New year, new resolution. This should apply to both person and business. 2017 was disruptive yet progressive for tech and digital marketing in many ways. We witnessed surge of AI and machine learning, emerging technologies like voice, facial recognition, virtual reality, augmented reality were built into many hit products/applications, holiday season had record breaking online sales, customers continued looking for consistent and personalized experience, and marketing executives relied on data to make the right decision. Many of the major discoveries and success will be carried over to 2018. And inevitably they will drive the future of Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) and more other Adobe Experience Cloud products.
This week, I had the opportunity to attend the Adobe Leaders&Learners event in San Jose, where we sat into different groups (AEM, Analytics, Target, Cloud Integration) and discussed best practices and exciting developments within Adobe Experience Cloud. My personal ‘gold nuggets’ from the event is that technologies can be service based and accessible, evolve and take the learnings back, then drive business and new developments and thrive. In this blog, I have picked five digital trends for 2018, tell you the latest development in Adobe and some of the opportunities and challenges for AEM and some other Adobe Experience Cloud products.
1. Smarter artificial intelligence and machine learning can assist human make better decision.
With such a broad impact and attention in 2017, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are unlikely to fade away in 2018, instead we may see some outcomes from the initiatives started last year. At current state, AI and machine learning are good at analyzing and understanding text and image. But it’s still in early stage of development and training. There may be a lot of trails and errors as companies and scientists actively exploring and experimenting what AI and machine learning can do and how they can better assist human. There is also a lot of discussion and concern over where AI and machine learning should go in the future, whether they will replace human, or affect job market. The goal of AI and machine learning that I am seeing is not to replace human, but to assist human on repetitive routines so human can focus on the creative tasks and decision making.
Adobe created Adobe Sensei as the cross-platform and proprietary artificial intelligence and machine learning engine that powers all of their solutions, including Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Experience Cloud.
In AEM, we see just a few features have integrated with Adobe Sensei, like smart tags in Assets and summarize text in content fragment. There are tremendous opportunities and use cases for AEM to leverage the power and intelligence from AI and machine learning. In Adobe Leaders&Learners, we had an expert chat session with Sensei’s product manager, from whom I heard some exciting insights of the strategy and roadmap behind Sensei. With the advancement of Adobe Sensei, it will not only understand singular piece of content, but also understand larger chunk of content and experience, assist human be more creative and make better decision in realtime. Partners and developers may soon be able to use Adobe Sensei APIs via Adobe I/O to extend and empower product features and develop custom implementations for their projects. They may even be able to leverage the underline framework and algorithms to create and train their own models.
2. Emerging technologies like voice, facial recognition, virtual reality and augmented reality can create more immersive experience.
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In 2017, voice controlled and zero UI products became popular in households. Smart speakers like Amazon Echo (powered by Amazon Alexa) and Google Home (powered by Google Assistant), grew more than 300% (nearly 25 million) in sales according to billboard. And now Apple is releasing its HomePod (powered by Siri) next month. These personal-assistant-like products not only changed the way we interact with modern devices, but also brought a human touch to technology. However, there’s more. Future true zero UI products should be able to collect and handle voice, gesture, glances and even thoughts. The maturity of facial recognition will be one of the core technologies used to build those true zero UI products.
On the other hand, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) bring users closer to another world. They don’t just see it on the screen, but feel it in front of them. 360 photo and video expand user’s horizon by letting them see what’s around. Although challenge remains if virtual reality will bring transformative change to digital marketing, and most development for virtual reality has been in the entertainment industry, new developments of VR and AR in 2018 may bring more prospects, or even game changing revolution to digital marketing.
With people adapting to Internet of Things (IoTs) in the future, they can engage with brands in more various ways. These touch points may be invisible and immersive throughout the customer journey. How to create, streamline, support and manage a consistent yet immersive customer experience inevitably need to be the focus of AEM and other Adobe Experience Cloud products in the future. Currently, AEM supports 3D assets, you can upload, create and render a 3D image. AEM dynamic media may soon support 360 assets. AEM also has structured content fragments and content services to export content to phone app or Amazon Alexa. Adobe Primetime has integrated with VR technology, while phonegap app developers can use AR technology with Wikitude, but it hasn’t been a widespread adaption in other cloud products.
