It’s hard to associate terms like digital marketing, analytics and, especially, the Internet of Things (IoT) with an offline property like Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., known for Westin and Sheraton hotels.

Starwood is a high-tech hotel chain. It has begun giving preferred guests (known as SPGs) the ability to walk straight to their rooms and unlock their hotel doors with their smartphones by using Apple Inc.’s iBeacon—low-powered devices that use wireless technologies like Bluetooth Smart, also called Bluetooth LE (Low Energy), to interact with mobile devices.

Starwood even has an app ready for the Apple Watch that was launched this month in the US. It will allow users with an SPG app to access their stay details like check-in, checkout, and even get transportation and parking options at the hotel.

The hotel “is marrying high-tech and high-touch to transform the hotel experience for our guests" and taking advantage of analytics and technology to “eliminate perennial pain points for our travellers", according to Chris Norton, vice-president, CRM (customer relationship management) and channel intelligence, Starwood, who uses Adobe Inc.’s Marketing Cloud to help him in the task.

Similarly, Jody Giles, senior vice-president of product integration at Under Armour Inc.—a US-based sports footwear, apparel and equipment maker—uses Adobe’s Experience Manager Screens “to redefine the way clothing lines are designed and displayed".

Under Armour does not use physical samples but creates “rich digital designs and experiences in record time and extend them to our catalogue app, and also see customers using the technology in our stores and engaging with our brand on life-size touch screens", according to Giles.

Norton and Giles, both customers of Adobe Inc., were speaking at the company’s summit held on 10 March in Salt Lake City, Utah, reinforcing the point that Adobe is no longer a company that is known only for its Photoshop software brand that completed 25 years in February but also for software as a service, and analytics too.

“People around the world know us for Photoshop. We are now also data-driven marketers and users of the cloud," said Shantanu Narayen, Adobe president and chief executive officer, who joined the firm in 1998, becoming president and chief operating officer (COO) in 2005 and CEO in November 2007.

The digital reinvention of Adobe began taking root in September 2009, when the company stated its intention to buy Omniture Inc.—a Utah-based online marketing and web analytics company that sold enterprise software on a subscription-based model—for $1.8 billion.

Many analysts failed to see synergy between the two companies at that time. On 16 September, 2009, The Wall Street Journal even wrote: “Adobe buys Omniture: What Were They Thinking?"

Brad Rencher, who worked with Omniture then, and is now senior vice-president and general manager of digital marketing at Adobe, recalled, “The press and analysts asked me: Why are you doing this? Why is Photoshop buying analytics? We don’t get it. But we were firm in our conviction that people were producing content but they wanted more insight into that content, and companies and brands needed to change how they would talk to their customers."

Adobe Marketing Cloud today encompasses eight solutions that focus on analytics, web and app experience management, testing and targeting, advertising, audience management, video, social engagement and campaigns.

Its Experience Manager Screens enable marketers to extend interactive content experiences, including images, 3D interactive models, video and more to physical locations like retail stores, hotels and even devices like vending machines.

And all these solutions can be integrated with Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite that includes software like Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator and Premiere.

“With the Creative Cloud, we have democratized creativity. Users can afford all the power of creativity tools for not more than a few cups of coffee a month. It completely revolutionized how we engage with our customers. In digital marketing, we built a $1 billion business from scratch," said Rencher.

India’s role is crucial

According to Rencher, India is “very critical" for Adobe from a commercial standpoint and a “lot of R&D (research and development) was also done out of India for each of our eight solutions (part of the Marketing Cloud). So much of the leadership and development for these products is happening in Noida and Bangalore".

Adobe India has over 3,500 people and over one-third of Adobe’s R&D takes place out of Adobe India. The India R&D centre has filed for more than 300 patents till date, and “we are on track to open two new campuses in Noida and Bengaluru in 2015", said an Adobe spokesperson. India is an engineering hub for Adobe Marketing Cloud. The company’s Advanced Technology Lab, situated in India, delivers technology to Adobe’s business units.

