Sitecore Symposium: Day Two Round-up #SYMEU

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  • September 19, 2014
Steven Shaw

Steven Shaw

Digital Director

Day two kicked off on Wednesday with a very bright and sunny day. Heading into the conference centre it was clear that plenty of folks had taken advantage of the Sitecore party of the year with plenty of requests for coffee! However, everyone was still buzzed to see what the day would hold.

I managed to catch up with a couple of guys from the Developer track to see how they had been finding the event and there was plenty of lively debate on the new scalable data layer in the new version including MogoDB and pros and cons with SQL Server, as well as a lot of excitement towards the involvement of machine-learning using the new cloud-focused options.

Product Track

Optimise everything, and do it simply

The opening session was presented by Nate Barad and Tim Ward, who gave a lively performance referring to the stock images they had used in their personas. The session was however incredibly useful in the approach Sitecore has taken to testing and optimisation.

To set the scene, some statistics from the Digital Analytics Association were presented that showed the scale of effort of marketers and optimisers when thinking about optimisation.

The statistics showed that 50% of their time is spent on data gathering, whilst only between 2 and 20% on the actual optimisation. So, in order to get the best out of the platform and your time, the system needs to handle all the data collection for you, track everything and then present this back to you to formulate ideas, review the data and optimise.

The underlying data system Experience Analytics is covered in the next session, but the message was clear: we have the data, so we just need to support the process to optimise based on it!

The guys presented their work on the testing system in version 8 from the view of personas and use-cases. The first case was a simple content editor that hadn’t really got any experience in testing, so the goal is to make it quick and easy to start testing from the standard process.

To achieve this, the first improvement focused on hooking into the standard Sitecore Workflow system, it’s used by most authors and publishers to send content live, so why not hook into this and start a test direct from the publish? So that’s what they’ve done, as soon as you send a content change for approval there is now a split option of approve “Approve with test” and “Approve without test”. Such a small change but with very powerful outcomes, this means that with every change and the same one-click to go live you are testing your content! What effect did it have? Did it drive more engagements? Did it create more value?

Sitecore Testing

The second part of the submission is an additional screen that makes it really easy to see the change, to visualise what you are doing. Sitecore now presents a screenshot of the change alongside the previous version, if there are multiple versions you get to see them all.

This is where things got really interesting, beneath the screenshots is a new slider, it represents how you think the change will affect the site from a negative, neutral and positive approach. This helps with the new machine learning features that are getting surfaced in the platform, Sitecore has chosen the route of supervised learning, as Tim put it, we are teaching the system from right and wrong.

The whole project of machine learning has been given the codename SKYNET, which for any geeks out there will recognise this from Terminator 2 movie which eventually took over the world!

One of the questions which quickly came out of the discussion, was why would you make a change that you would expect a negative effect from? A very good question, and a couple of examples were given:

  1. The symposium event has now finished, therefore they will be updating the site to remove the registration form, and this means that from the platform perspective there will be a reduction in goals and engagement value from this change. So we need to teach the system that although this is a negative change it’s still right in terms of the expected result.
  2. The second was a more entertaining option, you have a colleague, or line-manager who requests an immediate change, you suggest “this isn’t going to help with conversion” however you are told to make the change anyway, you can still train the system that you are expecting it to have a negative impact and at the end of the test you could give a little “I told you so!”

The next persona was a more experienced tester and optimiser. For this user, there is a SPEAK app that takes them into a deeper view of the tests on site. I loved the look of the first dashboard as it brought a gamification element to testing, it scores the various users in the system on how well their predicted outcomes match with the actual ones. So, you could actually use this for performance review of your own teams to see who is making good changes and bad!

This new interface moves into the more complex area of optimisation by looking for The Best match result rather than a specific Winner.

An example of this, is that you may be testing a button colour between red and green, the system allows you to look further and consider segments and the audience as well as the value it brings, so you might summarise that your green button works best for males, but the red button is the one that really converts for females. In this instance, there isn’t a one-size fits all Winner.

