The Six Five on AI with Adobe

By Patrick Moorhead - October 6, 2023

On this first edition episode of The Six Five on AI, hosts Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead welcome Adobe’s Ashley Still, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Creative Cloud for a conversation on Adobe’s vision and strategy to empower creativity through AI technology.

Their discussion covers:

  • How Adobe is enabling and empowering creativity through AI technology
  • What challenges their target market and customers are facing, and how Adobe’s product offerings are solving those challenges
  • An overview of Adobe’s AI-related products and offerings, and what makes them unique

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Transcript:

Patrick Moorhead: Hi there. The Six Five is live here on The Six Five on AI. Dan, we love AI. I’m pretty sure we’ve been only doing AI since November of last year. But it’s been exciting because it is definitely one of these super cycles like e-commerce, the web, social, local, mobile, and the cloud. Exciting stuff, great technologies. How are you doing buddy?

Daniel Newman: Digital transformation 3.4.5.0. It is a horizontal trend line Pat, and it has taken the world by storm. But you and I know while we do definitely trend set and then we sometimes trend follow, we are certainly aware that AI is not new. But it has proliferated into every part of every business Pat, and that’s why we’re here on The Six Five on AI, talking to the world’s most exciting companies about how they’re building, implementing, and communicating the value of AI to their customers, ecosystems, and partners.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, it’s a great time to introduce Ashley from Adobe. Ashley, great to see you on The Six Five. And you’re doing incredible stuff with AI, and I just need to look at Firefly and what you’ve done with that. And it’s one of these head explosion moments. So great to have you on the show.

Ashley Still: Thank you for having me.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I’m looking over my shoulder and I don’t really love that plant, so I’m going to do some generative fill right now. There we go. That way. I always get messed up in those mirror images. I’m just kidding. But I do love all the things that Adobe’s been doing. And you heard me in the preamble, Ashley, Adobe’s been really innovating on AI for some time. And whether we’ve been kind of alluding to some of the products that are very popular on your digital side, but you guys have been building AI from documents all the way to customer management tools, CDP tools, experience tools. You got a really wide swath. I’d love to start there and just set you up to talk to us just a little bit about… Talk about Adobe’s overall AI vision.

Ashley Still: Absolutely. So our AI vision is very consistent just with the mission and purpose of the company. We change the world through digital experiences, and I’m responsible for the Creative Cloud business at Adobe. We aim to enable creativity for all. And to enable everybody, whether they’re a 13-year old with a phone in their hand, taking pictures. All the way up to the biggest agencies in the world to tell their story, to create their vision, and to power their business through content and experiences. And AI has helped us do that for over a decade. To your point, we’re not new to AI. We have shipped just thousands of features that are AI powered across our applications from Creative Cloud to Document Cloud, to Experience Cloud. And millions of customers every day are creating content, making marketing decisions. And reading documents, particularly on their phone, which is one of the areas that we use a lot of AI in ways that enable them to be productive, and make the world a more interesting place.

Certainly we’re all in an era of just incredibly rapid innovation around AI, particularly generative AI. Where AI models are capable of generating content with levels of quality and precision that makes it just really interesting and useful to think about how you build those into creative workflows. And that’s from a AI vision standpoint. Where I’m particularly focused is how do we get to the next step function change in, not just the productivity, but the expressiveness of the people who create content in the world. And how they’re able to do it through our tools that are more and more powered by AI.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, an AI vision has to align with the company vision, and yours absolutely does. And all the way back to even desktop publishing, and this notion that, gosh, we were going to hamper creativity with all these amazing tools. And then suddenly it actually just, it democratized it to more. And that didn’t mean we needed less professionals. We needed more and they could do more, which ended up being a good thing. So along with a vision… what are the tenants? What are your strategy? How are you going to successfully pull this off?

Ashley Still: Absolutely. So first I want to thank you for that great analogy to desktop publishing. We’ve been talking about that ourselves. And it’s very apt because demand for content is very elastic. And we still are empowering humans to be creative. So that’s another really important part of our vision and our strategy, is to enable businesses to truly become digital businesses. Yes, you need automation, but you also need to empower the humans to produce more content that’s on brand. And so our strategy is, you can really think about it in two ways. First, we are producing the world’s most advanced models that produce commercially safe content. Because for this to all be actually useful, it needs to be viable for businesses to use at-scale. Which of course is legally, as well as from a quality standpoint.