For Adobe Marketing Cloud, the lab is working on areas like big data, data analytics, machine learning, social network analysis, natural language processing, and more, according to the Adobe India spokesperson. On average, the lab files two patents per person per year and has already filed close to 10 patents this year specifically for the Adobe Marketing Cloud.

India is also one of the fastest growing markets for Adobe’s digital marketing business. The important verticals for Adobe in India include e-commerce, telecom, media and entertainment, education, hospitality and automotive. Adobe customers in India include MakeMyTrip, an Indian online travel company that uses Adobe analytics to support its business and take realtime decisions, and Jabong.com, an online e-commerce company, that uses Adobe Marketing Cloud.

Incidentally, Adobe India managing director Naresh Gupta, who completed 19 years in the multimedia software products company, will quit the company by end-March, Adobe had said in January. The company is yet to announce his successor. “The announcement will happen soon," said an Adobe India spokesperson.

Adobe is sharpening its focus on digital marketing by building on the cloud, analytics and Internet of Things segments.

The results show. In 2014, Adobe Marketing Cloud processed over 30.5 trillion transactions, including 2.5 trillion mobile transactions. Adobe is also a “big data" company for marketers, managing 35 petabytes of data for its clients.

In financial year 2014-15, Adobe achieved annual revenue of $4.15 billion. In the same period, the company reported Digital Media segment revenue of $2.6 billion.

Partners, too, have played an important role in Adobe’s success.

According to a 9 March Forrester report, the research and consulting firm surveyed 46 of the leading digital experience service providers to evaluate their top technology partners across six software categories, including marketing campaign management, customer analytics, and web content management. Adobe was the leading partner, with more than twice as many partnerships as any other vendor across the categories, the report said.

A 12 May report by online research firm trefis.com, part of Insight Guru Inc., forecasts Adobe’s marketing platform “to continue to lead the digital marketing solutions market in the short term, as it enjoys strong brand recognition".

The report projected revenue from Adobe’s digital marketing division to reach $3 billion by end 2020 from the current $1.4 billion. Citing online market research eMarketer’s forecast—that the business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales in the world is to reach $2.357 trillion by 2017—the trefis.com analysts reasoned that this rapid growth in e-commerce warrants a digital marketing platform.

They added that a mobile-first marketing strategy may also drive the innovation cycle for omni-channel marketing tools, as would the rise in popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook.com, Twitter.com, LinkedIn.com and photo- and video-sharing site Instagram.com, which provides a “multi-channel social media engagement strategy" to drive growth of digital marketing platforms. Not all analysts agree that an integrated suite of tools will smoothly deliver the goods.

According to a 23 January report by analysts Kashyap Kompella and Theresa Regli from the Real Story Group, “Practically speaking, all of the current marketing clouds have been patched together based on acquisitions of several disparate products and technologies."

They also believe that marketing requirements are so diverse and varied that no one platform can lay any claim to do it all.

IBM Marketing Cloud, according to the Real Story Group analysts, continues to represent a medley of separate products and a not-so-coherent strategic road map. Oracle Corp., they believe, “is a late convert to the whole cloud model, but (not surprisingly) is now a fervent worshipper at the cloud altar".

The analysts also mention the Salesforce Marketing Cloud portfolio that comprises “several pieces, but it is centred on ExactTarget, which handles customer data, segment creation, and targeting.

The social side of the aisle consists of Radian6 (listening and analysis), Buddy Media (social publishing) and Social.com (social advertising solution for agencies and brands)", and Pardot, which is still sold separately for business-to-business, or B2B, marketing automation.

However, the analysts do acknowledge, though, that the Adobe Marketing Cloud “is ahead of its competition on this front, and offers a decent set of marketing tools under one roof". But they add that companies must also build their teams’ internal capabilities to take advantage of the “new opportunities made possible by today’s data and marketing technologies". On his part, Narayen acknowledges that “creativity is still the bedrock of marketing", but insists that as multi-channel communication has become an imperative, it is important to integrate data with content to “deliver the right message at the right time".

The writer’s trip to Adobe Inc.’s summit in Salt Lake City was sponsored by the company.

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