Finally, the session allowed you to look at the how the system will interpret the results of all these tests, and again with the mantra of making it simple and part of the process, you can now simply select the weighting of traffic you want to expose your test to, you might choose you only want to test on 5% of your traffic.

You also get to choose how the system will respond once a test is in play, you can tell it that if it has significant statistical data to support one of the results to put that into play for all traffic/segments etc.

I came out of the session really buzzed about the opportunities these new features bring, how it will empower our clients to get involved and that to test and optimise isn’t out of reach.

Relevant insights using Experience Analytics

The second session of the day came from UK-based Anthony Hook and Morten Søndergård. I’ve seen Anthony present before and worked with him on client project, so knew we were in for an interesting session.

The session opened up with a recap of where the platform had been impacted in the past and what had driven the requirement for change in the reporting interface. The current version has some decent reporting tools such as Executive Insights along with some deeper individual reports but have always lacked in the ability to scale and be customised for each client and the different audiences they have.

Sitecore - Marketer time spent

With the visitor and profiling data all being store in the new Experience Database xDB (covered in the previous day’s session), there is now an opportunity to delve deeper into the system and provide customised reports and aggregated overviews than ever before.

The Experience Analytics is made up of two key parts, the reporting layer and data and aggregation layer. In the previous version, we’ve had the ability to deep dive in to single visitor’s sessions with ease, but when it comes to aggregating this data back up to segments and overall performance it hasn’t been possible. But this is all changing in the new reporting interface.

Like all the new features this is based on the SPEAK framework which means the new reporting layer and settings can all be customised around the platform user and the tasks they regularly perform, their role and what they need to do with the platform.

The reporting interface is a lot smoother along with a similar dashboard view of another popular website Analytics provider. It means that out of the box you can see an overview of your sites performance along with key metrics.

Sitecore Analytics

Customising the reports is made even easier when it comes to your audience segmentation by integrating with the rules engine and list management improvements, you can now define new segments the same way you would do personalisation. The ability to aggregate this data back up to see how the various segments perform on the site is critical on reporting. This is all fully extensible too when CRM platforms have been connected to the xDB providing more dimensions to break down.

The new reporting product will ship with at least 30+ out of the box reports for standard visualisations along with the ability to segment by many different dimensions and timeframes, all great news.

Guest Keynote: Dietmar Dahmen – Do It Now

Dietmar gave a really great keynote on the message of Do It Now. He took the whole Symposium audience through a media rich and passionate talk about embracing the change that happens.

His opening section was on a thought about considering a bee being put in a bottle which has a light at the bottom end, the bee will fly to the light, always pushing forward to the light as it always has done, but ultimately will die in the bottle, but, put a fly into that bottle, it will try for a while but then change, will adapt it will fly around until it reaches the neck again and move on. The bee sticks to the old plan, the fly accepts a new reality.

It is this ability to accept a new reality that will drive companies to change when markets change, you may be the winner right now, but when your market changes, when a new technology emerges when a new channel is created will you be ready to shift or stick to what you know?

Most companies don’t make the jump because they ask themselves “Why?” instead of “Why Not?” Why is static, it looks for reason to change, but Why Not embraces it, it says we need a very good reason NOT to jump in and change.

Some prime technology examples were given including a look at the phone, how it moved from simple landlines, to Nokia and Siemens being the leader in mobile but now Apple is dominating in the smart phone market space, when these shifts happen we like to think they appear on a nice curve and you can sense it, but most of the time they come with a bang and the change has already happened.

Technology is looking towards wearable technology such as watches or glasses, but there are already people pushing those technologies with contact lenses, new sensors and new channels such as sat navs! This very interesting part of the talk was around us entering the age of the sensors, so many devices, so many systems all containing sensors, all that can be connected to understand you, how you are feeling and what we as marketers can do with that information is endless.

If we detect someone feeling drowsy at the wheel of a car, why not alert them on the sat nav about Starbucks at the next station? Or if they are low on fuel market the nearest brand. Sensors allow a new depth of personalisation, which of course when used to communicate to people that have opted in become emotional connections.

