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All the World’s a Rich-Media Stage

An interview with Sheila Dahlgren, Adobe Scene7 Senior Director of Product Marketing

Load once, display everywhere — PCs, mobile phones, tablets.  It’s the elusive holy grail of digital marketers, who pale at the prospect of building multiple websites and apps for hands-ful of handhelds.  HTML5 holds the promise of bringing us closer than ever.  But in the meantime, Adobe Scene7 has a solution for painlessly delivering rich media to just about every major platform. Benchmark recently talked with Adobe Scene7 Senior Director of Product Marketing Sheila Dahlgren about delivering rich experiences to mobile users via apps and websites.  Benchmark readers are invited to download the Adobe Mobile Experience Survey: What Users Want from Media, Finance, Travel & Shopping.

Benchmark: First, can you bring our readers up to speed on the Adobe Scene 7 product offering and value proposition?

Sheila Dahlgren: Sure. Adobe Scene 7 is an on-demand or hosted cross-media publishing platform that allows you to auto-create, manage and serve dynamic or data-driven, rich cross-media content to all different marketing channels, whether it’s publishing to a website or virally to social pages, as well as mobile-optimized sites or through mobile applications.  Scene7’s dynamic content can be delivered really to all marketing vehicles, including email as well as print.

Benchmark: What types of content are we talking about?

Sheila Dahlgren: All the rich visual content, whether it’s images, Creative Suite files like Flash, InDesign templates, video.  We optimize that content so that you can deliver it in richer experiences as well, because we ship with over 100 standard media players that dynamically serve all that various content.

Benchmark: And you optimize all this content for mobile as well?

Sheila Dahlgren: For mobile, our players are touchscreen-enabled, which is a very different experience than on a website. So if you wanted to do dynamic, interactive zooming and panning, or a panoramic view of a high resolution image, or maybe a 360 degree spin — rather than being click-driven on a PC experience, with the mobile experience they’re touchscreen delivered.

Benchmark: And you're handling all the heavy lifting to make this content compatible with whatever device it's being delivered on?

Sheila Dahlgren: Right.  You’re actually not producing each version one at a time, and you’re not having to do it offline either.  It’s all dynamically generated, every version, once you’ve uploaded the core source content, it’s delivered consistently to any channel.

Benchmark: So you’re essentially solving the problem of getting content onto all these various platforms?

Sheila Dahlgren: That's the real benefit of Scene7, because you can upload that single set of images or videos and Scene7 optimizes that content to serve to your different channels, whether it's to the PC or to a smart phone such as a Droid or an iPhone, or to an iPad, and it's a consistent experience. Obviously different mobile devices require different SDKs and so we've already pre-created those through a rich viewer library.

Benchmark: OK, let’s look at a real example, the Phillips site, one of your clients.  Walk us through it.

Sheila Dahlgren: When you're looking at Phillips, generally speaking all the imagery is being served dynamically by Scene7 to all 57 of their localized sites. All that content is centralized in one place, that core set of imagery. But then we dynamically size that content, so from the home page to the search result page to the product detail pages, those images are dynamically resized into the format for the end-user experience. So when you drill all the way down to the product regional page, you're going to see it goes to full screen, where we stream in the original size images and we actually serve navigational thumbnails, so any small thumbnail image, all those are dynamically sized by Scene7.

You no longer have to regenerate any of that content. Your workflow is simply to upload a single set of, in this case, images and boom, we'll scale across all the product categories — all those categories that Phillips sells from plasma screens to baby bottles to razors.

That consistent, rich experience when you drill all the way through the website from a visual standpoint is served by Scene7. But through a single set of content — the rest is automatic.

Benchmark: Does that apply for apps as well?

Sheila Dahlgren: Absolutely. An app is just a download, so still, you upload a single set of content and we dynamically resize that for the app experience.

Benchmark: Let’s talk a little bit about apps versus website. You recently published a study, conducted by Keynote, to uncover how users are interacting online through their mobile devices?  What do you see as the pros and cons of each?

