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Why Adobe’s acquisition of Workfront will kill creativity in marketing

The marketing world saw more consolidation by the recent announcement that software giant Adobe had reached an agreement to buy Workfront, a software company that has developed Web-based work management and project management software.

Workfront is a major player in the work management category, widely used to manage content, plan and track marketing campaigns, and permit collaboration across teams. The announcement is a clear signal that Adobe is further investing to build the world’s leading marketing cloud .

We think the acquisition, which will cost Adobe $1.5 billion and which will come into effect as soon as regulatory approval is given, sounds the death knell for creativity in marketing, even though Adobe’s products, particularly Creative Cloud, are at one level all about creativity.

Why?

Because the acquisition is a big step towards the creation and execution of fully automated, robotically created marketing campaigns. Once Workfront is integrated into Adobe, creativity will no longer be required of marketers. Instead, whether they like it or not, they will become data entry clerks.

And that means a lot of people (us included) will have to re-examine the way they work.

Let me explain.

Workfront made its mark with its project management software, which allows the various elements of a project to be integrated into one single system. Finance, marketing, sales: They can all use the same platform.

Naturally, that makes for efficiencies; it also makes it easier to collaborate and reduce errors.

There are other companies in the project management space (Wrike and Asana, for example), but Workfront is particularly well-positioned in marketing. It has one million users worldwide, is used by about 3,000 companies, and its clients include many of the world’s top brands. This is important for Adobe as they continue to focus on enterprise customers, of which Workfront has in spades.

Adobe and Workfront are longstanding partners, with over 1,000 shared customers. Workfront is already equipped with APIs (the application programming interface that allow two applications to talk to each other) that connect it to Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Experience Cloud. And that will make it easier to integrate Workfront into Adobe.

Now back to project management and marketing….

Right now, if Company A wants to create a marketing campaign, they start by setting up a project in Workfront (or another similar software), and then come up with the material to fill the templates required for the campaign.

For example, if you want to run a webinar, there’s a long form to fill in with time, date, speaker info, registration information, and other similar details.

But Workfront and the other project management software applications don’t create the marketing campaign.

In order to generate a marketing campaign, the project management software alerts a user about the information for their campaign and then the marketer creates a campaign based on the specs from Workfront.

That’s where marketers can work their magic.

Right now, Workfront and Marketo are totally separate products.

But I am pretty sure that Adobe will want to integrate Workforce into a process that creates a marketing campaign seamlessly and automatically right from Workfront. A big advantage will be the ability to work cooperatively and scale. One of the big issues with Marketo is that it has no collaboration capabilities; project management software is all about collaboration.

Once that happens, the work required to create a marketing campaign will change dramatically. It will be more about entering data into fields in software applications, and less about coming up with creative ideas for campaigns.

That means automation is coming for marketers’ jobs.

Our customers – at least the ones I’ve spoken to – estimate that roughly three-quarters of all their marketing campaigns can be fully automated.

That’s huge.

Automation is a very attractive concept. Why not let software create a marketing campaign for you? There are certainly efficiencies to be had.

“Satisfying the increasing expectations of B2B and B2C customers today requires large volumes of content and personalized marketing campaigns delivered at lightning speed and scale,” says a Business Wire release about Adobe’s acquisition of Workforce.

“This must be accomplished across increasingly dispersed teams, as remote work becomes prevalent.

“The combination of Adobe Experience Cloud and Workfront will bring efficiency, collaboration, and productivity gains to marketing teams currently challenged with siloed work management solutions.”

However much I believe in efficiency, I can see right now that there are limits to automatically generated marketing campaigns.

For example, marketers are big on A/B testing of campaigns with a small audience to see which of two campaigns has the best impact. That becomes almost impossible when you automate everything.

A bigger problem arises when you want to customize a multinational marketing campaign to different audiences, cultures and conditions across different countries. 

This is about way more than just translation; it’s about adapting a campaign so that it resonates with different cultures. Will an automatically generated marketing campaign be able to do that? I don’t think so. Consequently, customer engagement will suffer. And local marketers will get frustrated at their inability to tweak campaigns to take account of local sensibilities. What is gained in efficiency will be lost in creativity and local knowledge.

In fact, if campaigns are automatically generated, will regional field marketers even be kept on?

And what about marketers in general?

I’ve been in marketing long enough to know that marketers get into the business to be creative. That’s what drives and inspires them. Customers who have tried automating campaigns have told us their marketers do not like it.

If we do go down the automation route, I fear we will end up with marketing campaigns that emphasize volume over quality. They will look and feel robotic, and, as a result, engagement will drop – not to mention job satisfaction for marketers.

In fact, our challenge in all of this is figuring out how we will react to the potential disruption in our business. 

I would challenge marketers to ask: If automation is where the business is going, do you want to be a part of it? Or do you want to push to keep and grow the creative element of the job?

As for us, do we accept that this is the future and figure out a way to add value to automated campaigns? Does Knak aid and abet the process of making marketers’ jobs obsolete? Or do we set ourselves apart and say that we don’t think this is going to happen? And even if it does, that we don’t want to be a part of it? 

And if three-quarters of all marketing campaigns can be automated, that means that roughly one-quarter cannot. Is that where we shift our focus?

In becoming more efficient, do we sacrifice creativity? What does that mean for competitive advantage, given that the ability to create is something that has always defined us? And speaking of competitive advantage, are we at risk of losing our most creative people, who would certainly be tempted to seek opportunities elsewhere rather than become part of a robotic process?

These are big questions, and how we answer them has a direct bearing on the future of our work – not to mention our livelihoods.

We figure we have a year or two to come up with the answers. That’s how long we think it will take Adobe and Workfront to synchronize their products and work out the kinks.

In the end, marketing is all about making something stand out. This is what marketers are good at: When everything’s the same, the best marketers do something different.

So that’s the challenge I think marketers have for themselves and for their future: Finding a way to stand out in an increasingly automated market.

Pierce Ujjainwalla has years of experience as a CEO, entrepreneur, and marketing leader. He has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo, and he launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. Visit his personal blog, Unsubscribed!, for more of the insight he’s gained as founder and CEO of Knak.

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