Adobe Sum­mit 2014 came and went—and what an incred­i­ble week it was. From ground­break­ing ses­sions to inno­v­a­tive speak­ers to elbow-rubbing with indus­try game chang­ers, Sum­mit is, if noth­ing else, always ripe with the excite­ment of what’s to come. And this one didn’t disappoint.

Com­ing off of Sum­mit, I am always asked the same ques­tion: What was the most impor­tant thing you saw/heard/learned? It’s a tough one, but some­thing I always reflect on in the days that fol­low. This year, of course, the high­est of the high points was the Adobe Tar­get Pre­mium announce­ment. Like I said last week, it’s going to truly rede­fine how mar­keters opti­mize every crit­i­cal dig­i­tal inter­ac­tion in their quest to per­son­al­ize their cus­tomers’ experiences.

But beyond Tar­get Pre­mium, there was so much that left me think­ing and reflect­ing on how Adobe is help­ing mar­keters reimag­ine the future of their busi­ness when it comes to all things dig­i­tal. Here’s my abridged ver­sion of what you need to know from the per­son­al­iza­tion and opti­miza­tion track, straight from Adobe Sum­mit 2014.

Data-driven opti­miza­tion is in—just rely­ing on your “gut” is out

In one key ses­sion, “The power of ana­lyt­ics dri­ven opti­miza­tion,” the focus was, not sur­pris­ingly, the need to move away from instinct and wholly com­mit to let­ting the ana­lyt­ics steer the ship. In this “last mil­lisec­ond” mar­ket­place it’s data—not a gut—that should dic­tate all aspects of test­ing, from what to ask and where to look to what’s work­ing and what’s not. And it’s that same data that should inform deci­sions and crit­i­cal next steps that drive brands to suc­ceed. Here’s what to ask yourself:

  • Got any 800-pound goril­las lurk­ing? Think vol­ume dri­vers and ele­ments that may lie just below the surface-level met­rics: page views vs. entry rates and the goings-on of those fringe pages are good spots to start. Find the dom­i­nant page types, sec­tions, or tem­plates and opti­mize those first.
  • Which pages are your cash cows? You can’t opti­mize every page—and typ­i­cally rev­enue is dri­ven by a small frac­tion of your site. Again, start there.
  • Now about those low per­form­ers … High-volume pages not pulling their weight? Bounce rate prob­lems? Rev­enue per page view out of whack? Don’t stop at the descrip­tive data—the “what”—instead, dive into the pre­scrip­tive data, or the “why” of it all.

Once you’ve tack­led those issues and laid the opti­miza­tion ground­work, it’s time to dig deep into yesterday’s data to drive today’s tests. Remem­ber, where there’s gold, there’s no doubt even more gold … or at least some plat­inum and sil­ver. Use the data to drive insights, hypothe­ses, and ongo­ing tests, and be sure you’re look­ing care­fully at those exploitable seg­ments. Drill down on the basic seg­ments and their progress—where they came from, who they are, what they’re using to access your site—and test in buck­ets instead of try­ing to digest the entire audi­ence. Then, like you opti­mize your high-volume, high-value, high-performing site sec­tions first, look at the lowest-hanging con­sumer fruit and see how you can get more from the vis­i­tors already in it, then roll out to the more outside-looking-in shop­pers from there.

The 10-second syn­op­sis: It’s all about an intu­itive mar­keter work­flow, stem­ming from data-driven test­ing and optimization.

Why the last mil­lisec­ond is more crit­i­cal than ever

The “last mil­lisec­ond” was one of the big, buzzy ele­ments emerg­ing from the 2013 Sum­mit, and it remained cen­tral to the themes and take­aways from this year’s pro­gram, too. Why? Because the pro­lif­er­a­tion of per­son­al­iza­tion and opti­miza­tion paired with ever-increasing con­sumer demand for more rel­e­vance, more recog­ni­tion, and a deeper align­ment with their needs and wants every sin­gle time has led brands’ suc­cesses and fail­ures to hinge on that very last mil­lisec­ond. Like I said in an ear­lier post, they want what they want when they want it—which, of course, is right now.

To that end, another core Sum­mit ses­sion was “Math mod­els mat­ter in last mil­lisec­ond tar­get­ing,” which took a com­pre­hen­sive look at the tech­niques and tac­tics mar­keters can and should be inte­grat­ing to stay a step ahead of consumers—even as they bob, weave, and make some unex­pected choices from page to page. All too often, the algo­rithms behind the best prac­tices can seem over­whelm­ing, but after a few min­utes the immense value of Adobe Tar­get and the mod­els asso­ci­ated became crys­tal clear.

At the end of the day—and what I took away from this session—the new mar­keter needs to be one part data sci­en­tist. But it’s the pro­grams like Adobe Tar­get that help bridge the gap between tacit knowl­edge, and the hard-hitting, irrefutable data stores that can con­nect con­sumer to expe­ri­ence seam­lessly. By putting the power of machine learn­ing in your hands—the root of auto­mated personalization—you can be the hero. No cal­cu­lus required.

And besides, the rec­om­men­da­tion emerg­ing from Sum­mit is that you tar­get dif­fer­ent con­tent to dif­fer­ent seg­ments (simul­ta­ne­ously), update tar­get­ing rules mul­ti­ple times each day and pull in unlim­ited vari­ables. Can you—can any marketer—do that? A self-learning algo­rithm gets smarter as it accu­mu­lates more data and can ana­lyze vis­i­tors uniquely and at an indi­vid­ual level, for true one-to-one per­son­al­iza­tion. A human mar­keter sim­ply can’t compete—at least not with­out a lit­tle help.

That said, the mar­keter still has a crit­i­cal role in this auto­mated deci­sion­ing process. Start by iden­ti­fy­ing where to use auto­mated personalization—think high-volume pages and mean­ing­ful deci­sion points for visitors—as well as by gath­er­ing dif­fer­en­ti­ated con­tent. You’ll also have to keep a close eye on the ongo­ing opti­miza­tion efforts and tap into addi­tional audi­ence data as your cam­paigns grow and expand.

The 10-second syn­op­sis: It isn’t you vs. the machine. It’s you plus the machine—and the impli­ca­tions for engag­ing in that all-important last mil­lisec­ond are staggering.

And, of course, there’s Adobe Tar­get Premium

Like I said, this was the icing on my Sum­mit cake. Adobe Tar­get Pre­mium is all about demys­ti­fy­ing the per­son­al­iza­tion process for mar­keters across all indus­tries and knowl­edge bases. And if that’s not enough, with the new sys­tem, mar­keters can be up and running—and mak­ing their com­pa­nies more money—with their ini­tial expe­ri­ence in just a few min­utes. That def­i­nitely got a few audi­ence mem­bers lean­ing in a bit further.

The 10-second syn­op­sis: Let the count­down to June—and the roll­out of Adobe Tar­get Premium—begin.