Q+A: Ann Lewnes, senior VP of marketing, Adobe

All in a day’s work: she invented interactive marketing and gave us the now-ubiquitous ’Intel Inside’ jingle, but the indefatigable Ann Lewnes is now embarking on her boldest mission yet, to bring Adobe to the world.

Click here to read a one-to-one Q&A with Ann Lewnes
Click here to read about Adobe’s CSR

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Ann Lewnes, senior VP of marketing, Adobe

Ann Lewnes barely gets through five minutes of chat at a time without flashing her brilliant American smile and breaking into peals of laughter. But relaxed as Adobe’s senior vice-president of global marketing may appear, the pressure is on her. Lewnes will spend much of 2011 leading the transformation that her organisation requires.

The notion that Adobe needs to transform itself seems a strange thing after the success it has recently enjoyed. The fourth quarter of Adobe’s fiscal year in 2010 saw the company make more than $1bn in revenue for the first time in such a period – a 33% growth on the previous quarter. Adobe’s website enjoys more than 400 million visitors every month, making it one of the most visited websites in the world.

But for Adobe, 2011 must be a year of change. For while its products may be familiar – not just to the creative community that they target, but to anybody who uses a computer – Adobe as a corporate brand is barely visible to the casual onlooker. According to Lewnes this is a challenge that must be addressed: if the corporate brand has no visibility, it has no relationship with its customers.

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Adobe Photoshop

Few are better placed to help move the perception of Adobe from a cold, inaccessible manufacturer of digital media products such as Flash, Photoshop, Acrobat and Creative Suite, to a loved brand in itself. Lewnes has succeeded in this kind of transformation before, during her 20 years at Intel Corporation, where she left as vice-president of sales and marketing in 2006.

“When I joined Intel we were completely unknown. Nobody knew that Intel was in the microprocessor business. Nobody knew or cared what a microprocessor was,” she says.

Lewnes was part of the team responsible for the ’Intel Inside’ campaign. She helped create Intel’s-five note musical signature that she says now gets played every five minutes somewhere around the world (see Q&A, below).

“I came from [the] semi-conductors [sector], probably the least sexy category there is. We were able to turn it into a significant and compelling brand. We created a brand out of nothing. Intel now sells hundreds of millions of microprocessors every year. We turned this B2B product, this hidden, anonymous ingredient into a global B2C brand.”

At Adobe the mission is not necessarily to create a B2C brand out of nothing, but to take the disparate groups that use Adobe’s many products and build a loyal fanbase of the corporate brand. That requires Adobe to find its voice. Will Lewnes repeat her Intel trick?

“This year will see Adobe start talking about itself. But Adobe is a modest and humble company,” she says. “Intel, by comparison, is one of the most outspoken and ’in your face’ companies around. Adobe needs to be louder and prouder. Everybody here now understands that. We may not do it to the extent that other companies do but you will see us become much more visible.”

It launched its ’Adobe and the digital experience’ campaign in the US earlier this month, showing how it is working with brands such as Martha Stewart Living to produce iPad content.

The business may not have been “visible” in the past but if you’re turning over a billion dollars per quarter, does that really matter?

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Adobe Creative Suite 5

“It matters hugely,” says Lewnes. “The brand was built off the backs of our products, Photoshop, Acrobat, Flash, brands that people love. But people don’t have a depth of knowledge of what our business is like or where we are going. This is a pivotal year, the year that we are going to tell the big story. And the big story is about the transformation of the world through digital experiences and content. And no other company has the ability to tell that full story,” she claims.

The full picture

The implication is that the story could only be told when the business had all the pieces in place to provide a complete narrative. Adobe’s acquisition strategy, notably the purchase of web analytics company Omniture in autumn 2009 was the significant, and final, part of the tale that is being told in the corporate campaign this year.

