Media and Advertising

Adobe, Salesforce, and the Battle for Post-Digital Marketing Supremacy

Andreas Pfeiffer | December 06, 2013

Major Points

Digital Marketing excels at sophisticated delivery of marketing messages, but so far does not manage or integrate the complete range of creative intelligence that drives marketing and advertising.

We have defined post-digital marketing as digital marketing that is so well integrated with other, non-digital aspects of marketing and advertising, that it can truly drive and control the overall process with all its disciplines and assets, digital and non-digital.

While digital marketing solutions abound, few companies are in a position to extend their offering into the post-digital marketing space on a significant scale.

Note: This analysis was written just a few weeks before Oracle announced the acquisition of marketing software company Responsys. This acquisition, if it goes through, just confirms its basic thought: that the fight for dominance in marketing will be a battle between the likes of Oracle and  Salesforce—in other words, based on enterprise integration—and Adobe, which offers creative integration as a key value proposition.

We are living in an era of transgression: if a corporation does not go beyond its natural boundaries, it seems, it has no long-term chance to grow. And the more the current technology frenzy evolves, the more possibilities of multi-faceted fragmentation and recomposition seem to emerge. There are hundreds of examples that one could cite (after all, Google is going into the hardware business), but a particularly interesting one is the integration of enterprise software with digital marketing and analytics, an ongoing battle that may well throw two unlikely competitors into a fierce contest for supremacy of the emerging post-digital marketing space: Salesforce and Adobe, two companies who have very little in common beyond the fact that they use cloud computing as a main sales argument, and their desire to become the dominant player in the quickly evolving and reshaping field of post-digital customer engagement.

Why Salesforce? Why not Google or IBM? a good friend and industry expert with deep knowledge of digital marketing asked me when I sounded off the idea. Two reasons: Salesforce has an imperious desire to outgrow the role of a sophisticated CRM provider; and secondly, it is a completely vision- and marketing-driven enterprise; Google and IBM are technology and services companies, and usually do not excel at high-profile marketing. Yet chances are that winning in this space will have as much to do with marketing as it will with the efficiency of the technologies deployed. It’s pure conjecture at this point, but my feeling is that Salesforce is driving for a much bigger role in this emerging market, and that it may well have a shot at it.

Why post-digital? Simple: digital marketing is all the craze—yet it is, at least at its current state, woefully separated from the brunt of overall marketing and advertising activity: it’s a very, very clever delivery mechanism, but the real active marketing intelligence is going on somewhere else. That’s why I prefer the term post-digital marketing: digital marketing that is so well integrated with other, non-digital aspects of marketing and advertising, that it can truly drive and control the overall process with all its disciplines and assets, digital and non-digital. It is going to happen, it’s just not there yet. And it seems rather obvious to me that whoever will dominate that space will rule all of marketing and advertising. And that should be a battle well worth fighting.

But let’s forget about technologies for a moment: The interesting part in this looming opposition between Adobe and Salesforce emerges once you start looking beyond features, beyond the technologies and specialized services that both Adobe and Salesforce have acquired in the past (and will without a shadow if a doubt continue to acquire to keep up with the constant change of technologies, media and devices.) It’s a sure sign that a field is maturing when it becomes possible to sell ideas and concepts rather than features, and that is what will oppose Salesforce and Adobe: a battle not so much for who owns the best analytics, social-media integration or ad-stack, but a battle of the most compelling, most credible vision for the future from the perspective of the buyer—in this case, the CIO/CMO.

How do you market marketing?

It is a battle for hearts and minds alright: Both companies are fully aware that what is at stake is the power of the narrative that they present. How do you market marketing – in the increasingly complex (not to say convoluted) world of competing services and devices? Which of the companies can present a credible mid-term vision that would make it the better—and that is, more reassuring—choice in the battle for adoption?

But let’s get back to Salesforce vs. Adobe, or Adobe vs. Salesforce. I’ll leave the discussion of the comparative technical merits of both companies’ offerings to the experts; what strikes me is that said CIO/CMOs will be presented with a rather simple, yet difficult choice: do they put the brunt of the post-digital marketing engine they will be asked to construct on enterprise integration, or on overall creative potential? A rather cornelian dilemma, it would seem, since it essentially asks to compare things that by their very nature cannot be compared. And behind that decision looms an even bigger one, the choice between repetition and disruption.

Let’s look at the situation a little bit more closely: Salesforce, especially since the launch of salesforce1 (spot the reference to the presidential aircraft) at last week’s annual Dreamforce convention, is pushing very hard at becoming an all encompassing enterprise platform, some sort of operating system for business if you like, a system that spans operating systems and devices with ease and elegance. Adobe on the other hand, has long been the leading provider of software for creative professionals of every ilk, and has heavily expanded into marketing and analytics through a string of acquisitions over the past 5 years.

If you want to simplify to the extreme, you could say that Salesforce, as enterprise software provider, aims to ease, optimize and speed up the repetitive processes that are the motor in any functioning business. Salesforce basically says: we know the drudgery of engaging with customers, of making your company run smoothly, and we make it much easier and efficient.

Adobe’s core business, on the other hand, is to assist the need for pervasive creativity, and, beyond creativity, the disruptive, innovative processes that are the backbone of advertising and marketing. This is a business where it is said that you are only as good as your last job, and where the person with the unexpected idea usually wins. What made Creative Cloud a success with creative professionals in particular is the promise that whatever crazy new trend will come up next in the world of media and advertising, you’ll have the tools to deal with it. Adobe yet has to make good on the implicit promise of tightly integrating its marketing cloud with its creative business, but the promise is definitely there.

To get back to the cornelian dilemma mentioned earlier, the choice that will present itself to a CIO tasked to build a modern post-digital marketing platform is a daunting one: does he favor excellence in enterprise integration, or does he go for optimal integration with creative services, with the creative process and its leaps and bounds? What is more important?

I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer at this point, but rather, a new set of questions that emerges, and that is one of the evolution of marketing itself. This industry has undergone momentous changes over the past few years, and they are not likely to slow down in the foreseeable future. How will marketing evolve in the post-digital world, that is, a world where we have finally overcome the fallacious idea that digital simply replaces analog? It is already happening in media and advertising. It will happen in marketing as well.

So far, marketing cloud offerings are focussing mostly on social media marketing and analytics. But the integrated  post-digital marketing platform of tomorrow will have to cover all aspects of marketing and advertising, not only social. How will all these areas be integrated? Who will be the active stakeholders and decision makers? And how will all these aspects need to be interconnected and made available throughout the enterprise? There is definitely a lot of work to be done. And many more battles looming