3. Commerce needs to be experience driven and make every moment shoppable.
On the contrary to more than 3,600 retail stores expecting to be closed in 2018 (including Walgreens, Macy’s, Gap and more), according to Business Insider, e-commerce continues to grow faster. Sales generated from e-commerce are forecasted to reach $500 billion in 2019. However, this does not mean brick-and-mortar stores are obsolete, at all. It’s reported that majority of the purchase still happen in physical stores. But retailers now face new opportunities and challenges to adopt technologies and boost sales.
AEM has Screens to help brands build an interactive and consistent experience in store. Screens will be an opportunity for AI, emerging technology like facial recognition and analytics. They should work together, get realtime in store data, personalize and engage with customers better. But before they can do that, AEM and Screens need to be able to use and support more immersive experience and a tighter integration with analytics, personalization and audience engine.
There’s also a trend to make every moment shoppable. Recently, I noticed that Instagram has adopted this trend and took an action. Now I can see shoppable image and video on Instagram with tags and links to the product page. Similarly, AEM dynamic media has shoppable media capability, this can help create shoppable moments in various touch points.
Commerce is another main pillar in AEM. It supports generic e-commerce OOTB, and also integration with external providers like commercetool, SAP Hybris, Magento… However, the generic e-commerce uses JCR as the commerce provider, and it’s for demo purpose only. Developers will need to integrate with a commerce provider and build the required services. This slows down implementation cycle and does not fit modern ecommerce requirements. In fact, Adobe has realized the same and they just announced 20 microservices for commerce, including shopping cart, wish list and inventory query. These microservices are accessible through Adobe I/O Runtime. They are also pre-integrated with commerce provider and versionless, which means they will not depend on the version of their hosting system.
Personalization will remain to be one of the central pieces in experience business and a digital marketing trend in 2018. Many brands are already using personalized content. Personalization helps them target specific customers, offer their customers what they may be interested in and ultimately increase conversion rate.
Adobe Marketing Cloud offers three ways to implement personalization. One is with standalone AEM, second is with standalone Adobe Target, and third is with combined AEM and Target. Using AEM in target mode provides authors the opportunity to create and manage experience content in same tool, and to leverage other features like Assets, Content Fragments, Experience Fragments and more. With Adobe Target, it empowers marketers to create more advanced A/B testing and multivariate testing, to use Search & Promote for site search and e-commerce, it also has Adobe Sensei enabled Random Forest algorithm for automated personalization. The future of personalization solution with AEM/Target should provide more intelligence and accuracy. It should provide capability to personalize not only on component level, but also on page layout or template level, or even entire experience, omnichannel personalization.
5. Big data is accelerating and getting bigger.
Big data has been the focus and topic in recent years. With recent developments of AI, machine learning and IoTs, the volume of data will continue to grow exponentially. Data will play a fundamental role in the success of future digital marketing.
Adobe Analytics is the data reporting and analyzing engine for all channels. It can be integrated with other experience cloud products like Target, Campaign, AEM to create sophisticated and powerful insights. Adobe Launch, the newly released successor of Dynamic Tag Manager (DTM), helps those product integration better. Key feature of Launch is open API, so it is accessible, scalable and can be used programatically. AEM also has basic data reporting features for maintenance, server status, assets and communities. One challenge with growing data and so many different applications though, is source of data. The data stored in Campaign may be completely different from data in Target. Experience Cloud ID Service helps identify user among all experience cloud solutions, but it didn’t resolve the fundamental issue with different products storing data in different places. With different sets of data, it’s difficult for marketers to consolidate and manage consistent experience. An unified data platform may be the future to store all marketing cloud data and back all the experience cloud applications.