Adobe makes different products for a number of audience segments. Its chief executive, Shantanu Narayen, calls it one of the most diversified companies in business. But Lewnes says the categories Adobe operates in are merging together, prompting the transformation of the company that is being told as a story through the new marketing push.

“We were a creative software tools company. When we acquired Macromedia in 2005 we became the key distribution platform for delivering content; media content mostly. We have PDF, which is one of the most distributed pieces of software and is itself a delivery mechanism. Now we have Omniture, which allows clients to measure [the effectiveness of] all that content. So, suddenly we had the content creation, the measurement and optimisation of that content, and of course the delivery of that content through the likes of Flash.

“Now we have even bought a content management system so we can manage all that content as well – so we have every piece of the digital media jigsaw.”

Experiences are becoming really significant in terms of how people are interacting on the web. So from a marketing point of view we now look to do ’product experiences’

The difficulty presented by having disparate products is to solidify them into an umbrella corporate campaign, says Lewnes. “When they begin to converge, the story gets much bigger. It’s easier for these things to be marketed simultaneously,” she says. “But the challenge is very exciting – the reason I came to Adobe in the first place is because I have an affinity for the products. Now the strategy is clear.”

She talks about a “pervasive” corporate brand identity campaign in the UK, including non-digital media. “I’m now a big digital media girl. It’s a big deal for me to go above-the-line. But when I was at Intel I was pretty much exclusively working above-the-line so I’m pretty experienced in it. When you want to really broadcast a story, you need to look at media such as TV.”

Lewnes’ willingness to use above-the-line media belies the success she has brought to the company by switching almost all of her communication methods to digital media.

“Experiences are becoming really significant in terms of how people are interacting on the web. So from a marketing point of view we now look to do ’product experiences’. When launching Creative Suite 5 [multimedia design software], we did the whole thing online.

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Adobe Acrobat X Pro

“We produced the content, we had tips and tricks and testimonials. We did a YouTube video of a particular feature of Photoshop [part of Creative Suite] and the video got over 3 million hits in three days.”

The YouTube campaign began a week before Adobe launched Creative Suite 5 itself. Because of the high number of YouTube hits, Adobe elevated that Photoshop feature in the rest of its marketing, so it used YouTube as a kind of test-bed for the launch. “How you do product marketing has completely changed,” she adds.

Lewnes also uses YouTube to test straplines or other advertising elements for popularity before rolling out a campaign. She’s excited by this “new” kind of marketing that makes things go faster, she says. “The world is on an acceleration path which has totally transformed marketing. And the cool thing about it, because there are positives and negatives about constantly being on call, is that you always know how your customers feel about things.”

“The Omniture acquisition and the intelligence it gives us is like nirvana from a marketing perspective. You can measure what your customers are doing, what they like and dislike, you can serve them up content which is relevant to them as opposed to things they might dismiss,” she says.

The acceleration Lewnes describes is being led by Adobe, if you measure these things by the allocation of budgets away from traditional disciplines. “We’re spending far more online than in the past,” she says. “We spend more than $100m on marketing, but when I arrived we weren’t spending a whole lot on digital, considering we made all the digital tools.”

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Adobe InDesign CS3

Lewnes says the company has performed a “right-hand turn over the past four years” so that now about 75% of its marketing dollars are spent on digital media, including the website, CRM and search. “The average company of our size spends 13-18% on digital, slightly higher in tech sectors, perhaps, but we are way ahead. We can have a relationship and connection with our customers that is much deeper and we can measure the interaction.”

Considering the gap Lewnes claims there is between the leaders and the rest, it sounds like some organisations have yet to recognise the shifts in consumer behaviour towards spending time online.

“You’d be surprised. There’s still some way to go. I talk to colleagues at other organisations, and very few of them have done what we’ve done in terms of that right-hand turn because it’s uncomfortable. They’re used to using other media that have worked well for them in the past. But digital is happening and it’s happening to them and you have to make the move.”