Sheila Dahlgren: The positive side of apps is that they can deliver a really rich experience — or at least that's what we believe or what developers think. Websites right now are somewhat limited in their rich capabilities to deliver mobile-optimized websites, but frankly Scene7's whole mission is to be able to deliver a rich experience, whether it's a mobile-optimized website experience or an app experience.

Apps require downloads. So the downside of an app is that a user has to download that app. So there's going to be app fatigue — there's only going to be a certain amount of apps that a user will always reach out for, right? So we know there's only a certain use of apps, it's got to have a high utility and a high use to be a good app.

Now the other issue is time and cost. To build apps you're going to have to invest in specific SDK development per device. There is no single platform that will allow you to develop once. But that's what Adobe is trying to drive. Our mission is to develop once and then push it to all devices, whether it's an app or a mobile website. Scene7 already is delivering those rich experiences in both the XML and Flash.

The time, cost and the limitations of the number of apps being downloaded on the consumer side, those are the limits of app experiences. The benefit of mobile-optimized website experiences is you have bigger reach.

Benchmark: So in what situations are users preferring apps?

Sheila Dahlgren: Out of our consumer study we found that the highest use of apps was in social and media and entertainment-type activities. People are absolutely loving apps in the case of social. And actually travel was another instance — maps — that was equally satisfactory whether driven through an app or a mobile-optimized mapping tool.

But media and entertainment and social, Facebooking — people like to use apps to do Facebooking. And people like to do games because they're used to downloading games through an app, because it does provide a really rich experience in a gaming environment.

Benchmark: And when are users preferring to skip the app and go to the mobile website?

Sheila Dahlgren: For shopping and commerce, we found there was quite lag in the app experience — it was preferred by consumers to go to a browser. They're used to shopping through a browser to cross-domain shop and to research.

We think a mobile-optimized website is the way to start, at least at a baseline level, for mobile shopping and for retailers because you're going to have bigger reach. Your user base doesn't all have the same mobile device, and so to reach as many of those shoppers as you can, I'd go with the mobile-optimized website at a minimum.

And then pick and choose, depending on the utilization, what app you build. If it has to be a high-utility use case, then I would go with an app.

We've done research that finds that companies are doing a hybrid strategy — 81 percent will do a mobile optimized website, 50 percent will build an app, too. So, many people are looking at doing both, but they're picking and choosing how many apps they're really going to build because it's a time and cost issue. App-only strategies are only 6 percent —very few of these companies were going to only do an app experience.

Benchmark: You mentioned Flash earlier, and obviously there’s been controversy over Flash with the iPhone, but yet we have a lot of phones now that are supporting it.  Do you just treat Flash as another media player in your arsenal?

Sheila Dahlgren: For Scene7, we deliver all applications, so whether it’s iOS or Android, we publish the richer experiences anywhere.  So yes, it’s just another medium that we also help our companies deliver great experiences to, so not a problem.  We do that today, because, again, we deliver DHML or HTML experiences as well as Flash through Scene7. And then, really, Adobe is committed to offering developers HTML 5 as well as Flash.  What’s exciting is we have the ability to develop in Air, in Flash, and actually those apps can automatically be converted to download to the iOS system.  So you can still develop once for an app, and actually not have to redevelop because you can convert what you’ve done from Air into the right iOS-acceptable format.

Benchmark: Some marketers are creating mobile sites to look just like a native app on the device — “wapplications.”  For example, you can have a native YouTube app on the iPhone or you can have the YouTube mobile site which some would argue looks and feels better.  Do you see many websites trying to mimic applications?

Sheila Dahlgren: Absolutely, I think that’s the whole point. I think that it’s a misnomer to say apps will be the richer experience or will only be the richer experiences.  Coming from Adobe, we’re slightly biased, but we know we can create richer experiences through the browser and with Air and Flash and Scene7 —all these experiences are through mobile browsers, and they’re fun and they’re rich.  You can drive that through the browser.