And then second, you have to make it available both through APIs and through new services, but really importantly within the tools that people use to create content and tell their stories every day. And Adobe makes those tools, right? It’s Photoshop, it’s Illustrator, it’s Premier. Both of those independently are working, but when you put them together is where the magic happens in the strategy. And you get these unlocks of both innovation, but how we already see customers adopting and changing their workflows. And being able to both express themselves, but also be more productive.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I kept thinking about the immediate conversations that we had to the market when Gen AI started hitting. And the question Ashley was, is it one 10th or 10X? And let me explain what I mean. Is every company going to say, “We can do the same amount for one 10th of the price.” For instance, for the way you could implement generative writing tools to lower costs of comms and PR or creative tools to say, “Hey, we want to make beautiful PowerPoint decks, or we want to make beautiful graphics for our websites, and generative tools can create pages and fill with much less effort.” But I think all the companies that are really going to be dynamic and exponential in this generative, we’re looking more at the 10X. Did you hear that at all as you were kind coming into this?

Ashley Still: 100%. Because let’s start with businesses. As I said, the demand for content is elastic. We see the content needs of businesses growing 5X kind of year over year, because there are more channels. Your customers are on TikTok, every business wants to do more business. And the way that you do more business today is digitally, but the way that you reach customers digitally continues to expand. First you needed a website, then you needed Facebook. But now it’s Instagram, and TikTok, and the ability to truly personalize and target audiences. And in the future down to the individual level, that just needs content to feed that ability for businesses to connect successfully with customers. And so that’s why it’s a 100X probably… I don’t know if you said 10X or a 100X.

Daniel Newman: Well, I started at 10, but I think it’s bigger than that.

Ashley Still: Yeah. A 100. And so we don’t hear customers saying that they want to reduce staff. We hear customers saying they want to scale.

Patrick Moorhead: It’s funny, it’s like feed the need, and what’s coming up.

Ashley Still: Yes.

Patrick Moorhead: And I loved your point, Ashley, on all these different types of content you need to fill the vessel. I’m embarrassed to say when I grew up as a kid, I was classic three channels on TV and now I have a billion that I can choose from. So I love that point. That’s powerful.

Ashley Still: Yes. Yeah. And so what that means for us is, we can do two things with our business. We can make our tools better, which of course adds value to the tools and makes them more valuable. Gives us the ability to expand offerings, expand value within accounts or with our subscribers. We can also do what I call expand the tent, or just expand our customer base because this also brings new people into the market. Because while when I go to Firefly, I’m going to be honest, I don’t create content that’s going to be at risk of putting any creative professionals out of work. It’s not that good.

But that’s because my ability to express design ideas is not as good as a creative. But I can create content and I can share it with my family, I can share it with my friends, I can use it in ways where I can express myself in ways that maybe I wouldn’t have created content in the past. And so that brings new people into the market for content and creativity, which of course is really exciting to us. There is no reason that creativity can’t touch well over a billion people. It doesn’t today, but it can with the right apps, and whether it’s Firefly or Express.

Daniel Newman: You kind of alluded to this, so I just want to do a quick reiteration, but is the target market pretty much, is it everyone? I mean, is there anyone that’s not targeted with some of these gen AI tools, especially those that you’re building for creativity, and of course, documents?

Ashley Still: Yeah. Well, we serve a really broad customer base already. I mean, we have our software is in K12 schools across the globe, certainly higher ed. We sell to individuals, whether they’re freelancers, whether they’re professionals. Or they’re hobbyists, small businesses, medium businesses and large businesses, governments. Right? So we do have a very media entertainment. The film’s Cut and Premiere won seven Academy Awards this year. So we have a really broad customer universe already. And again, the way that we think about this is, how I’d put it, our kind of more sophisticated customers, creative professionals, businesses, agencies. This increases the value of our products for that customer segment, because we’re making the products more expressive, more productive.

We’ve been investing in APIs so that you can actually build our technology into workflows in new and new unique ways. So not needing to access our technology purely through an application experience. So that’s just some of the ways that we expand value with customers. And then of course, Dan, I think you put this really well, we can touch more people. And bring more people into the market for content creation, particularly with Firefly and Adobe Express.

So Firefly, for example, is available as a mobile web application. And so even if you’re just on your phone and you want to create content you can really easily in a mobile browser. And that’s kind of a first for Adobe, obviously our professional tools don’t run a mobile. You can’t run Photoshop in a mobile browser, or Illustrator in a mobile browser. And you can just think about how much that opens up for us for people to engage in our brand and adopt our applications.

Patrick Moorhead: Ashley, it must be a huge challenge. I’m a former product and product marketing person when I used to have a real job. And serving so many different people, you have to focus on a certain set of problems sometimes. What am I going to solve?

Ashley Still: So we have to be really clear about, particularly at the product level, what customer segment is that product for? And what problem are they solving? So I’ll call out a couple. So Adobe Express, that is solving the problem of expanding content creation beyond the core creative professional. And this takes many shapes. It could be a solopreneur, but students use it too, right? Students are passionate about their clubs and what they’re involved in, but that whole kind of really easy, fast, fun marketing is what Express is all about.

