07 Aug 2015 Adobe Innovation Session (June 2015)
As part of the Adobe Partner program, various sessions and events are organised to keep partners updated on the latest features of the Adobe Marketing Cloud platform. Best practices are also talked about in order to deliver high quality solutions to clients that invest in Adobe’s digital experience management solutions.
On June 3rd, Shine Technologies was invited to an Innovation Session with a focus on leveraging the Adobe Marketing Cloud to deliver engaging customer experiences.
The Digital Customer Experience Imperative
The first talk of the day was by Scott Thompson from the Adobe Industry Strategy Group. He painted a picture of a mobile-first world, where consumers are going increasingly mobile and have high expectations when it comes to the mobile experience organisations are delivering.
How can organisations cope with the pressure of ever increasing digital interactions and address the high expectations of consumers? It all comes down to treating “every job as a mobile job” and understanding that great customer experience is defined by aligning yourself with the expectations of your users. It is important not to insult your users by trying to contort them to your way of thinking or shifting communication channels inadequately (i.e. providing an SMS message that the user cannot reply to).
The digital experience has now moved completely beyond websites to experiences spanning mobile, web and IoT. A short video during Scott’s presentation showcased AEM Screens, which are interactive screens that aim to blend the power of digital with physical stores. Here’s a sample customer journey illustrated by Loni Stark (Senior Director of Strategy & Product Marketing):
“For example, let’s say you’re deciding on a car to purchase. You may start the journey at home on the web looking at makes and models and create a profile to explore options. Then, when you log into the brand’s mobile app, built on Experience Manager Apps, you locate the nearest dealership and let them know you’ll be arriving for a test drive. At the dealership, with a swipe of your finger on the mobile app you can transfer the content you’re looking at onto a large screen in the showroom, driven by Experience Manager Screens. This allows you to quickly share your context with the sales person and continue the buying process.”
We expect to find out a lot more about Screens at the Symposium later this year.
Bringing The Customer Into the Room When Building Experiences
Scott Rigby gave an interesting talk on leveraging Adobe Analytics (specifically Tag Management) to optimise digital experiences. “Data is the voice of the customer at it’s clearest” was the catch phrase that resonated throughout his talk.
Nowadays, customer journeys can be quite complex as they carry over several channels. For example, a customer could receive a special offer via email, check reviews on social media, search the product using a mobile site, make a call requesting more information through the call centre, initiate a purchase on a tablet, and finalise the purchase in-store. All of these interactions should be tracked in order to bring analytics data into the process of optimising digital experiences.
Scott proceeded to explain how data is the voice of the customer and content is how you reply to them. This essentially means that companies should listen to their customers and tailor content depending on what the customer is saying. Organisations that are not doing so are essentially treating customers like they are watching TV, oblivious to the individuality of each of their customer.
This makes a strong case for analytics but if you are not convinced yet, Scott shared some interesting facts about companies that make use of analytics: 5x more likely to make decisions faster than the competition, 2x more likely to have top-quartile financial performance, etc.
Current tag deployment strategies can be quite inconsistent, expensive and take months to deploy because they require pages on a website to include scripts from marketing cloud, third parties, partners, etc. Adobe Tag Management aims to centralise the management of deployed tags.
In essence it’s quite similar to offerings like Ensighten. However, the benefit of using Adobe’s tag management solution is that it integrates quite tightly with Adobe Experience Manager by making analytics data available in the authoring mode of a page. For instance, clicking on a component will bring up visits, monthly orders, revenue, etc that the component generated.
Forms are especially important to track because most interactions with a business start with filling out some sort of form. Adobe’s form solution provides various ways to optimise the digital experience out of the box. Responsiveness is built in, forms can be pre-filled with data from social profiles, it complies with web accessibility standards, and allows users to save drafts of forms (Sunny Wan gave a more in-depth introduction to forms in a subsequent presentation).
Scott finished his presentation by highlighting how analytics can be central to an organisation’s digital execution cycle, lowering the time-to-market to as little as one week. Whilst this figure is likely to be difficult to achieve in large organisations, the concept behind it is still sound. All the way from identifying business needs to delivering a solution, analytics should be used to come up with actionable conclusions from the analytics data and drive content optimisations.
Dealing with Multiple Screens
Mark Szulc gave a thought-provoking talk on the challenges that organisations are facing when having to deal with multiple screens and deliver a delightful experience independent of the device used. 52% (and increasing) of our digital time is spent on mobile/tablet devices and mobile devices generate the highest engagement, which means it’s important that organisations spend time fine tuning their customer experience on mobile devices. Furthermore, when working on the mobile experience, it is important to keep in mind that “mobile” should not be treated as a channel because the capabilities of mobile devices are in line with the capabilities of desktop computers.
In order to build a consistent branded experience across multiple channels, it is important to manage the journey in one place. Adobe Marketing Cloud delivers on this requirement by being able to manage multiple mobile applications and sites using shared assets, authoring, publishing and optimisation workflows.
I also believe it’s important for organisations to rethink the standard development process and move to a more component-centric development process where the content is not functionality and adapts gracefully between different channels with cleverly designed components.
The presentation continued with a live demonstration of Experience Manager Apps and it’s authoring capabilities using Adobe’s Hotel Buddy sample application. It was demonstrating the use of shared assets available from the DAM for mobile site content as well as using the same components that were developed for the desktop version of the site being used in the mobile app.