Benchmark: So what are your recommendations, then, if I'm a marketer and I'm trying to make the most of the mobile opportunity?

Sheila Dahlgren: I think it depends on your overall goal and your strategy. If reach is your marketing strategy, then I would understand your user base and figure out how to achieve that goal. And if it's bigger reach — and it typically is — it's easier to do through the browser.

If, in fact, you're targeting a loyal small user base specifically, and you have a special utility that does not lend itself to the browser as well, then an app. Maybe they're doing some heavy-duty offering or some kind of special tool that you actually need users to download, or some kind of game —I think that an application makes a lot of sense. But then of course, you have to weigh the cost and time issues.

Generally speaking, I think for broader reach, you're going to try to go through the browser. It's somewhat more costly to do if you're going to go after a reach strategy through apps only, because you're going to have to build different apps for different devices, obviously, unless 100% of your users are using one mobile phone, but I highly doubt that.

Benchmark: OK. So what mistakes does a marketer want to avoid?

Sheila Dahlgren: Well again, I love the fact that doing the consumer surveys and understanding your consumer base is so helpful and that's why we've been working with Keynote for so long now, because we like to understand what the consumers want and then match it to what the companies are doing and try to marry up the best practices there to help companies deliver what consumers want.

Doing your research year-over-year is critical, because things are changing and you need to understand the trends, to see what's happening out there. So do a lot of research before you actually decide what you want to do, and definitely set your goals, your planning. Also, I always look at best practices and benchmark across the board who's doing what and where.

As for mistakes, I have seen a lot of people just jump on the hype wagon before they really did think their strategy out, and they went and developed before they really analyzed and had a plan. Generally speaking, that ends up being throw-away code.

I think a lot more people are taking more of a process approach, and analyzing and taking some of their best practices learned out of the PC experience, and applying those to the mobile experiences so they're going to be consistent. Users are so tied to their PC experiences, they're tending to use their behavior in the PC experience and drawing it down to the mobile experience.

Benchmark: What are some examples of people you think are getting it particularly right in mobile?

Sheila Dahlgren: Certainly, Amazon and eBay — you can't argue that they haven't been highly successful because they're the first billion-dollar mobile revenue claims, and most other research that I've seen is that mobile revenue is coming out for a retailer at less than 3%. So clearly eBay and Amazon are doing something right — understanding their user base and how and what they would like delivered through their mobile experiences.

I think that we've seen a lot of great hybrid approaches. I think it's really early on, but Shop Direct in the UK, they're doing a hybrid mobile strategy. They launched with an app for iPad and iPhone, and they will be launching their mobile-optimized sites in Q1, and really their strategy has been all devices, consistent everywhere.

Benchmark: Are there any domestic examples that come to mind?

Sheila Dahlgren: I think that Macy's is a great example, and Sears is doing great in mobile — they've got a hybrid strategy as well. They were doing SMS texting and in-store pickup — some great multi-channel stuff earlier-on in mobile as well, beyond just browser and app experiences. They were using texting and SMS very successfully.

This is an exciting time for all marketers to figure out how to deliver their marketing messages to really all customer touch points now, and reach them in a way that's optimized for that particular screen, that particular device, wherever your customers are.

About Sheila Dahlgren

Sheila Dahlgren leads the marketing efforts for Adobe Scene7, the leading on-demand cross media platform. Prior to Adobe, Dahlgren was co-founder and SVP of marketing for Scene7, which Adobe acquired in May 2007. Under Dahlgren’s leadership, Scene7 implemented highly successful marketing campaigns utilizing direct, online and mass media channels, employing an ROI-based framework for measuring effectiveness. Previously, Dahlgren was vice president of product marketing at Broderbund Software and was a marketing manager for Clorox. Dahlgren holds a B.S. in Accounting and Finance from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.B.A. from UCLA.

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