“Emotions are the strongest link to your customer, not the technology” was a very powerful statement, especially at a Sitecore conference, but he did then build upon this with that in order to communicate and create that emotion, that’s where you need technology and with Sitecore you are looking to personalise, understand and grow that experience, bring a positive emotion to the forefront.

We are fast becoming a market of Human to Human (H2H), not B2B or B2C, we should treat every interaction like we are dealing with that person directly. What do we want to make them feel? What is the experience that we can create and shape for them that makes them feel great and also delivers to our marketing goals?

I think everyone really enjoyed the keynote and looked forward to hearing more from what the futurologist has to say!

Insight to optimise when and where it counts

Jeppe Grue led this session with a concept around mapping, how in the past we used to create physical maps to plan out a journey, an experience, we would highlight perils and show where you could stop for food and resources. He then led into a great content piece from the View Skegness Tourist board. He took a look at how a simple video clip being created by James May unwittingly created a viral campaign.

James was trying to create a Skegness Monster to put into the shores and see how it would look in terms of quality, unfortunately for the show, the experiment didn’t go too well and the monster floated for a short period before losing its head and sinking to the bottom of the sea.

One of the crew uploaded the footage to YouTube from the beach perspective, showing a monster moving through the murky waters. It wasn’t long until the video started to build in views, was picked up by media and started to drive a wealth of conspiracy theorists to want to descend onto Skegness to investigate more.

Looking to capitalise on this interest, the Skegness tourist board want to analyse the traffic they are getting and see how they can boost their hotel bookings, for them this is the goal of the site.

Upon setting those two scenes, we were greeted by the Sitecore Path Analyser; a visualisation product that will allow us to view and map our online experiences on the new platform all powered by the xDB.  The site was visualised in a concentric ring format, a bit like a web diagram, showing where, from the starting page (in this instance the homepage) where visitors would move next.

As you start from the centre circle you move out to the next layer, the second page on the visit, the thickness of the lines represent the volume of your traffic moving along that step. At the next junction on the line there is another circle representing the page, the scale of the circle represents the value per visit generated at that point, there is also a colour element which shows a scale between red > green, the more green you are seeing in your journey, the more value is being generated, the more red, then that journey isn’t generating value. This simple but highly effective visualisation lets us understand which onsite journeys are really driving engagement value.

As you click on a new page in the web or along the path, you are also presented with a very familiar funnel visualisation of that journey from the start page to now, where there were drop-outs etc.

Once you are on a particular step, you can also identify some of the visitors that have converted through that experience, this is done by bringing up their X-File. The X-File shows which profile matches are present, what value they have achieved.

Jeppe continued the demo by taking us back to the Skegness example, looking at the booking journey it was evident that along the web line there was a break point, a line of traffic that didn’t have any value at the end of it, it was people bouncing, this is our opportunity to optimise, our goal is to move them onto the next page that drives value.

Looking at the X-File of the people who had gone on to convert, it was noticed there was a pattern match for conspiracy hunters, people looking to spend more time at Skegness. So our task was to set up some calls to action on the page where people were bouncing to support the identified profile. A call to action on the left nav for “Uncover the truth of the Skegness Monster” was created to people who show similar matches to the converting profiles.

Using this visualisation technique it’s very easy to now find opportunities to improve conversions and values throughout all areas of your site without needing to dive into each and every page in a spate interface.

You can also segment the path layout using the rules engine again so you can look at how certain groups move through the site and how you can optimise specifically for that group.

Finally, we took a quick look at the Sequence Analyser which gives us insight into how effective personalisation has been and for what rules active on each page.

Beyond print: Delivering rich experiences

Mark Demeny and Hilke Heidstra presented this session on the Print Experience Manger. Previously known as the Adaptive Print Studio, the new version has pushed its feature set to think of digital publishing along with the ability to create pixel perfect print-ready documents.

