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Adobe’s $200 Billion Unshakeable Moat

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Few brands can boast of being able to avoid disruption. Fewer still can boast of building a tailwind on the wings of it.

Adobe is a perfect example of a brand that had to change in order to grow. At the point of change is where the magic begins.

$11.17 billion! That’s how much revenue Adobe pulled in 2019 alone.

Every December since 2015, Adobe has hit a new revenue record, even ending 2019 with a remarkable 23.7 percent year-over-year growth!

As of today, Adobe boasts of:

  • 4 billion backlinks
  • 57 million+ organic visits a month
  • 917,000 YouTube subscribers
  • Rank for 15 million+ keywords
  • 6 million combined Twitter followers
  • $39 million+ worth of organic traffic
  • $220+ billion Market Cap

So, how did they go from hovering in the $4 million revenue mark for four years to breaking revenue records every year since 2015 — all while pulling in almost three times their 2014 revenue in 2019 alone?

This is the complete breakdown of the marketing strategy that helped Adobe make one of the most remarkable business pivots of the last decade and cement themselves as titans to their competition in the creative industry.

In this breakdown, you’ll learn:

  • How Adobe pulled off a pivot from box licenses to the cloud
  • The power of community for branding
  • The role UGC has in building their competitive edge
  • How the brand uses SEO to strengthen its position
  • And so much more

Let’s dive right in.

How Adobe Avoided Technology Disruption

Adobe categorization

 

These are just some of the products offered by Adobe, as listed on its website. You probably can’t tell from this screenshot but notice some of the categorizations:

  • Creativity and Design
  • Marketing and Commerce
  • PDF and Signatures
  • Additional Services

Did they always start out with this clear-cut vision?

Let’s rewind to 1982. Adobe started with a focus on the creation of multimedia and creativity software products. Cut to 2020, they’ve adjusted to the current trends and market and made a foray into the digital marketing software world.

Do you remember the time when Adobe products came in a box? It was pricey. For example, buying a perpetual license of Photoshop would cost you $699— which made it restrictive for a particular set of people, say, students and freelance designers.
When the entire enterprise world was moving to the cloud, Adobe saw an opportunity, acted on it promptly, and adopted the SaaS model in 2013. Adobe products were now cheaper and the customers could stop using them whenever they wished. This resulted in them adding 4 million new users in two years.

Adobe Revenue by Revenue Model

Thirteen million customers had purchased the boxed software before Adobe switched to cloud licensing for only $10 per month. Adobe made this rapid transition by ripping the bandaid and stopped offering support for the licensed products.

As expected, the revenue dropped from 2011 through 2014 as the up-front earnings from boxed software ended, but eventually, the recurring revenue model began to yield profits.

By the end of 2024, Creative Cloud is forecasted to have 19.74 million subscriptions.

Adobe’s success has also been attributed to smart acquisitions. These include Macromedia in 2005, which gave them entry to Flash, or Magneto, Marketo, or most recently Workfront.

While the majority of Adobe’s earlier products were focused on catering to graphic design only — eventually, they learned that to be more valuable and irreplaceable, they had to expand their offerings to new verticals within the marketing and creative function. More recently, they’ve started to focus on providing  Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven solutions to the entire marketing team, calling it ‘Experience Cloud’.

This strategy of bundling software and delivering them at a lower cost has proven favorable for Adobe. When enterprises choose vendors, they would rather deal with one vendor who can provide increased value than pile up more vendors.

Adobe’s wide portfolio of products gives rise to the million dollar question, “How are they managing support for all the products?”

SaaS customer support is no joke. But Adobe is managing Photoshop, Acrobat, Reader, Illustrator, Spark, Reader, Advertising Cloud, Magento, Behance, and more with excellence and ease, thanks to the active community they’ve built over the years.

Community Building: Branding like Adobe

Adobe understands the power of community.

Adobe has built its community from the start by creating strong bonds with their users. Whether it’s through social media or good ol customer support – Adobe has had its finger on the pulse of the design and creative community for years. As a result, grassroot communities have popped up in a wide variety of different ways. There are Facebook group’s dedicated to learning How to Use Photoshop (160 thousand members) and groups’ for people who just like using Photoshop to Troll & be entertained (61 thousand members).

Recognizing the passionate community, Adobe launched its own section on their site where people can log in and discuss everything from Photoshop to Illustrator.

 

There are a huge, engaged mix of Adobe users and employees who are all committed to providing value to the community at large.

Members of the Adobe support community have badges, which are earned by their experience and contribution to the community. From helping fellow Adobe Photoshop designers understand how to use certain filters and features to Adobe XD users talking about prototyping challenges – the community is a place to get answers to questions.

