The digital shift is a fairly recurring topic for our visionary readers. But what evidence do we have of this? Is it just an impression or a reality? During the Adobe Summit 2021, of which Visionary Marketing was a partner, we discovered the Digital Economy Index (DEI), a fascinating initiative that finally underpins ours impressions with numbers. The DEI is just one of the things I spotted at this event, which was held online from 27 to 29 April 2021. Here is a simplified and deliberately personal account of this ginormous event
The evidence of the digital shift is shown by a study of 1 trillion wesbite visits
Transparency: although Adobe is our client, we have written this post with our usual self-imposed standards of professionalism, independence and authenticity
Have you ever attended an online event with 22,000 other people? I doubt it. Yet that’s what happened to me last week as I watched the “Sneaks”, the showcase of 7 innovations made by Adobe employees at Adobe Summit 2021.
Here is, in this long blog post my feedback on this huge and remarkable event, which I attended throughout the day on April 28.
Here I provide a wantonly partial and idiosyncratic exec summary of some of the sessions I attended and especially the introductory keynote and a special session called ‘Sneaks’, during which 7 Adobe employees demonstrated the solutions they had developed for the event.
22,000 online attendees: a tangible sign of the shift to digital in itself
22,000 people in an online event, for me whose webinar record attendance is 1,100, was unheard of. And that in itself is already a blatant demonstration of the reality of the digital shift. Who could have imagined this even a few months ago? 22,000 people, for the record, is more than the latest IRL version of this event held in London in front of 16,000 people (almost 40% more if I’m not mistaken).
Okay, granted, there weren’t 22,000 people in attendance all day, nor over the entire three days, nor the 400 presentations that went on at Adobe Summit 2021.
Nowhere in any of the conferences I attended did I see the capacity drop below 10,000 though. A bit of a difference with the Kafkaesque Covid-19 indoor capacity limitations imposed by most governments around the world.
I’ve been organising online meetings for over 20 years and I’ve never seen such an audience at an online event. It’s huge and gives an idea of the organisation and technology needed to run a set of conferences like this without any technical glitches. That too is noteworthy. It’s a clear signal of a shift towards digital if you ever needed one.
Moreover, the presentations were remarkably scripted. For those who want to make an opinion for themselves, the summit’s videos are available online at https://summit.adobe.com. No sign up needed.
400 sessions is massive too. Even if I had wanted to attend more presentations, I had to make a selection. With all my notes in hand, I still had too much content on my plate, so here are my selection and impressions.
A somewhat disjointed account of what I saw and heard at Adobe Summit 2021
So here is my admittedly patchy and completely personal account of my experience at this event, and wherever it seemed relevant, I have tried to add my commentary and appreciation.
Paul Robson, President of Adobe, International, the master of ceremonies, kicked off this presentation with that statement about that shift to digital, which we have all felt, if only intuitively.
“E-commerce will represent a trillion business opportunity by 2022,” he declared.
E-commerce will represent a trillion business opportunity by 2022
“We have moved from a world with digital to a digital-first world” added Robson. Such is the configuration of this “new normal” everyone is talking about. A world where e-commerce “went from convenience to the preferred way of shopping.”
Worthy of note is this remarkable study carried out by Adobe with the help of economists Austan Goolsbee, University of Chicago and Pete Klenow, Stanford University, that provides facts and figures about the current state of the shift towards digital. It’s called the DEI study, Digital Economy Index 2021.
Briefly presented by Shantanu Narayen, Adobe’s CEO, the DEI index is a study based on 1 trillion visits to retail sites and over 100 million SKUs.
[Editor’s note this is a study carried out on US sites, and it should be remembered that there is a definite gap between Europe and the US regarding the status of e-commerce]
Adobe’s analytics measured the transactions of 7 of the top 10 airlines in the US. But that’s not all, a survey complemented this analysis with a questionnaire sent to 1,000 US consumers at the end of the first quarter of 2021. Here is a summary of the results.
