In the fast-paced digital marketplace, marketing automation is a mandatory part of any strategy. Having a fantastic product doesn’t mean much if no one knows about it, and marketing automation can help get precisely the right information to customers right when they’re looking for it. Marketing automation boosts productivity with a series of tools that streamline and simplify time-consuming marketing tasks that would otherwise have to be done manually, and helps to personalize the interaction with every customer, every time, by providing critical insight into their behavior.
Given how essential this technology is for a modern marketer, it’s no surprise that Sitecore stepped up their game when building the latest version of the platform. Sitecore 9 introduced a brand-new Marketing Automation suite. Like the updated Sitecore Forms, ease of use is the primary focus; everything from the color coding and labeling to the drag-and-drop campaign builder creates a more intuitive user experience. Having worked with Engagement Plans in earlier versions of Sitecore, I cannot applaud this change enough. The new Marketing Automation suite is an improvement, and you may quote me on that.
Easy to Access
First, there’s a button for it on the launchpad. This may sound like a small thing, but I shrieked when I saw it (for those of you at the Sitecore Symposium keynote where I glimpsed it for the first time, hello, that was me in the back). You can still see the plans you’ve built in the Marketing Control panel, but the suite has its very own spot on the dashboard, as do Campaigns and Forms, and I couldn’t be happier. The improvements also mean that the suite is not as dependent on the vagaries of Silverlight, the now deprecated application framework from Microsoft, and I can more easily use whatever browser I want.
Improved User Experience
The color coding and iconography that I’m so fond of in Forms continues here. As a bonus, this creates consistency; it’s not like moving from one design universe into another between tools within the same platform. Marketing Actions like ‘Increase Engagement Value’, ‘Send Email’, and ‘Add Contact to a List’ are in green (as is ‘update consent settings’ WHAT’S UP GDPR). Listeners, Decision Points, and Other Elements have their own section (and in the case of Other Elements each item has a color all its own). The terms should be familiar to most marketers regardless of what platform they’ve previously worked with, eliminating another barrier to use.
Creating a Plan
It's as easy as clicking on ‘Create New Campaign’, after which you’re presented with two icons on a gray field: Start and Finish. Your campaign can start with a Goal, Event, or Outcome (some are available out of the box but you should configure your own in the Marketing Control Panel) or you can use the Rule Set Editor to define conditions under which visitors are enrolled in the campaign. It’s all very customizable – I use the specified rule functionality more than anything else, since you can designate GeoIP, visiting a specific page, or what type of device the customer is using. Disclaimer to avoid any possibility of torches and pitchforks - these rules aren’t a silver bullet, and you’ll need to do some research and experimentation before you find what works for your specific instance.
The drag-and-drop functionality is fun; just pick what you want to have happen next (Goal Triggered, for example) and pull it over into the field. You’ll be prompted to set the goal, and so on and so forth.
There’s also a handy ‘Report View’ button, so that you can see the results of a campaign without having to leave the screen. There are options like Copy as well as the ever useful ‘Undo’ and ‘Redo’. For a more comprehensive walk-through of how to build campaigns, you can’t do better than this recent post from Barend Emmerzaal.
None of this should imply that there is no learning curve. Marketers and strategists who have worked with Sitecore (and specifically with Engagement Plans) in the past will find a lot to like about this latest iteration. However, those who are being introduced to the tool for the first time will need to immerse themselves before the process works smoothly. It helps to become familiar with the rules and terminology of Sitecore before diving into the suite – this includes understanding how to configure Sitecore’s out of the box rules, how to create goals and lists, and how to work within Email Experience Manager.
What Does It All Mean
Marketing automation is a must-have for digital marketing, and Sitecore has not only recognized the necessity of making the tool more user-friendly and accessible, they've built and released a suite that is exactly that. There are still some things I'd like to see added - I'm sure other marketers working with Sitecore 9 would say the same - but I'm impressed by the differences so far and excited to see what Sitecore comes up with in 9.1 and 9.2.