Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, made a bold statement at the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Salt Lake City last week: when asked to select the greater term between two words, design or data, the CEO of Adobe selected design.

A crowd of 4,000 marketers murmured in surprise. For those of us immersed in the world of experience design, this is no big revelation. Without design, how do you make data digestible or utilize that data to create a front-end experience that is delightful and useful?

But this is a huge shift in the way marketers are thinking. I myself am a marketer, however at my firm, Method, we have a progressive understanding of the role of marketing. Successful marketing is not just about the right messaging or smart market segmentation; it’s about the products, services, and brands in which people find value and meaning.

The core of marketing used to be creating consumer relationships with the brand and communicating the brand’s value proposition. But increasingly, it is becoming more product focused: marketers must deliver meaningful experiences. Marketers are part of developing the product, service, and brand experiences that forge meaningful relationships for consumers, from managing relevant websites to informing cohesive service experiences. And we have to work closely with other disciplines to make this happen.

Marketers are driving and creating more content than we ever have before in an effort to connect with audiences in more relevant ways, and we’re looking at more data to try to identify this relevancy. But as Arianna Huffington, one of the speakers at the summit, pointed out, relevancy does not confer meaning.

During the conference, Adobe focused heavily on the idea of the “digital self.” This is the collection of all digital touchpoints where you (or a brand) leave your fingerprints that constitute a picture of who you project yourself to be online.

Blake Irving, Chief Product Officer at Yahoo!, pointed out that today’s digital experience shortfalls are not the fault of a lack of data. It’s a lack of collection of data from the abundance of sources that would allow companies to create truly insightful products and services from the aggregate of the data from the universe of digital selves.

Blake Irving Adobe Talk

Irving began his talk by casually remarking, "I don't know why they bring a technology product guy to a marketing conference." But Adobe is right on in bringing in speakers from different disciplines. Marketing cannot exist without a product or an understanding of the technologies it is built upon. And, as Apple proved long ago, the best marketing is a great product.

Irving also described his vision of a digital world where marketers and experience designers would have to work hand-in-hand. Right now, the Web is command-driven: search for information or go to a website to find content. Irving proposed that there is no existing web service that is doing a good job of driving meaning, noting that meaning and relevance are very different things. Meaning is what makes something relevant to a user, and delivering a meaningful experience requires an understanding of the motivations and desires of a user, which goes beyond profiling and targeting people to serve up ads and content.

His challenge to marketers and their teams: create experiences where the Web is working on the user’s behalf and can deliver the type of content that the user wants to receive, shifting people away from a web-on-command model.

Blake Irving Adobe Talk

As the conference progressed, the trend toward increased recognition of the value of experience design in marketing continued to get attention. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, asserted that design is key to success. “Design in experiences is huge,” he told Adobe’s CMO, Ann Lewnes. “Creativity is a renewable resource and there are so many ways you can come at a challenge. That's how designers think. Design, in general, is what makes applications and the Web compelling. It's what separates the wheat from the chaff and it does all these really important jobs while being successful.”

In my opinion, the most striking aspect of the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit was that the greater conversation did not revolve around the usual digital marketing topics such as mobile-channel strategies, social media, or tablets. Though these are part of the equation, the conference centered around design and how marketers must create value and meaning for audiences.

It signals change that a company of Adobe’s scale endorses the idea that marketers must collaborate with experience designers to create meaningful experiences, and that it should be the marketer’s goal to create meaningful experiences.