E-Commerce grew by 42% in 2020 to $813 billion in revenue
Key findings from the DEI 2021 Digital Shift Study
- E-commerce grew by 42% in 2020 ($813 billion). We most likely won’t see the same growth in 2021. Yet, from January to February 2021, compared to last year, e-commerce still grew by 34%,
- Sustained growth in online spending recorded in 2020 is seen in 2021, the fastest growing sectors are electronics, home improvement and groceries, while sales of apparel and home office furniture have grown much more slowly (is this the first signal that telecommuting will take a nose dive?),
- Stock-out levels for online products are still quite high, as e-tailers seem to face continuing logistical problems,
- Price rises remain significant for electronics, household goods and groceries, online purchasing power is down and prices are rising in the first few months of 2021 after the traditional winter sale.
Let’s move on to another topic, while I might well comment on this index in more detail at a later date.
Pfizer: how digital save people’s lives … and the health sector as well
This massive shift to digital is confirmed by the man everyone is talking about, Albert Bourla†, the CEO of Pfizer, on whose board Narayen also sits. Pfizer, in association with German start-up BioNtech, successfully launched its vaccine at the cost of risky bets.. “It was an impossible task,” explained the Greek businessman, “that’s why we had to change the method to solve this problem.”
† For the sake of transparency, we should point out the controversy that arose when the new vaccine was filed, and do away with the rumour right away by stating that Bourla’s stock sale has been declared legal (source: France Info)
But the success of the Pfizer vaccine, as conspicuous as it is in the US and a little less so in Europe, is not only due to a change of method or the mere fact of having “asked for 3 billion doses, which was, at first, impossible and forced manufacturers to circumvent the issue.”
A success due to culture change and a shift to digital
It is also largely due to a change of culture and on the other hand to a strong contribution of digital: “We initiated our investments in the 1990s and reinforced them significantly in digital and research” said Bourla who explains that he “was appointed the same day as the new CDO”, a strong signal that this transformation was important explains Pfizer’s boss.
“Usually, we need four weeks to run some very specific processes in vaccine formulation using advanced analytics in these particular vaccines and a supercomputing platform. We cut that down to 18 hours,” allowing “submission of the tables to the FDA” in record time, concluding that “without digital, we wouldn’t be here today.” When we know the impact of this research on the current situation, surely we could add “and neither would we.”
Without digital, we wouldn’t be here today
Albert Bourla – Pfizer
Among the presentations that impressed me the most – Serena Williams will no doubt forgive me – I made a note of the very clear and newsworthy presentation on digital transformation by Michael Nilles, CDO & CIO of Henkel. No need to introduce the German conglomerate with its flagship brands such as Persil, Loctite and Schwarzkopf, which are universally known and used.
For Michael Nilles, the digital shift is not a pipe dream, he has lived and driven it at Henkel and shared his tips and tricks with us
For Nilles too, “COVID has accelerated everything” in what he called a “key moment for retailers and FMCG manufacturers”, which has seen “e-commerce become the preferred channel.” A confirmation of what Paul Robson had announced in his introduction.
“Time to market” on the fast track, driven by digital
For Nilles, time to Market definition in B2B and B2C - The very notion of "market" is at the heart of any marketing appr... is absolutely critical. New DNVB brands are able to release a new product in a matter of weeks. So there is a need for a digital platform that brings together all the parties involved in launching a new brand. Also, marketing or data-driven marketing is absolutely essential to understand the needs of consumers and attract them to your company and products.”
The most interesting part of this presentation was about how Henkel implemented its digital transformation. For this, Nilles gave us a few tips and tricks.
They created a new business unit called Henkel DX (for Digital Experience) around which business experts, marketers, IT and digital specialists, and members of the logistics department are actively collaborating. This digital business platform, built with the help of Adobe, has five different components which are key to becoming a digitalized company.
- The Martech Studio the go-to place for all people involved in digital marketing and data-driven marketing. Its goal is to drastically reduce the time to market for new products, brand evolution and ancillary services,
- Digital experience (DX): this is about attracting consumers, converting visitors into customers “with the aim of maximising lifetime customer value,”
- At the heart of this digital platform is the consumer intelligence engine to better know consumers and prospects, and pre-empt their desires by providing them with content tailored to their needs, community spaces in which they find themselves at ease and relevant offers,”
- Fourth, e-commerce. It is important to be able to offer a truly unique shopping experience,
- Last but not least, technology to better serve consumers: integrating augmented reality to show customers the final result, even in an all-digital environment, what she or he will look like after using the product.