On the professional side, I would say the problem that we’re solving is one of scaling creativity while maintaining creative control. Because you really want your designers to have the… You don’t want the text-to-image is too simplistic for them. And in our pro applications like Photoshop, we actually brought Firefly. So Firefly is our family of generative creative models. We are building Firefly powered workflows into our professional applications. With Photoshop, we released kind of a magical feature called Generative fill. The reason why it’s so powerful is it works with every selection tool in Photoshop already. So you’re giving the creator the ability to precisely select that, that’s one of the things Photoshop is so good at. But then giving them the ability to describe what they want. But we don’t just generate pixels based on your prompt. We actually analyze the image.

We’re matching the lighting, the color, the reflection, we’re matching it to suit effectively the intent of the content that you already have open in Photoshop. And then we create a layer so it’s completely non-destructive and you can edit it further. It blows their minds. And hopefully you guys have seen some of the posts on social where they’re like, “This is AI for me.” Adobe gets it. You’re giving me the power of AI versus giving me this over simplistic tool that might help me generate some top of mind ideas, but doesn’t actually help me do real work.

Daniel Newman: So let me take this home a little bit. We’ve talked about philosophy, we’ve talked about your vision, we’ve talked about the strategy, we’ve talked about who your market is, and what your customers are up against. You’ve alluded to products. Talk a little bit about your product portfolio that focuses on Gen AI and AI. And if you don’t mind, talk a little bit about their differentiation. And I’m doing a two for here because I think we can really put these together, but I think as you break them down, it would be good to understand how each one differentiates.

Ashley Still: Yep. Well, there’s one differentiating factor to everything that we’ve done where, because we’ve trained… So Firefly is our family of generative creative models, because we’ve trained that on Adobe stock content where we have a clear license. It is, we really stand behind that content and say that it’s safe for commercial use. For our enterprise customers we actually go one step further and provide an indemnification. And obviously what that means is, if you get sued, we will back you up in court. Think of it as insurance for the content that’s being created in Firefly, which is pretty unique and differentiated. To have the quality that we have, but also a company like Adobe standing behind it. So that’s true across the board for everything we’ve developed with Firefly thus far.

Right now, Firefly models are really focused on image generation, but stay tuned. Our strategy, we are in many different media categories. So of course we will expand Firefly to support many media types, so stay tuned for more as we deliver against that roadmap. And then we talk about the applications that we build Firefly into. The first is also called Firefly. It’s the Firefly web app, and that is…

Patrick Moorhead: Been there.

Ashley Still: It’s just firefly.adobe.com. And that is a creative playground. So anyone in the world can come who has access to a browser, and they’re different modules. There’s text-to-image, there’s generative fill, and we will continue to add modules there just for people to explore and create. And there’s a free tier where anyone can come and have free 25 credits a month to create content. And if you want more than that, you can upgrade. It’s a very simple model.
There’s a 4.99 subscription if you only want more generative credits. Or you can also buy Adobe Express, which comes with more generative credits. And as I mentioned, this wealth of templates, and other ways to create content. So very easy. Easy to onboard, easy to create content, very clear, simple choices. And that’s where we think most kind of consumers will sit with Firefly and with Express.

Then of course, there’s Express, which is an incredibly powerful application used by people both in enterprise, as well as all the way down to small business and students. And we’re building Firefly workflows into Express as well. So there’s text-to-image, you can create text effects, so you can basically create your own alphabet. All of that’s available built into Adobe Express. And again, there’s much more coming, features and workflows that will make express kind of a better, and better, and better application.

And then there’s Creative Cloud, and that’s really for people who want to create professional quality content. And we also have built a Firefly into Creative Cloud. I mentioned Photoshop. We also have a Vector Recolor feature in Illustrator, and much more is coming. I’ll mention quickly, we have our huge conference Adobe Max in just a couple of weeks. So you can imagine we’ll give some updates then. Hint, hint more coming. And certainly that’ll be exciting.

Patrick Moorhead: I really like your market creation strategy. Which is, let’s get as many people as we can to use this. They’re going to love them. That really is the modern way of doing products, doing software, doing enterprise, even enterprise SaaS. By the way, everybody go back and scrub the video for some of the cookie crumbs that Ashley put out there about what might be next with, I think you said, different data or different elements of creativity. I know exactly what it is. I’m not going to say it, but we’ll let you find out. So thanks for coming on the show. We really appreciate that.

Ashley Still: Thank you for having me.

Patrick Moorhead: So this is Dan and Pat for The Six Five on AI talking Adobe AI, all the way from the vision, all the way down to differentiated products, and pretty much everything in between. Be sure to check out our two papers that we’ll be publishing along with this video. Hit that subscribe button if you like what you heard. Hey, if you want to give us feedback, you know where to find us on social media, Dan and I spend way too much time on there. So with this, thank you. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. Wherever you are on the planet, take care.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.