At the same time Lewnes professes to still be a big proponent of television when relevant for a brand as people are still watching a lot of it.

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Adobe Flash CS3

It is a challenge for any marketer to allocate a budget that stretches across multiple markets and 400 global marketers, as Lewnes does. And it doesn’t help that not all the markets are moving towards digital at the same pace.

“We’re all heading in somewhat the same direction but at varying speeds. I was just in Japan where books are read on smartphones. That’s a huge trend that we don’t see in the US. Mobile is moving very fast in the US but it has always been more advanced on this side of the Atlantic [in the UK]. There were early mobile innovators both in Europe and also in Asia. Some people will never have PCs, they’ve jumped right over it straight to smartphones.”

Smartphones, tablets and the rich content they enable, will, says Lewnes, explode this year. Adobe.com, with 400 million unique visitors each month, has recently been formatted for mobile. “We honestly never thought about it before. But people come to buy and download Flash player and Acrobat onto their smartphones.”

Customers now create content on tablets and phones, rather than for tablets and phones? “We have 13 million people using the Photoshop.com product on their iPhone and millions more on their Android. I’m ready for that.”

Ann Lewes CV

November 2006 Senior vice-president, global marketing, Adobe
2000 Elected to the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement
1985-2006 Corporate communications role rising to VP of sales and marketing at Intel
1983 Degree in international relations, Lehigh University, Pennsylvania

Q&A

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Marketing Week (MW): Your tools are expensive, and some go up against cheaper alternatives. Does any of that force down your price points?

Ann Lewnes (AL): Our products are the best in every category, so we do charge a premium. We do price research, and we feel the pricing is fair. Who else can work across every possible new format? We work across BlackBerry, we work with the slew of products that are emerging for Android, we work with Symbian for Nokia. The whole big controversy around HTML5? Well we’ve traditionally been proponents of Flash as the distribution mechanism for video but if the market wants HTML5 then we are going to do that too, because pleasing the customer is our job. We don’t feel threatened by any competition, it keeps you healthy.

MW: There’s been a stand-off over Apple refusing to install Flash capability – you still can’t run Flash content in the browsers of the iPad and iPhone. How damaging is this?

AL: We’ve moved past it. It’s unfortunate because Apple has traditionally been a real partner to us. But we believe people should be able to develop using whatever tools they want and run content wherever they want. If you use an Apple device you’re missing out on access to 75% of the video on the web – a lot of customers complain about it and I feel their frustration. I think Apple is missing a huge opportunity.

MW: Apple ceded some ground last September by allowing developers to use Flash to create apps and content. What was behind that?

AL: I think it was due to customer pressure. It’s a real gap in Apple’s strategy. The great thing is that the market is still to blow open and there is still so much to come. Look at the new tablets and smartphones that are emerging. There are a lot of really cool things coming onto the market. Those manufacturers see having Adobe products as a competitive advantage – and market them as such.

MW: You describe wanting to build relationships between the brand and your customers. Being so dominant in your market – is there need to make the brand fun and engaging?

AL: Even if you are the clear leader in a category, there is always a need. From an asset standpoint we have all the most relevant products that people want right now, yet the big story about Adobe isn’t out there.

People love this company though they don’t know a lot about us. Our assets are super relevant and super sexy. We just have to be louder and prouder about them. The story of the company is what we hope to address this year.

MW: You have an enormous range of responsibilities – how do you do it all?

AL: I came from 20 years at Intel and was looking for a job where I could do everything. It all fits together in my mind, it’s inextricably linked, although I know many organisations don’t see it the same way Adobe does. It’s a privilege as a marketer to have control of all these things. The more marketing progresses, the more all of these disciplines and responsibilities blend together. Social media is widely seen as the latest and most evolved incarnation of PR. But then I would also qualify anything I do on Facebook as advertising, not just social media.

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MW: Adobe finished 2010 on a high, reporting over $1bn in sales in the fourth quarter. Is that success seen as a validation of Adobe’s marketing strategy?

