It’s not often we get the chance to fly out to Barcelona to mix with like-minded clients, marketers and developers but the Sitecore Symposium is just that chance, so our Head of Creative Andy Machin and I have come out to see what’s happening with the platform and what the future holds.
We mentioned in this Sitecore Symposium post that the event has three different tracks and we decided that to get the most out of the event we should each follow a track.
Andy went with the Business track to focus on the experience whilst I opted for the Product track so that I can get a better look at what’s happening in the Sitecore ecosystem and specifically, Sitecore 8.
The day kicked off with the opening keynote from Sitecore CEO Michael Seifert, the topic of “Experiences” set the tone for the event which should actually be renamed to ‘The Sitecore Symposium Experience’ if you ask me!
It was a good talk around understanding how experiences for each customer can drive your brand growth, but if you contextualise those experiences; nurture them, capture them, measure and optimise all of those experiences online or offline; then you can create customers for life.
Keynote – Building the Sitecore Experience Platform
The first session of the product track gave a solid recap of how the platform has evolved in the market from a straightforward web content management system to a fully integrated marketing tool set.
The digital marketing landscape, certainly in terms of tools, software and applications is growing rapidly. There are always new toolsets emerging all with the lure of engaging the customer in a new and exciting way. The only problem with all this choice, is that to deliver an online experience, you need to integrate all these disparate systems which is prone to risk and can of course be costly, whereas with Sitecore, it’s all under one framework.
A lot of the tools that were showcased we’ve seen in the past, but the difference is that they’ve really been pushed, there are a number of improvements and processes that are being driven by consumers and marketers in real world implementations. A prime example of this is the use of email communications for targeted messaging, follow ups, confirmations but not mass-marketing.
What’s next in the march toward customers for life?
The next session was focused on showing what the Sitecore Eco-System contains in terms of applications, functionality and products that have evolved and come together to form the Experience Platform.
The social connector of Sitecore has been boosted to provide a broader offering covering the major players Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube, this has been helped and powered by Komfo, the social media marketing agency.
One of the core concepts for the new version of Sitecore is the use of connectors, this is a real step-change for Sitecore to open up the platform for scalability and extensibility with the opportunity for partners and developers to connect in to the underlying framework and develop their own apps.
There was also our first look at the Federated Experience Manager (FXM) which allows Sitecore to be integrated across third-party sites that aren’t running Sitecore, but I’ll cover this in a later section.
There’s also been a major overhaul of the UI for Sitecore, moving away from the Windows XP style interface to a sleeker web-UI, all powered by Sitecore’s SPEAK SDK. The SPEAK SDK allows developers to create task driven “apps” for the new launch pad that drives smarter ways of working with the platform by focusing on the unique parts each customer has and making their lives of using Sitecore easier.
An enterprise search system is also now in line for the future versions thanks to Coveo, which allows deep search mechanics not just front end consumers on content search but faceted search, weighting and more on the administration from too.
The session was led by Mark Floisand, we actually chatted with him during lunch purely by chance of sitting on the same table and had a pretty good chat about how the platform is evolving and making it easier to have a single customer view and platform that can be connected. It’s clear his experience and this level of leadership in the platform is driving some real change.
The power of a single customer view: Sitecore Experience Database
The session on the Sitecore Experience Database or XDB gives a new structure and extension to existing visitor and customer profiling.
With the XDB you can look to bring a connected solution including online and offline data together, you can cross channels, CRM data and customer activity and visualise it using the Experience Profiler.
Included in the new XDB is a more fully feature list management and segmentation system. In the past these have primarily been used for the email marketing lists but in Sitecore 8 you get to have your static list of data and then segment based on your profiles and deeper insight, what this means is the segmentations can be used in personalisation and customer assignment to different segmentations can change in real time.
For example you could create a segment of people who have ordered two products and another for those that order three and have complete different experiences for each group and have people progress through them. This aggregation of the data is what’s really driving the power in knowing the individual but use trends to predict how we can affect them.
