There has been far too much written on Adobe’s move to the cloud from both Adobe and its customer base. Some of these tomes are wildly enthusiastic, others more skeptical in their views and some peppered with outrage. Sifting fan boy fiction from the griping of grumpy old men in order to eek out a kernel of truth is a difficult but necessary task when you are expected to weigh in on a technology adoption like the Creative Cloud. My superiors are looking for nuggets of wisdom that will allow them to make costly, critical decisions and marketing tomes really don’t cut the mustard where they are concerned. They are (some might contend) being forced into an arranged marriage of sorts-being brought into a new sort of relationship where they really don’t understand the terms of reference, yet, they are expected to provide a substantial dowry to validate the marriage contract. I am using hyperbole, of course, to illustrate a point and give insight into how some institutional decision-makers are feeling.
While marketing departments can control the messaging leaving a company they have little or no control as to how their intended target audience will respond to those messages. Response is predicated on a many of factors that marketing gurus, often lacking in the perspicacity necessary to provide an all-encompassing view, can ignore at their peril. Decision-making and messaging can often be based solely on pecuniary motives or on a host of mistaken assumptions and this can wreak havoc on the successful uptake of a product or service. That is why companies spend so much on focus groups in order to take the pulse of their customers. Now. Cloud computing seems an inevitability. While it has some drawbacks, the ease of use and convenience of “seamless” upgrade paths has one clamoring for a pen to ink the contract. But, could this initial positive reaction have been misguided? I don’t mean to imply any duplicity. In fact, I would venture to assert that both Adobe and its customers enjoyed the ecstasy of a honeymoon period as they sat down to chart out life together in the clouds. What was problematic, in my estimation, was that we were both using old terms of reference and hadn’t fully considered what this migration would entail. We were all still looking at Adobe as the company who made us great tools–things—products when, in fact, that was all about to change in a very substantial way.
Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the message” When the medium was product it had a clearly defined profile: It had a box with great graphics, CDs, a Manual to read at leisure in the bathtub (Don’t try THAT with an iPad!). As Adobe’s product ecosystem migrates into the Cloud it is undergoing a media shift and media shifts, as we have learned cause VERY unexpected consequences–often in direct opposition to the benefits that were earlier percieved. Take the car–often touted in the 50′s and 60′s as a means of escape and empowerment bolstered with images of happy families standing beside a woody wagon in the great outdoors. Good Clean Fun! Fast forward to today and we are now imprisoned in urban gridlock for 4 hours a day sucking in a deadly cocktail of noxious fumes. Remember the cell phone with its promise of personal freedom and mobility? Why are my students emailing me at 11:30pm?!!! The projected benefits often experience “reversals.” The best thing to do is to probe for potential reversals before you create something so that you can anticipate the negatives and prepare for them before they happen.
Clearly, the Creative Cloud is evolving Adobe away from being a product-oriented company to one predicated on a service subscription model and there is much to be learned about unintended, negative consequences–like customer dissatisfaction–from the mavens of subscription services—the cell phone providers. We all know the anger and frustration of how the user experience almost never lives up to the expectations of a cell company’s savvy marketing and this results in an erosion of customer loyalty and the hunt for alternatives–often cheaper.
Adobe should consider the wisdom of the cell phone customer experience as it negotiates this new and very difficult terrain. To assume that product loyalty will automatically translate into subscription loyalty might be a dangerous and very wrong assumption. Moving to the cloud signals the beginning of a radically different relationship. The process is akin to a marriage of many years where one of the partners announces that the terms and conditions of the relationship are going to change. This necessarily invites the other party to re-consider the substance and merits of the relationship and will end up with one of several responses: A full embrace of the new terms, a grudging toleration of the new deal or an outright rejection of its terms and a divorce. The party that was put on notice, understandably would consider alternatives before making a decision.
As many will attest, divorces are often bitter and acrimonious with significant co-lateral damage to the reputations and lives of the parties involved.
Anecdotal evidence gleaned from water-cooler conversations has told me that there is a significant resentment to changing the status quo and that the buzz is pointing to a lavalife for new technology solutions. My own institution is actively considering, lower cost alternatives where ALL of our monolithic systems are concerned and an educational institutional binder (formerly an ELA) on Creative Cloud would certainly fit this rubric. While ELAs in the old product-focused Adobe actually created significant value for our students and our organization, we are now going to experience a sharp rise in our student pricing from $130 per capita to over $700 per capita for a three year diploma student. This is a difficult expense increase to justify and this has resulted in leading suggestions from administrators pointing to “competitors” to Adobe:
Adobe is a world class company who, in my estimation, “gets” education more than any other company but the latest move to Creative Cloud has me wondering about what some feel has been a “Strong Arm” approach to licensing the CC suite.
I know that it was a deeply consultative process in the lead up to the Creative Cloud release and I know that substantive models of change are difficult to manage at the best of times but perhaps the biggest take-away of all is that Adobe is now a relationship company from bow to stern. The “product” is merely the hook into establishing that relationship. Knowing that simple fact Adobe should now be doing a full-court press on managing those established relationships in a way that leads to a better marriage rather than a divorce.