Eight years on: Learnings from Adobe Creative Cloud

Today, many of us are familiar with the term subscription economy, but just a few years ago, this business model was much less high-profile. One of the most significant events in the growth of the subscription billing template was the audacious decision taken by the team at Adobe. Eight years ago, Adobe made a bold move, switching to a subscription model and enabling users to access its Creative Cloud apps and services in exchange for a subscription fee. At the time, this was a headline-grabbing manoeuvre, but since then, the subscription economy has boomed. With this in mind, it’s worth taking a look at Adobe’s story in more detail and seeing exactly what kinds of lessons can be learned by those involved in business management.

Many of us have multiple subscriptions, and this is an increasingly popular way of accessing and consuming services and products. Today, it’s not unusual for an individual to be able to list a series of apps, services or products they subscribe to, but the subscription trend is relatively new. Just eight years ago, Adobe set a precedent, choosing to move from offering access to programs and one-time product purchases to a subscription system via its Creative Cloud software collection. The announcement sparked debate, and undoubtedly, there were concerns about how popular the new system would prove, but Adobe has silenced critics and paved the way for a new means of selling to and interacting with customers and generating new leads. The Adobe Creative Cloud is a fascinating case study and one which can teach business owners looking to employ a subscription model several lessons. Here are some of the key takeaways from the Creative Cloud story.

1. Be bold

In an interview with Forbes, Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes spoke about the importance of taking risks in an age when technology is advancing rapidly. As Adobe approached the time at which executives decided to move to a subscription model, Lewnes suggested that people were finding new ways to create and be creative, and the aim was to keep up with demand and enable consumers to take advantage of updates and new features on a continual basis. Moving to a different model was a risky option, but one that enabled Adobe to make the kinds of changes it wanted to undertake to make its products and services better suited to the modern market.

2. Don’t rush

Adobe may have surprised some people when it chose to embrace a subscription model, but this is a decision that was taken after much deliberation and forward planning. The transition stage was also designed to ease customers into the new system. Creative Cloud was available alongside Adobe’s traditional software until 2017. This period of adjustment enabled customers, both new and old, to adapt. As well as giving customers plenty of warning about the proposed changes, Adobe started to discuss plans for a subscription with stakeholders long before Creative Cloud was made available. If you are thinking of switching to subscriptions, preparation is key.

3. Open up communication channels

Communication is one of the most crucial elements of customer service. If you run a business and you plan to make changes that will impact your clients, it’s advisable to open up channels of communication and ensure they understand exactly what is going to happen and how it will affect them. Adobe chose to publish an open letter very early in the transition phase to outline the changes that were taking place and explain more about how the subscription model would work.

4. Commit to change wholeheartedly

When Adobe adopted a subscription model, this meant making changes across the board. The company had to work on the actual products that were available, but also on marketing and financing. If you want to change the way your business operates, you have to commit fully. If you devote all your attention to making one element work, this won’t guarantee success, as other aspects will lag behind.

5. Have confidence in your own judgement

When Adobe first revealed plans to adopt a SaaS style of operating, the reception was lukewarm at best. In fact, a petition was launched, which ended up attracting more than 30,000 signatures. Despite the reaction, Adobe stuck to its guns, and pressed on with the change, believing that the modifications would ultimately provide a better service for both existing and new clients.

6. Set realistic, relevant goals

No business should make radical changes without having objectives in mind. When you’re making plans for the future, identify priorities and set goals that are both realistic and relevant. Adobe established a new set of metrics when working on the shift towards a subscription system and it helped stakeholders to get a better idea of where the company was going and to build confidence among customers and investors.

7. Use challenges and obstacles to make improvements

Even the most meticulously-planned transition can meet with challenges and hurdles. When making drastic changes, obstacles should be expected. While they can cause delays and make the process more convoluted, they can also provide opportunities to improve. This is particularly important when moving to a subscription model because subscribers are looking for value on an ongoing basis.

8. Don’t underestimate the power of engagement

One of the most critical elements of the switch to a subscription model for Adobe was working on customer engagement. Adobe carried out frequent client studies, gathering information from those who were sceptical about the transition, as well as those on board with the idea. Feedback and customer insight played a valuable role in shaping the strategy at the time of the switch, but engagement has remained a key objective for Adobe.

Eight years ago, Adobe hit the headlines when it switched to a subscription model. At the time, this was a brave tactic that divided opinion, but it paid off. Today, subscription services are booming, and Adobe has set an example for businesses looking to make similar changes or to capitalise on the popularity of the model and launch a new venture. By committing to change, communicating with customers, having confidence in the new model and planning carefully, Adobe managed to prove doubters wrong and set a trend, which has continued to grow.