Stone Soup: A Recipe for Personalization Using the Adobe Marketing Cloud

This article is the first in a series I’m devoting to the idea of multi-solution architecture; that is, the ability to understand how (and when) to connect other solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud to help drive consistent, personalized experiences across channels and devices.

If you think you’re just going to be an AEM architect in this “digital disruption” age, you’re wrong. Over 70 of my clients own two or more solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud and that’s growing quickly.  Clients now expect agencies and system integrators understand how these work together to meet the marketing goals of their business.

Adobe has a specific role within their organization dedicated to the strategy, planning, and implementation of multiple solutions called the “Multi-solution Architect” (MSA).  It’s such a rare skill-set in the marketplace that within the walls of Adobe themselves, there are currently only around 15 MSAs worldwide.  This capacity gap means opportunity for you, if you take advantage of it now.

The job description for the Adobe MSA calls for expertise in at least one solution of the Marketing Cloud and (for starters), and the ability to at least ‘whiteboard’ which solution should be used in conjunction with one another to target and personalize their experience. So, it doesn’t mean you have to know ‘how to push the button’ on every solution – you just have to know there’s a button to push and delegate to your solution experts when appropriate.

Here are a few key characteristics of the MSA from the job description:

  • Leverage your deep knowledge of digital marketing technology to align overall solution architecture to digital marketing strategy.
  • Become a trusted advisor for Customers in planning, implementing and optimizing cross-channel digital marketing initiatives, creating a digital-first culture and mastering digital operational excellence.
  • Lead customers to place a stronger emphasis on targeting and optimization, apply data-driven insights to fine tune planning and improve digital ROI.

I learn best by example, so I’ll use the solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud as ingredients in the cupboard to make a recipe for personalization following the theme of an old folktale called, “Stone Soup”. This will help you start to understand the what/where/when the other solutions besides AEM should be used and get you on a path to becoming a Multi-solution Architect.

Stone Soup

Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers. Then the travelers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they are making “stone soup”, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, the stone (being inedible) is removed from the pot, and a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all. Although the travelers have thus tricked the villagers into sharing their food with them, they have successfully transformed it into a tasty and nutritious meal which they share with the donors.

Wikipedia, the source of all truth

Let’s imagine instead that this fantastic Stone Soup we want to create is a fully-personalized, cross-channel marketing ecosystem and the ingredients the villagers supply are solutions from the Adobe Marketing Cloud.  If we add the ingredients one-by-one, what personalization can we do? How could each ingredient make the soup even better? Let’s get cooking…

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM)

Adobe Experience Manager is a comprehensive content management solution for building websites, mobile apps and forms


Our first ingredient we’ll add is Adobe Experience Manager, since this is the one you know best. On it’s own, we can do some basic personalization by leveraging the internal Context Hub, which is the new-and-improved version of the Client Context.  Think of the Context Hub as a place to store key/value pairs of known information about the visitor –  First name: Brad.  Last name: Meehan.  Sex: Sure.  Out-of-the-box we have basic information we can key-off of like geolocation and device data, and you can integrate with other services to populate the Context Hub on your own with other useful, custom data.

Once you have the key/value pairs in the Context Hub, you create Audiences and Offers to display unique content for those segments using the values as ‘traits’.  But, if you want to show content for a specific audience that is not at first identifiable using these values, you would have to ask the user “self-identify” who they are.

By self-identification, I mean asking the user to explicitly select their path for a particular journey, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  “Are you a new or existing customer?” or “Would you like to buy or sell a car?”  This works for a small number of audiences, but I’ve seen instances where a client wanted the user to select from a list of over 80 roles to show them different user journeys for each.