Another interesting feature was the ability for key stakeholders to view a development/staging version of their app using Adobe’s Preview app on their mobile phone, thus tremendously speeding up the review and approval process.
With all these tools at their disposition, organisations can adopt the Lean Methodology’s philosophy of quick release cycles. The “Build, Measure, Learn” cycle of continuous innovation can be reduced to weeks instead of months and allow organisations to respond quickly to changes in the market.
Those DAM Rich Media Assets
The next presentation (by none other than AEM Product Manager Cedric Huesler) invited us to rethink the way we share digital assets within and outside an organisation. As the need for personalising experiences grows, the demand for numerous assets increases, which usually translates to more and more emails sent back and forth with these aforementioned assets attached.
Adobe Creative Cloud aims to alleviate this problem by providing an out of the box integration with the Adobe Marketing Cloud. This means that assets can be made available to designers and third parties to work on and their changes would be made available directly in the AEM publishing environment.
A tool that makes all this even easier to manage is Creative Cloud for Desktop, which is essentially a Dropbox-like application which permits the syncing of files with a Creative Cloud account. Another cool feature that was demo’d was Creative Cloud Extract which comes with the Brackets code editor. It allows developers to load up a Photoshop file and extract visual design information like the fonts & colour codes and reference them seamlessly while coding.
In short, it’s all about increasing the turnaround time from initial design to finished website!
Stop Turning a Blind Eye to Your Weakest Link
Returning to the topic of forms, Sunny Wan – a Senior Solution consultant at Adobe – gave a very hands-on presentation on the Adaptive Forms capabilities of AEM and how these capabilities put organisations back in control of forms. “85% of business processes start with a form”, which means that Adobe has invested a lot of time and effort to optimise the process of designing and filling these out. AEM Forms is Adobe’s latest and greatest product when it comes to the forms space, and it brings a lot to the table.
This product has been built with the interaction lifecycle (a.k.a “The Five Pillars”) in mind: Find, Fill, Process, Respond and Measure.
Filling-out/designing forms is done through Adaptive Forms, which provides a drag and drop interface for building out forms. In my experience, it provides quite a lot of flexibility by having the ability to use different layouts, perform client-side interactions using an expression language to access form fields, custom validation, etc. However, tailoring all these components to suit the user experience particular to an organisation can take a significant amount of time. Moreover, empowering content authors to modify form fields is great but depending on the choice of backend used to process the form submission (typically a REST endpoint), adding or removing a form field will always require development effort to handle this change in requirement on the backend.
I believe the standout feature of AEM Forms is it’s Analytics integration. The ability to analyse (down to the field level!) how users interact with forms is absolutely amazing. The analytics dashboard allows users to view statistics like average fill time, impressions, submissions, errors, etc. This provides a lot of opportunities for organisations to identify their form pain points and provide a better experience to their customers. The option to view statistics information overlaid on top of the actual form is the cherry on the Forms cake.
The Big Reveal
Finally, Cedric Huesler came back on stage to deliver a much-awaited summary of the innovations in AEM 6.1 (available since May 28). He started off by outlining the three biggest challenges he faced as AEM’s head of product (creating good content, owning every glass and continuous experiences) and how he keeps these things in mind when planning features for the next release of AEM.
This release shows improved campaign targeting by allowing audiences to be retrieved from different parts of the Marketing Cloud and also makes content targeting more user friendly with an improved user interface. Layout Mode has been introduced which allows a responsive grid to be extracted from a page template and then manipulated by content authors. From a developer’s point of view, it enables the AEM’s Bootstrap-like responsive breakpoints and grid columns to be manipulated via the authoring interface.
It’s fairly impressive but does require some setting up. The standard “foundation/components/parsys” component has to be replaced by a “wcm/foundation/components/responsivegrid” component, device breakpoints have to be defined at the page level or at the template level and the responsive CSS has to be included as part of the project. A downside is that making use of this feature will most likely lock you out of using third-party grid libraries like Bootstrap or Foundation because they will not be compatible with the AEM grid container.
Other features introduced in AEM 6.1 include:
- New Cross-Site Request Forgery protection
- JCR improvements
- Sightly 1.1
- Substantially extended the Touch-optimised UI
- Improved workflow engine
- and much more…
The next part of Cedric’s talk was all about giving us a sneak peek of the future of content management platforms. The idea that interested me the most was the push for content management systems to not only manage content but also understand it. For example, when uploading a picture, the system would automatically recognise what this picture is and attach tags to it.
When it comes to content targeting or optimisation, imagine a system aware of what the competition is doing and combines analytics results to suggest ways of improving your customer experience (and ultimately your revenue). In the past couple of years, there’s been a push for software to provide users with recommendations instead of asking for user input and it’s really exciting to see this sort of capability being introduced in AEM.
Overall, the Innovation Session was a great event that provided us with the knowledge necessary to leverage Adobe Marketing Cloud capabilities like Analytics, Adaptive Forms, Creative Cloud and Experience Manager Apps to deliver outstanding customer experiences. It’s also really exciting to see the direction the AEM product team is taking and the amount of work that is going into making sure that this platform remains industry-leading.