My talk at the 7th Sitecore Strategy MVP webinar

I was delighted to present a Horizontal case study from a mobile app personalisation project that we worked on for one of our financial clients at the 7th Sitecore Strategy MVP Advisory Council (SMAC) webinar on 7th September.

Watch it below from 1:35 – 15:50 mins.

Posted by Rob in Speaking, Tech

How Sitecore’s Automation Tools Can Make Personalisation Easier

15th August 2021

Personalisation is hard. But as American educator, author and politician, Hamilton Holt once said, “Nothing worthwhile comes easily”. Most companies today are aware of the value behind understanding their customers better and showing them relevant content. According to Forrester, 89 percent of digital businesses are investing in personalization. But a study they conducted found that only one in five organizations are effective at personalizing content at-scale, despite personalisation being the top success factor for customer and prospect engagement.

So it’s clear that companies need a hand with personalisation. Good thing Sitecore is there to help. At a recent webinar on ‘Leveraging Automation and AI for 1:1 Engagement’ representatives from Horizontal Digital and Sitecore laid out how Personalisation can be made easier by Sitecore’s new Automation and Machine Learning solutions.

What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?

While there is seemingly constant innovation in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Automation, it’s important not to get carried away with the hype, and really delve into how exactly these technologies might help your business rather than simply engage in a box-ticking exercise. Whatever technology you are looking to utilize to improve your business, ultimately it’s a means to an end. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Automation is no different. Horizontal’s George Smith, Regional Managing Director MEIA elaborates, “AI is not a solution in itself, it is a way of solving particular problems. You’ve got to acknowledge what the business challenge that you’re trying to solve is. There is always some deeper problem that you are attempting to solve with AI”.

This is where Sitecore comes in, with a range of new tools that utilize AI, ML and Automation that can make Personalisation a whole lot more accessible and effective. Smith expands, “Sitecore AI’s objective is continuing to fulfill the promise that Sitecore has always had of real-time personalisation – that ability to orchestrate customer experiences around not just a generic user, but an individual in real-time, at that moment showing them the content and functionality and messaging that will convince them to purchase. Sitecore AI makes that process easier for any size of marketing department in any organization”.

The History of Personalisation in Marketing

If we think of marketing as having three stages – Strategy, Operations, and Learning – we can look at how the opportunities for Personalisation for each has really changed over the last few years:

  • The past – Traditionally speaking, every type of Personalisation was manual. Whether that be across Strategy, Operations or Learning, only brands with significant resources could afford to justify treating each customer as an individual.
  • Today – Many Operations of the typical marketing department can be automated today – a lot of the content management, online sales and marketing operations can be controlled and delivered in a Personalised way by Sitecore for example. But Strategy and Learning are still manual processes. From a Learning point of view, whether that’s looking at the analytics, looking at segmentation, experimenting and testing, basically anything that relates to constantly understanding and refining your knowledge falls into this category. Because over time, trends change and consumer segments change etc. no organization can afford to stand still and must continuously be Learning.
  • Tomorrow – We’re at the stage now where AI has begun to take over the Learning aspect of Marketing Personalisation. Things like auto-segmentation, auto-testing, and auto-personalisation let brands focus on Marketing Strategy, with campaign concepts and creative work that people do much better than machines. Sitecore can finally handle the Operations and Learning process and let the Marketing Department focus on Strategy

Smith continues, “This is not about getting a robot to run your organisation. It’s about the division of labour – let machines do what machines do best, and let people do what people do best. You’re always going to need that human touch. Lets stop getting creative and innovative marketers to do CMS administration and figure out how complicated workflows in the back-end of a system work. Lets allow the system to do that. Lets allow machines to recognise patterns that humans can’t even see in terms of segmenting customers, and lets bring all that insight together so it can be used by humans in creative pursuits, in campaign creative and marketing strategy”.

