Business & Strategy
Sitecore Personalization Analytics

Are you ready for Sitecore's marketing capabilities?

Aug 26, 2020

As the market evolves, you, the marketer, must adapt to remain relevant. In your path to digital transformation, you will find yourself in need of embracing better tools and mechanisms to connect with your customers.

The Sitecore Experience Platform’s marketing features offer a very complete toolset to digital marketers:

  • Experience Profile – data analysis at the individual level. User activity is tracked from the minute they visit your site as anonymous contacts and later merged into their identified user profile.
  • Experience Analytics – data analysis with a focus on visitor’s Engagement Value, rather than click-through rates and conversion totals.
  • Path Analyzer– a map that shows the sequential paths that visitors take as they navigate through your website. You can see the paths that users take while interacting with campaigns and trigger goals and outcomes.
  • xConnect – API that allows for search, retrieval, and insertion of data into xDB. Sitecore xConnect helps you to connect data together, regardless of where the data is coming from or what format it’s in.
  • Personalization – an opportunity for both business and customer. Digital marketers can show their site visitors relevant content, as well as drive them to conversion points.
  • Testing – technology that allows you to create variations of content randomly presented to your visitors while you measure conversions towards a specified goal. This practice will help you determine what’s working and what’s not, generate new hypotheses, and test again. As an end result, you will optimize your strategy and your visitors’ experience based on customer data.
  • Federated Experience Manager (FXM) - enables you to personalize content and track goals across web properties that you own but haven’t been implemented in Sitecore yet.
  • Marketing Automation – empowers marketers to control how a website responds to visitors by defining automated system responses to user interactions. For example, it could automatically send an email to a user who abandoned the shopping cart with items in it or increase the engagement value of a visitor who completes the registration form.
  • Email Experience Manager – communication that takes its cues from the history of user behavior on your website and other channels, goal completions, and captured profile data to deliver a more personalized and seamless conversation.
  • Forms – drag-and-drop form builder. Allows for sections, multi-page forms, fields validation, and styling, etc.
  • Cortex – Sitecore features that combine to enable “Contextual Intelligence”: xDB, xConnect, and machine learning – smart algorithms process your data, surface opportunities, and trigger intelligent responses.

It is very likely that these appealing features influenced your decision when you chose Sitecore as MarTech. But getting started with a new tool or new features of this advanced nature can be hard. How do you get started?

You start by assessing your organization’s readiness to leverage marketing features. Once you achieve readiness and have a proper plan in place, you execute it.

In this post, I’ll focus on providing a guide to determine whether or not you are ready to start. We will consider three key areas:

Strategic Readiness– You have defined how your organization will leverage marketing features and have a plan to measure success over time.

Technical Readiness– Your Sitecore solution’s marketing features are enabled.

Operational Readiness– Your team is trained to execute the strategy within the experience platform.

Marketing readiness assessment areas
Sitecore Marketing readiness assessment areas

Strategic Readiness

It all starts with a plan. Before jumping into implementation, you must have a strategy in place. Depending on the maturity of your organization’s marketing, your plans can be more or less ambitious. Adopting a crawl, walk, run approach will allow you to start small and grow from the experience. Sitecore Experience Analytics will help you measure the impact of your marketing efforts.

Few organizations have reached the kind of digital marketing maturity considered ideal. Don’t worry if yours isn’t one of them. Strategic readiness isn’t something you have or you don’t — it’s a process you grow into. The farther along you are, the more you can leverage the powerful features and functionality within Sitecore.

Do You Have a Vision and a Plan?

Do you have a digital marketing plan? Make sure that your digital marketing goals are aligned with general marketing goals, your business objectives, and your organization’s strategic objectives.

Do you have digital marketing goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) defined? Identifying marketing goals is fundamental to track Engagement Value. Additionally, you should have a KPI defined for the most important goals and for each marketing objective.

Have you decided what Sitecore marketing features you are going to start using? Your strategy must clearly outline what marketing features you will start with. Don’t hesitate to get help from consultants if you need guidance determining what features are best to get you started.

Have you defined a timeline? Defining a timeline will help you visualize your expectations over time. Lining up your plan and adjusting it to be realistic and achievable will allow you to prepare better.

Do You Know Your Customer?

Have you identified personas? To leverage personalization you must first get to know who your visitors are. Knowing the who, what, when, where, why, and how is the first step to designing your personalization scenarios.

Do you have personalization hypotheses? You need plans and ideas about the marketing messages, assets and offers that will move each unique prospect to the next stage of the relationship.

Do You Think of Value Over Volume?

How do you measure success? Traditional analytics are driven by volume: number of total visits and repeat visits, total length of visits, number of downloads and so on. But to use the Sitecore Experience Platform effectively, you’ll need to start thinking about value per visit. As a paradigm shift in evaluating marketing success, value per visit has been proven by Sitecore and other sophisticated web analytics to be a reliable proxy for digital marketing ROI.

Do you know what Engagement Value is? The key insights this metric provides is about the quality of the visit and the conversion potential. Engagement Value takes two factors into account: (1) how effective your marketing is in reaching prospects, and (2) how relevant it is to the customer. Measuring the value of visits rather than the number of visits gives you a far more accurate picture of the effectiveness of a given campaign or marketing asset and helps marketers understand the importance and quality of traffic in relation to the website and marketing efforts being executed.

Do you have an EV scale? Being able to score your marketing activities is critical to Sitecore’s Experience Analytics, and it’s something you must have ready to go before you use additional marketing functionality.

Are You Agile?