Now, if we were cooking in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen, this is where he would say, “Self-identify? Are you f**king kidding me?!”   But you, our trusted MSA, would say, “There’s another way…”


Key Points to Remember:

  • Create, manage, and publish content specific to their audiences
  • Basic personalization functionality using Context Hub
  • How do I know the audience segment if values in Context Hub aren’t available or useful? The user must self-identify.
  • Licensing determined by number of instances

Adobe Analytics

Analytics is the industry-leading solution for collecting, organizing, analyzing and reporting


What if the user’s behavior could determine their audience instead of asking them explicitly?  If the visitor is reading articles about “How much car can I afford?”, viewing current auto loan rates and trade-in values, and using payment calculators, they are likely a buyer versus a seller.  We can use these behavioral decisions to determine the audience they belong to and use this to drive personalization. We can also identify outliers, or anomalies in what we thought our visitors would do, versus what they actually do on our site and adjust our strategy ad hoc.

The key here is to be nimble. A human’s attention span is now less than that of a goldfish. You must determine their audience segment quickly and show them relevant content, or the user will look elsewhere.   I usually give a site about three clicks to find (or progress to) what I’m looking for before I use bad words in front of my kids and bailout completely.  Don’t judge.

I heard a weird statistic that said, ‘of the Adobe customers that own only one solution, 95% own Analytics.’

Analytics is an essential solution of the Adobe Marketing Cloud. I can use my Analytics data to identify high-performing content or assets, and share that with Adobe Target to show offers in AEM using the native Target/AEM integration.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Use it to learn about the visitor as they browse
  • Display personalized content based on their behaviors
  • Determine user segment quickly or user will bounce
  • You can use this on your existing web properties and mobile apps, regardless of the technology platform you used to build it.
  • Licensing determined by number of server calls per year

Adobe Target

Adobe Target is personalization solution that makes it easy to identify your best content through tests that are easy to execute. So you can deliver the right experience to the right customer.

atAdobe Target is the ingredient we’ll add to our pot to automate personalization using things like click-stream data from Analytics without having to manually manage or create targeting rules.  This fully-automates our behavioral-driven personalization effort using AEM and Analytics alone, solving the goldfish issue. Here’s a video demo of the Automated Personalization feature of Target.  Kinda bad-ass.

AEM 6.2 has native integration with Target and you can use audiences you create in Target to drive Offers authored in AEM.  Conversely, you can use Target (regardless of the presence of AEM) to author experiences using Target’s Visual Experience Composer.

You can also do A/B and Multi-Variate Testing (MVT) to determine and promote the best content for our Offers. Meaning, you can test combinations of copy, images, colors, etc to see which perform best to help drive conversions.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Automate personalization
  • Create “personalized” content using native Target to AEM integration
  • Perform A/B and Multivariate Testing. See what’s working.
  • Promote best performing combinations of content.
  • You can use this with your existing web properties and mobile apps, regardless of the technology platform you used to build it.
  • Licensing determined by page views per year

Adobe Audience Manager

Adobe Audience Manager is a data management platform that helps build unique audience profiles to identify the most valuable segments and use them across any digital channel

aamWhat if instead of driving personalization from learned behaviors, you could instead identify and target an audience before they ever did a single thing on the site?  Or if you could show the visitor a relevant, targeted offer in a search results page? Audience Manager is Adobe’s Data Management Platform that allows you to use first, second, and third-party data to create audiences and do cool things.

First party data is information you already own about your visitor, such as if they are an existing customer or not.  But, unlike data stored in your CRM system, data in Audience Manager is anonymized so there’s no Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to secure, manage, or audit.  But, visitors are still uniquely identifiable and have a single Marketing Cloud ID to share across solutions so we are marketing consistently to the customer regardless of channel.

Second-party data is information you get from your partners (like Facebook or Twitter) who are willing to share (or sell) data about the visitor. You can’t argue with how powerful leveraging data about our visitors from their social channels would be to increase conversions.  Want to sell more IROC-Zs? Pull in an audience of everyone who “likes” Metallica, Zubaz pants, and Oakley Blade sunglasses. Done.

Companies like Axciom and Datalogix have thousands of data points for nearly every person in the United States that you could purchase and use to target offers. This is third-party data. And you can mix and match traits to create very specific audiences you want to target and use them not only on your website, but in targeted ad buys.

