During the Sitecore Symposium held in Las Vegas in October Sitecore released the latest version of its Experience platform version 9. The new major release of Sitecore brings a host of new features, but in this blog post we are mainly focusing on the completely rebuild marketing automation tool, formally known as engagement automation.
Marketing automation is nothing new in the world of digital marketing; however, it has not been utilized to its fullest potential by most organizations. Traditionally automation is very much tied to the email channel. Nowadays the need to engage with customers in a constructive manner in depended of which channel they choose to interact with your brand is becoming increasingly important, moreover, it is what customers expect.
What is marketing automation?
Simply put it’s a set of tools that automates repetitive marketing tasks like identifying user segments and presenting those segments with the right content in context. A simple example is sending out birthday emails. It would be very time consuming if a marketer would have to go through a spreadsheet on a daily basis and manually send out an email to every person who’s birthday it is on that day. These tasks would greatly benefit from being automated. Marketing automation can also segment visitors based on their behavior, this is done through a decision path that can have multiple automated actions based on predefined conditions.
The previous version of the engagement automation tool was built as a Silverlight application. Even though it made sense at the time, unfortunately the most popular browsers dropped support for Silverlight, which meant that you could no longer access the tool unless you were running an old version of Internet Explorer. With the introduction of Sitecore 9 the marketing automation tool no longer uses Silverlight which makes it a lot more future proof.
The new interface makes building plans a lot more intuitive. Now the marketing automation tool looks and operates more in line with the rest of the platform.
The initial release has a limited number of predefined actions and listeners displayed on the right side of the canvas. Sitecore promised that this number will increase in upcoming releases of the platform.
xConnect standalone service
The biggest hurdle in the adoption of engagement automation was the performance of the tool. With the new version Sitecore decided to have the marketing automation engine be a separate service. This way it should be a lot more scalable. The change in architecture also makes it possible to have the visitors in automation plans being evaluated on continuous bases, compared to the previous version where it was necessary to predefine triggers.
Adding visitors to a plan
A big improvement is the way you will be able to get visitors into plans. In the new version it is now possible to create custom listeners using the familiar Sitecore rule engine.
This change makes the automation plans a lot more useable in a multitude of marketing scenarios. Visitors can be added to plans based on their implicit behavior, like number of page views, pattern matches, location or device. No longer are you limited by using marketing automation in combination with campaigns, WFFM (webforms for marketers module). This also ties directly in personalization. With the introduction of Sitecore 8 the option to personalize based on whether a visitor was part of an automation plan was no longer there out of the box, however these rules are reintroduced in version 9.
Setting up a marketing automation plan
Creating a plan is a lot more intuitive than it was before. The new interface is much easier to use. Simply drag and drop predefined actions from the right-hand side menu onto the canvas. The options themselves are self-explanatory. Select the element on the canvas and the details will be shown on the right-hand side.
The reporting part has also undergone some great improvements. It is now possible to see which contacts are in a particular state. This was possible before, but this time it also shows how many contacts moved through a state and it’s even possible to get a full list of contacts in the plan.
Even though this new version of the marketing automation tool is a big step forward there is still a lot of functionality missing that was present in the previous version. Sitecore already announced that they will start adding additional actions and presets in future versions. The automation options within Sitecore always had a lot of potential; however, it never was widely adopted. Hopefully with this new release that will change and we will start seeing more customers that start exploring the benefits of using marketing automation in their day to day operations.