Adobe Launch — The Future of DTM
On mainstage, one of the first announcements was about Launch, a complete rethink of Adobe’s Activation core service (known today as Dynamic Tag Management, or DTM). Over the past four years, DTM has grown at a stratospheric rate, and Launch is an important milestone for several reasons.
First, Launch shows Adobe’s commitment to tag management.
Not only is Adobe putting dollars behind Launch, they’re also enlisting blisteringly smart people with real empathy for today’s marketers—and it shows in the software you saw at Summit. Adobe is putting some of its best teams and resources behind an important commitment to being a more open platform. Openness is critical to marketers, and Adobe is seeing and reacting to this (more on that later).
Second, Launch is about openness, scale and customization.
Launch is API-first, allowing anyone to develop on top of it. This allows launch to hit three birds with one API stone:
- For the first and only time in tag management, extensions and integrations can be built by anyone. As practitioners and consultants, we don’t have to rely on any single entity to build an integration for Doubleclick or Facebook, for Turn or Bluekai. Those companies can build and maintain their own, syncing with their own internal development timelines and new capabilities.The integrations that have been built by tag management vendors in the past have always been limiting, and many clients avoid using them in lieu of writing their own custom versions or paying for one-off customizations. But with Launch, anyone in the community can expand or write their own extension if the vendor themselves does not do a good job. If you have a particular set of needs for tracking embedded video content, for example, you have complete control.This allows for customization to be spread out over hundreds of people contributing to the community, instead of relying on one TMS to try and keep with the hundreds of technologies they are designed to implement.
- Launch’s API-first approach also allows us to enhance the capabilities of Launch by writing functionality to help manage wide networks of sites at scale, rather than working at the web property level. We can deploy technologies across hundreds or thousands of sites, ensure that site or group-level customizations are still intact where they need to be, and account for idiosyncrasies and uniqueness across individual sites and applications. For the many global brands that work with us and have anywhere between 10 and 2,500 web sites, this functionality will create massive efficiencies and improvements to governance.
- Third, developers can now write sophisticated functionality to improve workflow and management of Launch. For example, our own solution, Slingshot, allows marketers to use a single embed code across all of their DTM properties, rather than having separate embeds for each web property, and staging and dev environments. For some of our clients, that means the difference between managing over 2,000 unique embeds and managing 1 embed across thousands of sites.Similarly, we will be writing custom workflows for approvals, alerts, status, and who needs to do what. After hundreds of engagements at Search Discovery, we’ve found these to be the best practices for implementation and maintenance. Launch will work exactly the way we and our clients need it to, allowing us to make the most of our engagements and focus on strategic work that moves KPIs.
Now, this is the part that some people are excited about, and that others fear. While the developers out there are doing backflips over Launch, many businesses are wondering, “Does what I just saw mean that DTM just got too technical for us to handle?”
I have some pretty strong thoughts about this topic, which I’ll illustrate through a story.
When Search Discovery CEO, Lee Blankenship, and I were first starting the Satellite business, before it was acquired by Adobe and became DTM, we had a meeting with one of the 25 biggest companies in the United States. Their primary criteria for choosing a tag management system was that “even a completely non-technical person can use it.”
I’ll say now what I said then: “For me, no matter how easy a Boeing 747 ever becomes to fly, at no point will I ever be okay with a non-pilot flying it. And I think your business should have the same attitude about who’s piloting your data collection across 100% of your digital existence.”
Now, please note two things: 1) we fortunately won that business and had a massively successful deployment, and 2) I am not in any way saying that these tools shouldn’t strive to smarter, safer and easier to use—that is always a good thing.
I’m simply and adamantly pointing out that data is the lifeblood of business. In most businesses, dozens of platforms, automation systems, analyses and insights rely completely on good data, and at no point should anyone consider handing the controls over to someone without the requisite skillset. You are not staffing that pilot’s chair for the sunny, calm days when everything goes exactly as planned. You’re staffing that chair for the storms, and every business has storms. Most have them almost daily.
Make sure you have the right people in these critical roles, whether that is in-house, or through a proven partner. Please, do not make a mistake on who the pilots are.
But the question still remains: Is Launch now too technical?
The answer is “no.”
In reality, the parts of DTM that needed to be more technical to allow amazing people to do amazing things have opened up. The parts of DTM that were user-friendly have also gotten better at the same time. In a sense, DTM, as it evolves into Launch, is getting both more and less technical at the same time, and this is a great thing.
This allows groups like us to do things with greater efficiency and scale than ever before, while allowing less-experienced teams to handle simpler use cases with greater ease of use, organization, findability, safer and more nuanced approval workflows, and more.
Getting into the nitty gritty of Launch is something we don’t have the space for here, but believe me, the future is bright and we are looking forward to helping our clients make the most of the opportunity. Stay tuned to our blog for much more information as Launch gets closer to…umm….launching.
The Data Platform
The next thing the audience was let in on was some insight into how Adobe is approaching their own technical architecture, and where they are starting. This is a lot more exciting than it may first seem, for two reasons.