Did you know in the Datalogix data set, there are 18,708,763 people who can instantly be identified as “soccer moms”?  This would have significantly helped me on my profile.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Integrate with anonymized first, second, and third-party data
  • Identify the user before they see the page
  • No PII data to manage
  • Share audiences across solutions
  • Licensing determined by number of impressions

Adobe Campaign

Adobe Campaign is a cross-channel campaign management tool that helps you improve and personalize campaigns across all of your media.


Adobe Campaign is the ingredient we’ll use to nurture our clients and prospects via email and real-time in-app messaging with the ultimate goal of keeping them away from the unsubscribe button.

How many times have you received an email from a brand that had nothing to do with you? Or it wasn’t timely and therefore irrelevant to your needs? Just this week I received a message from a company with shipping tracking information for a product I received over a month ago. That would have been great to have weeks ago.

Messaging should not only be timely, but be relevant and consistent to the recipient depending on where they are in their user journey:

  • Learn more about our Wine of the Month Club!
  • Thank you for joining our Wine of the Month Club!
  • New Wine of the Month Club members only! Buy one get one free!
  • Thank you for your wine order! Your 20 bottles are on the way!
  • Track your shipping!
  • Back so soon?
  • Rough day at the office?

You get the point.

Unlike Audience Manager, Adobe Campaign does contain PII data about our customers, but  you can share anonymized audiences with other solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Use first-party CRM data to drive email and in-app messaging.
  • Target and re-target prospects
  • Retain acquired customers
  • Hosted or on-premise options available
  • Licensing determined by number of active emails and number of emails sent per year

Adobe Media Optimizer

Adobe Media Optimizer is a media optimization solution that helps you forecast the best mix of search, display and social ads based on your budget. It also automates the execution of your media plan.


I recently saw a banner ad for my personal bank with a call-to-action to “Open a Checking Account Today!” – even though I’ve had a checking account with them for the past 15 years!  Since I’m  in market for a used car, I’ve searched numerous times for used car loans in Kansas City and never have I seen my bank’s loan offering in a banner ad or paid search. Either they’re the only bank in Kansas City that doesn’t loan money or they missed a great opportunity to place a relevant ad touting their lending products. What ingredient could we add to our Stone Soup to solve this dilemma in the future? Media Optimizer.

Media Optimizer used in combination with the bank’s first-party data could have been used to identify me (and the other 360,000+ existing customers) and change the messaging to suit my needs. They could have bid, purchased, and displayed targeted ads in real-time specific to my needs.  

Key Points to Remember:

  • Bid, purchase, and display target ads in real-time
  • Show media to targeted customers only
  • Licensing determined by spend for display, search and social

Adobe Social

Adobe Social is a social management platform that ties every piece of data to your bottom line. Beyond just the likes and follows, manage the deep relationship between your customers’ sentiments and your business goals.

asCommunication is a two-way street and it is important to understand what people are saying about a brand, not just what the brand is saying to them. Adobe Social is used not only to create and manage social posts on various social channels and listen to the conversations to identify trends or new opportunities. This used with other tools of the Adobe Marketing Cloud could offer countless opportunities to proved relevant offers and content.

Recently a client wanted to know if it was possible to monitor social channels for trending conversations then use the most frequently mentioned keywords to automatically promote related content on their own website.  For example, say the chatter on the web suddenly increased around Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Your large, reputable auto manufacturing client has numerous articles on their website about recent awards for legitimately having the lowest emission vehicles on the road.  Probably something you’d want to share now!  You could use Social, Analytics, (Target), and AEM to solve this complex, but useful use case.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Manage social engagement
  • Surface trends on Social channels
  • Target content for trending topics

Adobe Primetime

Not a freaking clue.

Key Points to Remember:

I got nothin’.


So, there’s your first taste of Stone Soup. Part two will dive deeper into multi-solution architecture with real world examples of poor digital experiences and how to solve them. Stay tuned.

Please send consulting questions to


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