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.