NOTE: This post replaces a post of 8/25/08 in which I did a bang-up job of getting some key facts wrong. Many thanks to Richard Dudley for the correction. I have deleted that 8/25/08 post.
Dear Adobe is a new site established by Adobe users to tell Adobe what its customers need. In effect, it’s a pipeline to the Adobe brand. The site is an example of how customers can proactively collaborate to add value back to a business.
A brand’s customers are its greatest competitive weapon
A brand’s customers are often its greatest competitive weapon. Having sharp customers who care about Adobe products is extremely valuable to Adobe. Such customers can help Adobe maintain a competitive edge, especially as it now confronts Microsoft in major markets.
It’s always better to get wake up calls from customers rather than competitors.
Currently more heat than light
In its newly-born state, Dear Adobe is mostly a torrent of pent-up vents and rants. It’s more heat than light, as might be expected. Its founders say that changes are underway to add more structure. For starters, there’s a Top 50 List. (A few days ago I think this was a Top 25 list.)
Structure is vital, because you cannot build a brand out of pet peeves. Pet peeves are local and personal; brands are strategic and global. The task within Adobe is to sift and winnow these customer voices to glean strategic truths. (Ideally, there would be more brand, fewer features.)
The brand question: what is holding our customers back?
Where might Adobe start in making brand sense out of the Dear Adobe comments? The first question every brand should ask is, “What is holding our customers back?” It’s the brand’s job to advance customers to where they’re going. This is often beyond what products alone can provide. When customers feel unduly burdened by certain products, it’s usually a sign that the brand (a collaboration of company and customers) is not keeping pace with product development.
A brand never wants to be caught between a user and his/her productivity. That can be a sign that disruption is near.
A positive response from Adobe
The founders of Dear Adobe received feedback from Adobe within 48 hours and consider Adobe’s response “very positive.” I would guess that most of the comments on Dear Adobe are not new to Adobe. The company has a long history of extensive usability and user workflow studies, and deep user groups. What may be new is the dynamic range of the comments and their raw intensity, in an aggregated format.
Some additional thoughts on the content and context of Dear Adobe can be found on John Nack’s Photoshop-related blog here. (John is a Photoshop product manager but his blog posts are his own—not official Adobe viewpoints.) Don’t miss the 100+ comments to his Dear Adobe post. Clearly, Dear Adobe has struck a chord.
Dear Adobe is not a suggestion box
It’s in Adobe’s interest not to treat Dear Adobe as a “suggestion box.” That would diminish its potential value. From a brand perspective, Dear Adobe is a collaborative innovation platform. It should be treated as such. Customers contribute more value when they’re treated as proactive brand partners instead of being treated as “purchasers” who may come up with “suggestions.”
The brand imperative
Dell has initiated a customer pipeline site of its own, which it structures and manages to optimize information flow: http://www.dellideastorm.com/. Eventually, Adobe may decide to opt for something similar if its current efforts (plus what it gains from Dear Adobe) don’t yield the results it needs. For Adobe, Dell and others, the brand imperative is to team with customers in new product and process innovations. They’ll be on the same page with customers because they’ll be writing it together.