Sitecore’s New Automation Tools

It’s an exciting time for brands that realise the importance of the Customer Experience on digital channels. Platforms like Amazon and Uber have raised the bar when it comes to providing customers with fast and tailored experiences and users now expect this type of treatment from any brand they interact with in a digital setting. As Smith outlines, “Fundamentally, these tools are for organisations that understand that their future competitive advantage, the thing that is going to differentiate them from their competitors, is no longer to be found in the way that they produce their products, but in the way that they can orchestrate consumption experiences. The moment you realise that your Customer Experience is your Competitive Advantage in a digital economy is the moment you should realise that you need Sitecore. It is the best digital experience platform in the world, from content to commerce”. These new tools from Sitecore can help your organisation make this a reality:

  • Sitecore Cortex – This tool combines advanced machine learning algorithms and an innovative machine learning engine to deliver real-time insights across both native and third-party customer data. It does everything from automated segment and audience discovery, attribution analysis and automated content tagging. If you are an organization that has a team of data scientists, and you can use the raw data, Cortex is a tool that lets you take all that raw data and put it to work.
  • Auto-Personalisation – If you don’t have a team of data scientists, don’t worry, Cortex’s Auto-Personalisation functionality will essentially do that work for you. Sitecore automates analysis and segmentation, and finds the right combinations of content to show to each user based on its past learnings. Importantly, there are no minimum data requirements for this to operate so you don’t need to have huge volumes of data to make this work. This feature is included in the most recent v10 version of Sitecore. 
  • Data Exchange Framework – This feature allows you to enrich the insights that the system is using by bringing in other data sets to compliment its own data. Cortex really lets you truly utilize the data that you already have.

Biren Balakrishnan, Sitecore’s Sales Engineer Manager for Asia explains how to think about using Cortex in your organisation, “Think of the relationship between the left side of the brain, which is more analytical, and the right side of the brain, which is more creative. You need both sides to effectively engage with your customer so there is a balance needed. From an organisational point-of-view, the ‘left side’ is the Data Scientist, Analysts and Developers, and the ‘right side’ is the Marketing Department”. Sitecore Cortex can compliment both:

  • Data Science – They want to train models, run algorithms, project data and apply scoring. They need the ability to bring their own skills to the table to solve those problems. Sitecore Cortex lets them do this by providing them with all the data that they need to make these decisions using state-of-the-art tools.
  • Marketer – They’re less worried about the behind-the-scenes processes and more focused on delivering great experiences for the customers. Sitecore Cortex lets them do this by taking the analytical workload away from them and letting them focus on strategic, conceptual and creative endeavors that can improve the customer experience.

According to Balakrishnan, when it comes to the challenges of Personalisation, it typically boils down to resources, knowledge, and having the technical set-up to do this. This is where Sitecore’s AI tools can help, “What we’re looking to use AI for right now is to remove the heavy lifting and make it as easy as possible for organizations and individuals in the marketing team to get their job done, and to realize the potential of things like personalisation and excellent digital experiences. AI can be a tool to speed up your Go-To-Market strategy, lower the barriers to entry in terms of resources, structure and knowledge, and get you where you need to get faster”.

The Power of Auto-Personalisation

If you had to focus on the one thing Sitecore does better than any other system in the world, it is probably the real-time personalisation of content shown to the user. Traditionally this has been driven by a set of rules manually pre-configured into Sitecore, however this has now evolved to be possible using such Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. The potential of Auto-Personalisation is so profound as it essentially democratises Personalisation, making it available even to organisations that do not have a data science division or the traditional resources to make this a reality. According to Balakrishnan, “Auto-Personalisation is about making Personalisation as easy as possible. The marketing team only needs to worry about the content variations and they can let Sitecore AI do the rest without having to do the heavy lifting themselves”.

With Sitecore Auto-Personalisation, reducing the workload for the Marketing Team is as easy as as one, two, three:

  1. Marketers create all the content variations that they want to use (e.g. header banners, product feature components, image galleries, offer components).
  2. Select which components they want Auto-Personalisation enabled on.
  3. By pointing the component at a folder of options, the Auto-Personalisation engine can then choose the correct content variant from that collection to show. There’s nothing to set up in terms of segments or anything else.

These features will save your Marketing Department a lot of time and effort on your Personalisation journey. As George Smith outlines, “Understanding the customer, being able to serve that customer what they want, when they want – that is the future. And what Sitecore will give you is a tool that will do the Operations and the Learning for you so you can just focus on the Strategy behind that”.

Find out more about how you can leverage Sitecore’s new Automation tools to enable Personalisation by watching the webinar video here.

Posted by Rob in Sitecore
WTF is an NFT?

WTF is an NFT?