Another update in terms of XDB is the introduction of a new concept of “Outcomes”. Sitecore already uses the term goals, which can be visualised as achieving at task, for example logging in, filling in a form etc., but an Outcome is much more than a goal, it’s something that contains more goals and really drives what is the ultimate Outcome of your experience. I particularly liked the terminology that goals are signposts towards our Outcome.
Keep the customer at the centre of your marketing efforts with Sitecore’s Federated Experience Manager
A really exciting session in terms of feature and functionality is the Federated Experience Manager (FXM). A very simple concept, if I own Sitecore but have other sites, microsites, campaigns or activity online that are not on the same platform; a PHP site build for example, how can I connect these together to get a single view of my customers and their experience? Enter FXM.
One of the interesting stats from the presentation was that on average a prospect uses at least six channels before making any decisions, so the more you are involved in those channels and understanding the experience, the better you can anticipate the customer’s needs and give them relevant experiences.
Once you’ve added the code to your secondary site, you are ready to start gathering visitor data, sessions, profiles matching all the same information you have in your Sitecore site. This is very powerful, as you now have sight of how your customers engage on different channels, it could be your mobile app, your WordPress blog site or other interface.
Things start to get really fun when you go into the Experience editor (formerly known as Page Editor) and see the site, you can begin to add goals, events and tracking to the secondary site.
In the example we were shown, we were able to use the rules engine to inject content directly into the page content just by using the same processes we would on a full Sitecore site, you highlight the page element you want to personalise, select either add to, replace or remove the HTML element and then set up your new item all direct from your existing Sitecore implementation. Another win for create once use-many object nature inherent in the platform.
FXM is available for Sitecore 7.2+ so definitely worth getting hold of from SDN and getting a look at the tool, even if it’s just internally.
Content + Digital Marketing + Commerce = the total brand buying experience
The final session of the day was the integration of Commerce Server into the Sitecore system. Commerce Server is a very mature product that has a wealth of features for delivering enterprise level ecommerce.
Sitecore has taken a strategic approach to integrating the transactional side of an experience into its platform through a process of “Commerce Enablement” what this means is that they have developed a connector interface that reaches all elements of the platform to engage on a commerce based journey. This connector is what is/will be used by the likes of uCommerce to provide a different product offing in the Sitecore ecommerce space.
The real benefits of the Commerce Server integration start to become clear when taking in the wider context of an experience. When customers transact online, they rarely have a single interaction, they read reviews, they want social proofing, they want to engage along with the brand first so putting an experience into ecommerce and making it measureable is the real holy grail.
The commerce enablement takes each of the Sitecore features such as content, profiling, personalisation and more and add a transactional element to it. For example, when someone visits the site we can use the predictive behaviour to see if they are a pre or post purchase customer? We can see trend analysis to find which gateway products drive most conversions or repeat customers.
All of the commerce management is done through the same Sitecore SPEAK interface as the whole content system, so there’s no overhead in picking up new technology for existing customers.
Taking the catalogue element within the content editor allows you to do all the same elements you would on a content item. You can create pricing structures based on profiles, you can create language catalogues from your default master. All very scalable and powerful.
It’s clear the Commerce Server solution is aimed at the enterprise and Sitecore are actively promoting their integration partners to develop SME appropriate solutions which is a great space for the Sitecore Eco system to drive competitive feature growth.
One of the benefits of attending the event is we are getting exclusive early access to the technical preview of Sitecore 8. So we actually get to be hands-on with the new tools and interfaces and give feedback ready for the full release at the end of year.
To top off Day One, Sitecore hosted an event at the Maritime Museum, showcasing some great entertainment of Spanish music, Flamenco dancing and live vocals. I didn’t know what to expect from the event to be honest it has been unexpected but in a very good way, very interesting and the scale of the event very pleasing, it shows a new way to approach the digital experience. So we had an end to a great day with some tasty Spanish treats, a few drinks and I’m ready for day two!