Q&A with Ann Lewnes, EVP & CMO, Adobe

In a fast-changing world, growth means being ready and able to change directions at every turn. How do you create a culture of innovation, where new ideas have room to grow, and speed and agility are top priority?

Adobe’s culture is rooted in the belief that great ideas can come from anywhere in the company, and it this mantra that fuels our continued innovation. Moving from an 18-month packaged software launch cycle to a cloud-based model has enabled us to continuously build and ship new functionality, driving a faster and more nimble approach to product innovation. Through our Kickbox program, any employee with an idea gets $1,000 and access to tools to build and pitch their idea. We also invest to foster the next generation of inventors—almost half of our tech contributions in the last 10 years started with interns or as academic collaborations with college students. Beyond product, Adobe’s progressive employee policies, including abolishing annual performance reviews and being one of the first in the industry to offer generous family leave benefits, have set the bar for what it means to be a modern organization that questions the status quo and equips its employees with everything they need to bring their best ideas to work every day.

In order to connect in a constantly shifting world, we need to find new ways of creating empathy and engagement. How do you get inside the heads—and hearts—of your customers to keep pace and grow with them?

Adobe has the world’s most creative, passionate, and engaged customers. They have a lot of say in shaping the brand, and it’s our job to listen to them. In addition to soliciting ongoing feedback through every channel—from Instagram to enterprise customer advisory boards, we also enlist their participation in the continued evolution of our brand because, frankly, they own the Adobe brand as much as we do. Because of the unique creative talents of many of our customers, we have joined forces to cocreate some of our most breakthrough and beautiful experiences.

We recently teamed up with the band Imagine Dragons to commemorate the 25th anniversary of our industry-leading video editing software, Adobe Premiere Pro. We granted the community exclusive raw footage from the band’s mega hit “Believer” and challenged them to recut it for the chance to win $25,000. A campaign of this sort had never been done before, and although it’s an incredible undertaking to edit a video, we received thousands of submissions from around the world, a testament to the power of a novel concept and the vibrancy of our community.

Through the Adobe Remix project, we regularly give our customers the chance to reimagine our corporate logo, allowing them to provide their unique take on our brand, and celebrating their renditions across our marketing channels. Through our Project 1324 program, we are partnering with Sundance on Ignite, targeting the next generation of filmmakers with short-film competitions, meet-ups at the Sundance Film Festival, and live events. Indeed, we’ve found that, although we live in a digital-dominant world, live events are far from dead. We see unprecedented levels of engagement at our events around the globe, and we continue to outgrow every venue we select, because nothing beats the power of coming together in person to get inspired, learn, and have a little fun.

How are you leveraging technology to strengthen and grow your brand?

My team is in the very fortunate and unique position at Adobe to be the best trialists and users of our own products. From producing all of our creative through Adobe Creative Cloud to delivering, measuring, and optimizing every marketing initiative through Adobe Experience Cloud, we’re able to constantly push the boundaries of our own technology to not only create and deliver beautifully designed, hyper-personalized experiences at scale, but also shape the future road map of Adobe’s products by working closely with our engineering counterparts. Data serves as the lifeblood of everything we do, and one of our biggest goals is to democratize data so that it’s in the hands of every single Adobe marketer, enabling them to better understand everything from the ROI of our marketing investment to what products and features are the most resonant.

How has your brand been central to navigating some of the biggest challenges that your organization has faced this year?

There is nothing more important than a great product and a great brand. Having a brand that people believe in and care about is a company’s greatest asset in the long run, and Adobe’s brand is at the center of every decision that we make each day. We’ve always stood for enabling amazing and impactful digital experiences, and whether we’re focused on building innovative products, winning the hearts and minds of up-and-coming creators, entering and leading adjacent markets, or breaking through in new geographies, our brand always serves as a guidepost to ensure that we’re doing right by our customers, while advancing Adobe’s future as the leader in digital experiences.

What shifts within your region or sector are you anticipating, and how are you preparing for them? 

The explosion of devices, apps, and new media platforms has made every single person on the planet a creator. Our mission is to democratize creativity by empowering every person who has a story to tell with the world’s most powerful and intuitive tools that enable the experiences of tomorrow: experiences that are rich, highly immersive, and impeccably designed. At the same time, we are laser focused on helping every business that is challenged with digital disruption to deliver personalized and seamless experiences to their customers across every digital touchpoint by harnessing the power of great design, big data, and artificial intelligence to build meaningful and long-lasting customer relationships at scale.