Let’s talk about what the Data Platform is/could be.
Adobe’s Experience Cloud (Marketing Cloud) architecture is made up of many acquisitions, in addition to homegrown technology. Each of these pieces of product and functionality were at some point freestanding businesses, each with their own data collection, user administration, data processing, algorithms, reporting interfaces, segmentation tools, etc. And perhaps most importantly to the way marketers work today, they each had different data storage systems and schemes.
The impact of this is easily illustrated by this example. Compare the number of visits, clicks, page views, conversions, members of segments, etc. measured by each solution (Analytics, Target, Media Optimizer, Campaign…), and you’ll find that conversions, as well as just about every other metric, are going to be different.
This is the point at which people start to freak out a little bit. Let’s not go down that road. The team here at Search Discovery will certainly continue to create some diagnostic content and offer services addressing when it is and isn’t okay for numbers to be different, but I’d like to focus on something much more strategic here.
Looking beyond the differences in the numbers, the most important topic to modern marketers is the ability to manage their marketing and behavioral data holistically. What wins in digital today is not products, but architectures. It’s not about which email platform is best in a silo; it’s about which email platform works best in your overall technical and strategic ecosystem: being able to tap into any cross-channel audience or set of triggers to inform the topic, timing, and destination of those emails, for example (right message, right time, right person, right place).
The process of buying and implementing technologies in silos is already dead at the most successful and advanced businesses. The vital signs say the same for the broader adoption curve—“must play well with others” is the fundamental requirement of the future.
The data platform that Adobe is working toward provides a multitude of benefits. Here are a few that I think we can all start dreaming about today:
- Collection: A single data platform paves the path for a single collection pipeline for all behavioral data—one architecture to maintain, optimize for performance, and handle every customer touch point. One customer identification system (which we’re already seeing with the visitor ID service) tying all behavior together at collect time, meaning many data marriage exercises later in the process are easier or unnecessary.
- Storage: Want answers? Get all of them from one place, regardless of the product mix you are using. This logically leads to centralized reporting and analysis for all forms of data Adobe manages and imports, and one place for you to query on your own, as those tools hypothetically come available. Also, if you want to export into your own data warehouse/lake/cloud/galaxy/ball of yarn (or whatever you’re calling it in your business), this leads to the possibility of getting the whole Adobe batch, all clean as a whistle across all web and app analytics, search, display, social, personalization, email, video, etc. at once. That way, there’s no structural work piecemeal on your side.
- Integration: No need for solution-to-solution integration of events, triggers, rules, models, audiences or stored data. It all lives in the same home and gets along. External integration is centralized, so any 1st or 3rd party data sources or applications interface in one place.
- I/O: A single schema for the import and export of all types of data, which could logically also lead to a true standard for these types of data (yes!).
- Applications: Complex cross-channel + cross-device + multi(and stitched)-session analyses, predictive algorithms, rule sets and audience management, attribution, and the list goes on and on. Is there something you’d like your data universe to reveal or trigger? That is going to be a whole lot easier.
This is just a sample of the outcomes. Are you starting to appreciate how big of a deal this is? Adobe has fully acknowledged that architectures trump silos, and the data platform couldn’t be a clearer signal of the new era they are walking through the door. Most of the above is just me thinking through (and hoping) what it will turn into, so it could take on much more as you use your own imagination.
And that brings us to the second reason this is interesting:
Let’s extrapolate this idea: if many acquisitions brought over many data pipelines and storage approaches, it stands to reason that they also brought numerous client-side implementations, edge services, scoring algorithms, reporting interfaces, charting APIs, report automation systems, alerting systems, activity logging, user management, asset stores and managers, decisioning systems, rule builders, etc.
Starting to get the picture? It doesn’t take too huge of a mental leap to understand that this whole ecosystem is headed in a revolutionary direction that will have more benefits than we can count. Abstracted, generalized components (including and beyond the Core Services offered today) allow a single architecture to do many, many things, and do those things with more efficiency than monolithic, freestanding applications can.
The last piece of mainstage content wasn’t about product, but putting their branding where their hopes are, and that is positioning the Marketing Cloud as the Experience Cloud. There was also talk about the Analytics Cloud and the Advertising Cloud.
We had many visitors to our booth ask why there were clouds of clouds on clouds, and the best reply I could come up with was that “Stacks on Stacks on Stacks” was already taken, and that’s what Adobe is trying to do for you: make you a whole bunch of greenbacks.
What I believe is important here is not how this represents the products differently, but how this represents Adobe’s intent and the way they would like for us all to be thinking: this isn’t about Marketing, it’s about Experiences. All of it. We are creating, monetizing, optimizing, personalizing, and enriching experiences.
I believe and hope it’s a much more authentic representation of what brands will be striving for in this particular era.
I, for one, want to be a consumer that brands care about enough to architect great experiences. They will get more of my money, for sure. But more on that in the last section of this overview, “How to commit to getting better at digital experiences.”
Next: What we heard from over 400 conversations with real analysts and marketers at Adobe Summit