The badges make contributors and users feel both valued, which in turn encourages them to become advocates for Adobe products making customer retention and upselling a more organic experience.

Online forums and communities can also act as a self-service customer support arm for the business. Community-driven customer support can boost customer relationships amongst one another and offer the brand an extended collection of brand advocates.

The brand advocates and community members feel connected to the company and as a result they’re more likely to stick around and continue to pay for their services. A simple support ticket can turn into a conversation and that conversation can create a lasting relationship with Adobe as a brand.

The community forum on the Adobe website generates more than 15 million visits a month and it’s estimated that the average visit is more than four minutes. As a collective, that’s a lot of time being spent engaging with other Adobe customers to discuss their product.

These are some of the benefits of a great community:

  • Brand communities create loyalists through social proof and stronger networks
  • They offer a self-service customer support environment where people find answers and get responses from experienced users for free (for your brand)
  • The brand can glean first-hand consumer insights to help improve their product
  • Customers effectively use the product  and fall in love with it faster
  • The relationship between brand and audience is strengthened with every post

Brilliant, isn’t it?

But this isn’t where the power of community content ends for Adobe.

User-Generated Content: Adobe’s Secret Super Power

User-generated content (UGC) is an area that B2B companies often find hard to navigate.

Not for Adobe.

In a recent study, Stackla found that 79 percent of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions, yet only 13 percent said content from a brand is impactful and a small eight percent said influencer-created content would highly impact their purchasing decisions.

UGC is more relevant now than ever but often seen as something limited to B2C. Unboxing videos, makeup tutorials, morning tech routines, recipe bloggers, etc. make up the mindshare of what people envision when they think of user-generated content but in B2B user-generated content is just as powerful.

User-generated content is any content created and contributed specifically by users of your brand. The content is usually unpaid and can appear in many different formats.

As a tool that empowers and enables creatives to create things — Adobe has an unfair advantage when it comes to user-generated content.

Why?

Because some of the most interesting and inspiring creations can come from people using their tools. This is the backbone of a flywheel experience that offers Adobe the opportunity to use the work of their customers to inspire and acquire more customers.

The Adobe community contributes to the Adobe flywheel through mostly visual content.

You can scroll through their Twitter feed and quickly be blown away by the art.

Adobe proudly exhibits and celebrates the work of their product’s users on every Twitter handle they maintain (there are 23 of them).

Here’s how the flywheel works:

Someone creates a beautiful graphic using Adobe Photoshop.

That graphic is something that the user is proud of after putting in hours and hours into creating it. The creator then promotes that piece of content on their social media and catches the attention of Adobe. This is where it gets interesting. Adobe then shares that content with their existing audience which (1) makes that customer happy and (2) inspires their followers to see what amazing work can be done using their product. As a result, more of their followers are inspired to create and use Adobe products to create their own work. If one of those followers are now inspired to create, in fact, create something that once again catches Adobe’s attention – the cycle continues.

Take a look at Adobe’s Instagram – one of the best examples of utilizing well-curated, user-generated content for social campaigns.

With the hashtag #Adobe_Perspective, they source and repost content from creators who have used Adobe products to create stunning photographs and art.

This encourages engagement and interaction with their followers, thereby enhancing the relationship with their dedicated users:

If you’re not integrating user-generated content into your marketing, you’re missing out on a powerful opportunity that can build a level of trust far deeper than any brand campaign, acting as a powerful endorsement for your brand, and ultimately driving more sales.

This is especially true if you have a product that enables people to create.

Some Simple Techniques for Levelling up your UGC:

Define the purpose of your UGC

Know your ‘why’ clearly. This helps define clear goals and track the outcomes of your campaign. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? Do you want more leads? More sales? More followers? Start here.

Define your audience very clearly

Know exactly who your brand advocates are and who your target audience is. This will help ensure that you’re aligning your amplification efforts for UGC with your audience’s interests.

Promote community

UGC isn’t limited to social media alone. Harness the power of a community, like Adobe has, to keep the connection going well beyond campaigns.

Adobe’s commitment to UGC as a part of its marketing mix goes beyond most. In 2012, Adobe acquired Behance for $150 million which at the time was a one million member platform but today is a 23 million strong platform for creative professionals to showcase their own work and to discover the work of others.

Adobe SEO: Wins, Gaps, and Opportunities

Photoshop is one of the first software companies that became a verb.

“Photoshop this image” has become common parlance.

