Adobe wants to kill the webpage

Automated personalization shows different banners to users with different interests. Each user's experience is informed by data about shared audiences

“We want to get to the point where our customers do not have web pages,” says Kevin Lindsay, director of conversion product marketing for Adobe’s Marketing Cloud.

In its place, online visitors will see a uniquely personalized arrangement of content, optimized to their interests, intent and history. In other words, every user’s experience will be unique.

Think of it as “an assembly of all of the things that make up the right experience,” says Lindsay. “Based on all this data, the machine automates the assembly, and ultimately the delivery, of the experience.”

What’s more, the site will be continually improving its personalization through “always-on optimization,” learning which experiences work best for which users and automatically creating new content arrangements for future visitors.

Some websites are already on the way there, says Lindsay. He claims 90% of visitors to Adobe client Sears.com receive a personalized, automatically optimized experience. The other 10%? A carefully monitored control group that Sears marketers use to create, test and analyze new experiences.

This is the end-game for Adobe Target, an application in Adobe’s Marketing Cloud suite that’s designed to help manage and optimize user experiences on websites, apps, ads and direct marketing campaigns. Target is built on A/B testing, a common method of content optimization that shows visitors a randomized selection of experiences and picks out the best ones based on their reactions. It helps marketers dynamically optimize their ads and content to figure out the best creative fit for an online audience.

At the Adobe summit in March, the company announced a an updated version of Target that it’s calling Target Premium. The new version adds a layer of advanced personalization so marketers can determine not just a single optimal experience for their site, but a range of experiences, each targeted at a different audience.

When automatic optimization is selected, Target won’t just perform the test, but will automatically update the advertiser’s site with optimal results. The marketer just has to select the audiences they want to target, create a few experiences using Target’s visual editor, and click “go.”

In a press demo given last week, Lindsay showed how Target Premium could be used to optimize a “hero banner” – the large, visual banner that most advertisers and publishers use to top their sites.

“That is very, very important real estate. It’s that welcome message that either turns someone off, or encourages them to continue,” he says. “So the question becomes, what goes there, and why? And who should decide?”

On most advertiser websites and e-commerce hubs, those decisions are ultimately made by the highest-paid marketer or creative director, he says. But by using just one banner, advertisers are taking a big gamble with their most important real estate. Humans are eminently fallible when it comes to predicting what will drive the best reaction from consumers.

Automated personalization solves that problem in two parts – it shows different banners to users with different interests, and it makes sure each user has an experience that’s informed by data (rather than the marketer’s gut instinct) about the audience they belong to.

Target Premium also has the option to optimize against “real-time audiences” – dynamic segments identified by the new Master Marketing Profile. MMP can identify interest and intender segments as they form, and Target can optimize experiences for those ephemeral audiences.

Real-time audiences are nothing like what marketers are used to thinking about, like soccer moms or dads who like gadgets, says Lindsay. “It might be returning visitors, using Firefox, from Western Canada.” But algorithms are able to scope out high-value audiences that drive return on investment, whether or not there’s a familiar story to tell about them. “Paying attention to the signals that come from your data is really powerful, from a personalization perspective.”

But when audience segments can appear and disappear without any explanation, that puts major decisions in the hands of a machine – which most marketers still aren’t comfortable with. Many marketers have resisted creative optimization because it means giving up control, says Lindsay.

Still, he says the Canadian market is ready for this technology. More than 500 enterprise clients use Adobe’s Marketing Cloud globally, and many of them have active optimization programs in place. Canada, he insists, has an opportunity to skip many of the steps that the U.S. and U.K. took to get where they are, and quickly become a leader in programmatic – if marketers here are interested.

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