AL: Absolutely. My boss [chief executive Shantanu Narayen] drives growth but we have a very close executive staff consisting of myself, my boss, the CFO and the heads of the businesses. We spend a lot of time together. Decision-making is very collaborative. This is part of the thrill of my job. In many cases the CMO is not consulted on strategic decisions for the company. I’m very privileged it is part of my role.

MW: How vital is it for you to have a close relationship with the CEO?

AL: My boss is incredibly supportive. He really values marketing, and gives me tremendous trust and autonomy. We consult one another every day. This for me is critical to success for marketing. If you are disconnected from your CEO or if your CEO is not a believer in marketing, that’s when the job becomes a real slog.

MW: You’ve been credited with inventing interactive advertising with your Super Bowl ad in 1998. What was that ad?

AL: It was pretty basic by today’s standards but yes, at Intel we created the first internet Super Bowl ad. The TV ad invited viewers to go to our website and vote on their preferred ending from two choices. We had no idea at the time whether people would bother. It wasn’t like it is today where people are constantly multi-tasking online while watching TV. We had 400,000 people go to the website to vote. Frankly, we were unprepared for that; the servers crashed. It was incredible. We got 5% of all Super Bowl viewers that year coming to engage with our ad.

MW: Can you talk about creating the iconic ’Intel Inside’ campaign.

AL: Well, the audio signature, that was me. My boss had the brilliant idea to do a sound and we needed to do it quickly. I called a sound and audio guy I knew in LA, Walter Werzowa, and he came up with a number of ideas which I didn’t really like. It didn’t take long for him to come up with one I did like. And now it gets played every five minutes somewhere in the world. Because Intel was embedded, nobody could have a real experience with the brand. The audio identity became part of the experience with the brand.

My next 24 hours…

I’m having dinner tonight at the Savoy with chief marketing officers from different companies in London. There will be 15 of us. I have done these around the world, including in Sydney and Tokyo. We’ve invited CMOs to talk about what’s going on with them. We talk about trends, what we are doing and they share their observations and experiences. It’s a learning thing for all of us, it’s about sharing information. I’m also meeting with Interbrand, my brand agency, and all of my employees. Then I’m going to Asia in May. More than half of our revenues come from outside the US so I get about – but I probably don’t travel as much as other people do. I have 10-year-old twin boys and its very important to me to be around for them.

Adobe: CSR

As well as driving Adobe’s corporate positioning, its branding and identity, Ann Lewnes also oversees Adobe’s internal communications and community relations efforts. This includes the Adobe Foundation, which funds philanthropic initiatives around the world.

The company was founded by John Warnock and Charles Geschke in 1982. “They were philanthropic to their core. They started out by saying we want to be a great place to work and decided part of that is giving back to the community.

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Adobe Youth Voices

“They picked a couple of areas of focus – homelessness and hunger. As Adobe evolved, that philanthropy permeated through the soul of the company and became part of its DNA. It’s a brave thing to embed philanthropy into the company before you know how big you are going to get.”

Lewnes says the culture of the company almost takes care of her internal comms responsibility for her. “Community philanthropy is one of the most important draws for people to come and work here. We do an annual engagement survey. Ninety-nine per cent feel that being a ’corporate citizen’ is important to them and that’s why they want to work for Adobe. So it’s huge from a recruitment and retention point of view.”

The Adobe Foundation gives 1% of Adobe’s net profit to good causes. One flagship programme called Adobe Youth Voices is in 50 different countries and has reached 50,000 children in neglected communities. The children are given digital tools and mentors who teach them to make documentary films and photographic essays about what is going on in their neighbourhoods. Lewnes says the programme is life-changing.

“Some of the worst things possible have happened to these kids,” she says. “We enable them to talk about it by using technology to create content. We give them a curriculum.” By the end of 2011 the scheme will be extended to 150,000 children.

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