the estimated 12,000 attendees (this would explain the previous point)
  • Left the “flavor of the month” aside for a second. This year being a choice of “AI-Powered”, “Storytelling”, and “Experience” (combining all three in the same sentence will guarantee a round of applause – double it by citing “AI AND Machine Learning”)


Are we really looking at the full picture of Marketing? Are we even looking at the full picture of Data? Let me please try.

Digital Marketing in 2017 – State of Affairs 

I am convinced that the entire discipline of Marketing will face enough challenges in the coming twelve months to reduce everything that happened to us in the past twelve years into a minor transition. For starters:

1- Brands are finally coming to terms with the fact that, all factors remaining stable, they are poised to disappear. “Going digital” can do little to spare them from the flames of a a fully transparent, demand-led world in which trust is not built through forced media. Real consumer experiences are replacing that top of the funnel whether we measure it or not.

2- Agencies can bring little value when effective media buying relies on first-party relationships with discovery platforms (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon)… unless they become trusted partners in the definition of first-party data hubs that entirely jump over their former business model.

3- The same content/experience/product discovery platforms (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) will eventually find it very hard not just to intermediate through a myriad of consumer profile brokers -GDPR may render most illegal or useless in just over a year-, but even to connect brands and people in the deep, fully personal manner that advertisers are putting their hopes on in their quest for a beautiful, spotless “customer journey”, in which empathy or complex human emotions are forever replaced by predictable patterns that nobody else will manage to discover.

4- The very fact that a minimum of two of those four players (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) play a key role in most customer journeys, and the fact that every one of them is pursuing a distinct customer data management strategy, means that none of them can really claim to have full visibility over such customer journeys – no matter how strong their machine learning capabilities are.

5- As Facebook and Google amass most of the media spend, brands and agencies (while enthusiastically embracing programmatic buying) expect them to become mass media companies from the 1950s, curating content, manually reviewing ad/content matches, allowing third-party panels to benchmark audiences that have little to do with each other… and yet APIs, filters and targeting options are there for advertisers to leverage.


Winners taking it all. And it is full of them!

The fact is, I am extremely optimistic about the positive effect that all of us participating in the current Adobe ecosystem can finally have on organizations of all types… if we bet boldly on the things that will have most impact on the future:

Point 4 above (quite simply: Google alone cannot really build a 360-view of the customer journey) makes Adobe -a neutral player- a formidable competitor for the role of marketing data technology provider to organizations keen to take control over customer relationships and media spend (a growing trend that Point 2 exacerbates).

Point 1 will also play in Adobe’s favor, given the strong emphasis the company has put on facilitating full control over digital customer experiences.

I believe points 3 and 5 are the raison d’être of the Adobe Experience Cloud‘s ecosystem (in full display at the Community Pavilion). As brands and agencies embark on a quest for relevance, maximum data actionability, and maximum visibility, a series of complementary pieces is required. Which takes me to my last point (sorry, it had to be!):

Once data collection, analysis, testing or digital experiences are in place, there is a fundamental factor that makes all the difference: People. Data and insights must be brought to life in a way that guarantees maximum impact. It is not about dashboards and it is not about data visualization. It is about collective intelligence and a serious decision-support workflow.

Sweetspot is definitely that piece. Which I naturally find very exciting and apparently so have the many visitors to our stand over the course of the past few days. Many thanks to all and congratulations to Adobe for pulling it off yet again.

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Sergio Maldonado

Founder & Chairman at Sweetspot. Author, speaker on analytics, marketing technology, privacy compliance. JD, LLM (Internet law). Once a dually-admitted lawyer. Father of three. I love surfing and cooking.

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