5 challenges of digital transformation according to Henkel
However, Nilles was keen to challenge the idea that digital transformation iseasy, in actual fact, it’s not a picnic. He described five major challenges in digital transformation endeavours:
- Technology is often underestimated according to him. Digital is complex, he explained to us, it is necessary to acquire a certain level of expertise according to him. His point of view is also that you need to surround yourself with expert partners. On these two points I fully agree.regardless of the clichés that are being circulated all around and claim that knowing nothing about technology is a clear advantage,
- On the other hand, you’ll need to get into the value chain. “We are sitting on tonnes of data,” he explains. So you need to create a data centre of excellence, not just with software, data and analytics experts. You’ll also need to share that data across all business units,
- It will also be necessary to move away from intellectual property to open ecosystems (on the technological side with public domain standards, APIs, etc.)
- Developing an MVP, which is quite an easy task, and you will need to take your projects to market, at scale and monetise them quickly. This is something that is absolutely essential for digital transformation,
- Finally, one of the most important points according to him, one of the biggest challenges of digital transformation is cultural change. This transformation is “one of the biggest transformations in the history of the company” according to Michael Nilles. This is what, in his mind, justified the partnership with Adobe, the aim being to become one of the leaders of their industry leaders in the digital space.
A pretty straightforward lesson in digital transformation and another sign of the acceleration of the shift to digital with which I can but agree.
I would also add that all of this is useless without the ability to make the rubber meet the road, in the field. Only the result matters. That the users’ and end customers’ perception of course.
Finally, let’s move on to my third topic taken from this Adobe event, the inevitable “Sneaks” that we already mentioned above.
7 engineers, 7 innovations and a twitter feed to sum it all up
This was the climax of this April 28 session, the presentation of the Sneaks (for ‘sneak previews’). I.e. are 7 innovations developed by Adobe employees that you can discover in this Twitter thread that I created while watching the event.
Let me put my trotters in the trough and jump right to the presentation that caught my attention, Segment Tuner, which brings AI into play to clean up data. We are on repeartung that data isn’t information at Visionary Marketing. It is, for the most part, raw material that needs to be refined, cross-referenced, polished and tidied up, like most raw materials in fact.
What I liked about this presentation is the pragmatic side of the idea, starting with fields that are misspelled, email addresses that can be corrected automatically (e.g., @yaooh.com can be easily corrected into @yahoo.com by comparing unusual occurrences with patterns established across the entire database, while learning from past mistakes). Ditto with differently spelled words like, for example, CA or Calif. or California, which all mean the same thing.
7 engineers, 7 innovations, these are the Adobe Sneaks (for sneak previews) Get ready for blockchain demos on https://t.co/Za4Z4H5H5d #adobesummit #adobepartner Thread to follow on this account pic.twitter.com/sFFsY46VWk
– Yann Gourvennec #Adobepartner (@ygourven) April 28, 2021
It’s worth noting that among these “sneaks,” a specialty of the Summit every year for the past 10 years, the presenters are regular Adobe engineers and marketers. None of these ideas are accepted in advance – a vote determines those that will – yet 60% of them end up in Adobe’s roadmap.
Digital shift: the proof is in the e-bacon
At a time when many companies in Europe, even large ones, are still wondering how to attract even a hundred participants to their events – or even whether they should do so at all – Adobe has demonstrated that the tremendous acceleration of the digital shift we have experienced is not just an impression.
Assuming an audience of 3,000 to 7,000 people at each of the 400 sessions, this leads to an estimate of a total audience of 1.2 to 2.8 million people who would have connected to the conferences at this 2021 edition of the Adobe Summit. To say that this is significant for a B2B event would be an understatement.
Admittedly, considerable effoprts and budget was put in place by the American software giant, and I, who like those who walk the talk, was extremely impressed with the result.
A large number of additional case studies were demonstrated at this conference, such as GM which, like all car manufacturers, is undergoing a 100% transformation of its business model in record time with the switch to all-electric vehicles. To this end, digital technology is once more playing a very important role in controlling and even updating the vehicles’ software remotely.
The world is changing, and even if it is still difficult to know to what extent and when, what is certain is that digital will be one of the main drivers, if not the main driver, of these changes.