Can you briefly describe your digital marketing processes? Sitecore’s marketing features will support the implementation of your web optimization strategies, but it is your duty to make the process optimal. Your team must continuously generate hypotheses on how to improve your website towards achieving marketing goals and KPIs, implement them, analyze the resulting analytics, make changes and refinements, and iterate. The key to success lies in completing the cycle and starting over every time, while adapting and evolving to better meet your visitors’ expectations.

Web experimentation framework
Web experimentation framework

Technical Readiness

Sitecore requires a robust and high-performance solution architecture to support the marketing capabilities of the platform. Before implementing marketing features, you must determine your “technical readiness” by evaluating your infrastructure, solution architecture, customizations, and integrations with modules and third-party software.

Answered thoughtfully, these questions can provide a clear sense of how ready you really are to use the specific marketing features you hope to implement and what you need to do to get there. As you make a remediation plan, you can prioritize tasks — not every issue will need to be addressed immediately. You’ll need to take care of certain tasks before you begin, but others that affect only your ability to run highly sophisticated marketing features can wait until you’ve had some experience with the system.

Is Your Solution Ready?

It is possible that your solution architecture needs to be improved or upgraded before you are able to use Sitecore’s marketing features effectively.

Are you running on the right version of Sitecore? It is recommended that a version of Sitecore 8.2 or higher is in place.

Is xDB enabled? In versions previous to 9.x, xDB runs in Mongo. After v9 it can be hosted in MySQL as well. Sitecore’s marketing features are fueled by the data collected in xDB. Having xDB installed and configured is a prerequisite for marketing features.

Do you have standards and best practices in place? Proper implementation of data templates and components will ensure a smooth editorial experience. Following standards and best practices also has a positive impact on your solution’s performance.

Do pages open in Experience Editor? The Experience Editor is required to implement testing and facilitates the implementation of personalization.

Are you using the Experience Editor? If not, the team must be trained on using this tool to be able to optimize the site.

Have you defined placeholder settings? Placeholders settings definition ensures that the editor is prompted to select the right component type while using the Experience Editor.

Can the data sources be changed using Experience Editor? Data sources swapping is required to implement personalization.

Do your pages have the appropriate level of modularity for the goals you want to achieve? Any page area to be personalized must be implemented as a component.

Is Your Infrastructure Ready For Sitecore’s Marketing?

Ensuring a high performing solution with marketing features enabled requires more than just deploying the minimum Sitecore hardware and hosting environment.

Are your infrastructure roles and services properly defined? Your Sitecore Solution Architect must ensure a proper configuration of the servers’ roles and services (Content Delivery (CD), Content Management (CM), xConnect, Email Experience Marketing, etc.) to guarantee optimal functioning and performance of marketing features.

Is your environment “right-sized” for the things you want to do? It is fundamental to have the right configurations in place to support the exponential use and growth of databases to support the analytics that fuel the marketing capabilities. Even if the size is right for your current load, will it be in 12 months?

How will you manage the data you don’t need? As your data collection increases, so will the cost of storage. Defining upfront how much data you need to hang on to, and how much should you move off your servers, will help you avoid incurring unnecessary costs. Ideally, you should have migration strategies in place before getting started with Sitecore’s marketing features.

Do You Need Data Integration?

Do you have customer data outside of Sitecore? xConnect (available in Sitecore 9.x) opens a world of possibilities in terms of the variety of data that can be pulled into Sitecore. It is likely that you already have a CRM in place; an external data store or a spreadsheet filled with client data. Feeding Sitecore with these external data sources will boost your Sitecore marketing possibilities. You will be able to leverage that additional data to better understand your customers and create relevant experiences for them. Consider the time required to implement any integration that might be required.

Operational Readiness

Operational readiness is often the hardest to achieve. It involves hiring resources or shifting priorities of team members to work on marketing features. To ensure operational readiness, you must have a properly trained team, a content strategy, and at least a basic understanding of how to transform analytics into actionable insights. But one thing is certain, organizations who have completed their digital transformation to Sitecore’s marketing features have seen an excellent return on their investment.

Are you ready to get started?

What’s your team composition? Make sure you have the right team in place to plan the strategy and execute it. Your team must be able to produce a marketing plan, implement it in Sitecore, and evaluate the results by interpreting the site analytics.

Does your team use Sitecore editing features on a daily basis? Knowledge of Sitecore editing is a must-have to be able to implement Sitecore’s marketing capabilities.

Which of Sitecore’s editing tools does your team use?

  • Experience Editor
  • Content Editor
  • Media Library
  • Workbox

Do your team use any of Sitecore’s marketing features already?

Do you know the steps to get started with xMarketing? Once there is an understanding of what conversations need to be had and who needs to be involved, then the appropriate meetings can be scheduled.

Do you how to plan for the marketing features? Once there is an understanding of the planning documents and deliverables, then these will get worked on and completed.

Have you received training? Online or in-person? Once people understand how to implement against certain capabilities, the more likely they are to be used and implemented across a site.

Do you hold in-person work sessions to plan your strategy regularly? Working/planning sessions close the knowledge gap and provide a level of understanding that is often missed during more drawn out planning engagements.

Final Thoughts

Seeking to achieve digital transformation, organizations arm themselves with the best MarTech. But often, transformation isn’t achieved. This happens when the need for a roadmap beyond the implementation project is overlooked.

Understanding all the pieces that must work together once the technology is in place will help you prepare for what is next.

Having a strategy beyond implementation will prepare you for success in the era of data-driven marketing.