In fact, “Photoshop” has been added to the Merriam Webster dictionary to describe the act of altering or manipulating an image. Wild, right? Talk about having a brand moat.

Photoshop was launched in 1990 and since 1992 it has essentially replaced the idea that we have in our mind when we’re looking for “graphic design software”. The search volume for “photoshop” has been higher than the search volume for the category as a whole since the early 90s. That’s quite the feat:

Adobe’s strength and dominance in branded search is real.

When people want a tool to help them edit an image, they search for “Photoshop” more than they search for “Photo Editing Software.”

This is the moat that Adobe has built through the brand’s deep connection with designers, and the longevity and quality of their products. It translates into traffic being acquired by their site on a regular basis. More than 62 percent of all Adobe traffic (which is 410 million visits) comes directly from people looking for something to do with Photoshop-related products.

If people are searching for your products by name it is likely that they’re deep in the sales funnel or they have already complete mindshare (Adobe’s case). Some studies found that branded keywords have over two times higher conversion rates when compared to non-branded terms. Often, branded search terms are the last touchpoint for potential customers who are ready to convert.

How has Adobe responded to the branded search volume of Photoshop being higher than the search volume for variations of graphic design software?

They have an Adobe.com URL for Photoshop and a Photoshop.com domain. Adobe runs ads against its own branded search (twice). And they now rank both first and second in organic search.

Coincidence?

Not if you want to own the knowledge graph and the SERPs.

This is what we call SERP Dominance.

Solution-Based Keyword Targeting

When you rank for your brand but overlook long-tail keywords (keywords with low search volumes) that your customers use when they’re looking for solutions, you’re leaving money on the table.

Adobe knows that while a large group of people searches for Photoshop, there’s also a sizeable group that searches for “photo editing software” (60,500 per month).

So Adobe created a landing page for that.

While Adobe’s photo editing software landing page ranks on the first page of Google, it ranks in the 7th position. This is because Google knows that their landing page is a sales page and most people conducting this search are in the discovery not buying stage in their lifecycle.

Thus, the articles that provide side-by-side comparisons of the various photo editing software options outrank the pure-play sales page. At the same time, not ranking number one doesn’t make this a failure by any measure. This page ranks for 354 keywords and is in the top 50 amongst all of them.

YouTube SEO: Leaving no Stone Unturned

What’s the second most popular search engine?

YouTube.  Adobe doesn’t sleep on this reality when it comes to influencing buyers and the community at large.  The Adobe Creative Cloud YouTube channel has 962,000 followers and has more than 180 million views.

We all know that YouTube is the education platform for creators. It’s where people go to learn many things. It’s commonly used for knowledge transfer and uncovering explanations on difficult topics. It is no wonder Adobe has created a ton of ‘How-To’ videos.

Some examples of these videos include:

  • How to make a double exposure effect in Photoshop
  • How to make a minimal vector portrait with Adobe Video
  • How to apply a realistic tattoo in Photoshop
  • How to create a duotone effect in Photoshop

Each of these videos are under one minute long and have over 600 thousand views.

Adobe recognizes the power of YouTube and how it can be used to educate customers.

Here’s a few things Adobe does right:

High Quality Thumbnails For YouTube

Adobe has the advantage of having the best designers and creative minds in their cache.

It’s no wonder their thumbnails look the way they do. As you can see above, the images are attention grabbing and creative. This approach allows Adobe to stand out amongst other videos on YouTube that tend to follow very similar design patterns. This is what we call pattern disruption.

Keyword Rich and Conversion Driven Descriptions

This video has 592,000 views.

The description section of this video is perfectly optimized.

What it does right:

  1. Links to relevant resources
  2. Ends with a call to action
  3. Provides value on its own
  4. More than 200 words
  5. Downloadable ZIP

Wrapping up

The world of SaaS is moving fast and right now…

The companies within it are moving faster than ever.

New entrants to the market are competing with Adobe and attempting to build backlink empires with the goal of knocking down a giant. Adobe has invested intently in creating a moat around their business leveraging a combination of a creative business model, diversified products, a sticky community and a brand reputation that carries significant weight.

But more than anything a key differentiator that Adobe has over new entrants is lasting power.

Adobe has never been in it for a quick sale.
Adobe has never been in it for a quick win.

Adobe is striving and has successfully created a business that could very well last years beyond you and I being on this plant. And if that happens… It’s quite the feat.

As you think about your next steps, keep in mind that the game can be as long as you’d like. You can strive to create a marketing engine that gets you on the front page of TechCrunch tomorrow or you can strive to create an engine & community that will live years beyond your tenure.

Most will choose the former. But the greats…

Will choose the latter.

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