The new version has got very strong connections with the Adobe print-focussed products such as InDesign, InDesign Server and InCopy. The beauty of this connection allows designers to still work with their favourite tools whilst putting the content and authoring of the brochures and documents into the hands of Sitecore authors.

The SPEAK framework has been used to create two new applications ideal for publications:

  1. Online Document Generator, this workflow allows users of the platform to select from a document template from the usual Sitecore media library and then begin to add content from the Sitecore tree. This solution is ideal for those who deal with franchises, online systems or anyone who needs the ability to keep the brand assets in the hand of designers but the content in the hands of authors. Brochures, Menus and Catalogues can all be generated through this system.
  2. Rendition Builder, the rendition builder is a new tool that allows for the creation of web-ready interactive documents. We’ve seen online page turning software in the past on other third-party platforms, but Sitecore has super-charged this by putting dynamic elements into the document using HTML and AJAX techniques meaning you can have an online magazine, catalogue, all personalised to the current visitor along with direct information from the Sitecore platform, so it’s never out of date, you update the Sitecore content, it’s updated in the rendition output. The other beauty of this is the fact that HTML5 output works on mobile and tablet devices meaning massive opportunity in compatibility.

The guys also showed the power of PXM when it’s used in conjunction with the commerce connect system. Catalogues can be maintained live with data being pulled directly from the platform such as pricing or technical details. In terms of a time and efficiency saving, this can reap very large rewards for anyone involved in commerce.

You can use the PXM system to trigger a personalised document based on a visitor’s journey, the example given was a Laptop service provider that allows a visitor to browse the catalogue and generate a high quality output of the products they are interested in. They can then print this locally or be shipped a professional copy from the platform with third-party integration.

What I really liked about this session was the fact that the team were very much focusing on “print is not dead” the channel itself along with other tactile channels like tablet allow another experience to be shaped with positive results.

Managing enterprise content (DAM/PCM) for engaging digital experiences

The final Product track session of the day was presented by Pieter Casneuf CEO of ADAM software and Bart Omlo from HintTech. From the events leading message about Experience, it was very good to approach this from a resources and asset perspective.

If we are looking to create these connected experiences across our Omni-channel solutions or as Dietmar put it – it’s now everything everywhere! Then we need to consider the fact that one asset for one channel may not be right for another.

Let’s take something as simple as a video, we may have produced our latest advert for TV broadcast, but what about if we need it for mobile? What if we want to display it on the side of a skyscraper? Then we need very different formats. This is where Digital Asset Management (DAM) comes in.

The guys talked us through the solution which is another great example of the extensibility of Sitecore. HintTech have developed the Sitecore media connector that allows direct integration with Sitecore’s asset management system to ADAM. This integration puts enterprise level DAM into the heart of Sitecore.

The integration helps surface usage of the assets across the platform and introduces workflows to help maintain Intellectual Property across the assets. Limits such as number of uses can all be managed and controlled via the platforms along with expiry dates to ensure you never use an assets where it isn’t licensed.

By introducing the control of a DAM you can realise a lot of efficiencies across your marketing activity, rather than each team working in silos, you now have the power to share resources, maintain masters and spend your time on the message rather than channel.

Closing keynote

Darren Guarnaccia gave us the final keynote of the day by a look to the future, Sitecore 8 and beyond, what’s coming up in 8.x, and what we can look forward to on the road to Sitecore 9! He covered a lot of the big features we’d seen over the last two days and re-iterated that we are moving into more than just engagement but real positive experiences, he also left us with the challenge of what we will do next, what we will take away and action as soon as we return to work.

I can honestly say both Andy and I really enjoyed the Symposium, it was good to be part of and amongst peers that are all believing in the difference of focussing on giving customers a positive experience, through whatever channel you are working, if you focus on the experience you really can gain customers for life.

The next stage for us is to get our hands on the new version and think in terms of Now, let’s look to make change and approach our projects from the Why Not? Fingers crossed the next year will have some really amazing Sitecore projects in store for us and hopefully we can be part of the next Symposium as a success story. If you were at Symposium I’d love to know what you took away from it.

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