I originally wrote this article for the April 25th 2021 issue of Campaign Middle East magazine

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks you’ve probably heard people talking about NFTs, or non-fungible tokens – digital files such as images, videos, audio or text files that have recently been changing hands for millions of dollars.

If you have no idea what ‘fungible’ means, you’re not alone.

Essentially, an NFT is a one-of-a-kind digital file that uses blockchain technology to register a unique version of itself – generally considered an ‘original’ or definitive version of any file that, in theory, can be copied an infinite amount of times.

With me so far?

It’s basically a way of manufacturing scarcity using a digital stamp of authenticity. And where there’s scarcity and exclusivity, there’s usually a cohort of people lining up to hand over their cash.

Over the last few weeks a piece of digital art, Beeple’s ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ (pictured above), was sold for $69 million at Christie’s, a cat GIF sold for $560,000, and, in a somewhat meta twist, a New York Times article about NFTs was itself turned into an NFT and auctioned for $560,000 with the proceeds going to charity. In many ways, the buyers of these NFTs are just buying bragging rights, but they also believe that it’s an asset they may be able to resell later.

It might sound like pure alchemy but in tech circles it’s seen as a way to address a problem that has emerged over the last 20 or so years of how to register value for once-tangible assets like art, books, music etc. that now primarily exist in a digital form. NFTs give creators a way of engineering value for a digital asset and making digital collectibles possible. Some creators are already starting to take advantage of the buzz.

Tennessee rock band Kings of Leon was the first band to release an album as an NFT this March with their latest album, ‘When You See Yourself’. The band released three types of NFT of the album, all including exclusive digital artwork, one of which offered a limited-edition vinyl and another that included live show perks like front-row seats for life. A company called YellowHeart developed the smart contracts and intelligence within the tokens and claim to want to “use blockchain technology to bring value back to music and better direct-to-fan relationships”.

Outside music, there has been an explosion in sales of digital-only products recently especially in gaming, from exclusive outfits in Fortnite to various in-game items in Minecraft, Roblox, or any number of other games. Fortnite is a free-to-play game yet generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2019, most of which came from selling in-game items.

It’s not difficult to see how NFTs might be used to enhance the value of such digital goods – letting platforms effectively create limited editions of items that can be resold and traded, not unlike how an artist might release a limited run of prints of an original artwork.

Brands that sell tangible goods face a steeper challenge in taking advantage of these digital trends, but even some of these guys are getting in on the action too. In March, luxury brand Gucci launched a ‘virtual sneaker’ that can only be worn in digital environments. The neon-coloured digital shoes can be purchased on Gucci’s mobile app from $9 and users can try them on using augmented reality and “wear” them in photographs on social media. Similarly, Nike has patented NFT versions of shoes called CryptoKicks, which allows users to create custom sneakers that may then be manufactured in the real world. In this way NFTs can blur the line between physical and virtual goods, while capitalizing on monetization opportunities in both.

There are a bunch of other ways that brands can get creative like this when it comes to taking advantage of NFTs, from exclusive and limited edition digital content around new products or a physical experience like a concert or sporting event, to even crowdfunding new ideas and products with early customers being able to sell their initial purchase if the concept takes off. While the hype and hyperbole behind emerging concepts like NFTs can make it hard to distinguish the opportunity from the noise, behind most novel ideas is often the possibility of something useful. For NFTs we’ll just have to wait and see whether the emperor has any clothes, digital or not.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine
Joining the Club

Joining the Club

I originally wrote this article for the March 28th 2021 issue of Campaign Middle East magazine

The audio-based social networking app, Clubhouse has exploded onto the social media scene over the last few months on a wave of hype originating from a host of technology enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley. The app is a kind of cross between radio and podcasts, combining the live nature of broadcast radio, with the topical discoverability and subscription of podcasts.

Users can create “rooms” to host a talk themselves or have a chat with others, and their followers, or anyone that is interested, can listen and even join in with the discussion if the moderator allows, not unlike the virtual Zoom panels that we’ve all become so accustomed to over the last year, but with a social layer on top. Users are notified when someone they follow starts a room and they are presented with a feed of talks that are taking place right then in topics that they find interesting. It has the feel of walking around at a conference being able to duck into and out of a bunch of interesting talks. Moderators can also create “clubs”, which are akin to Facebook Groups where regular meetups can be scheduled and accepted in advance.

Rooms tend to have a very open, conversational feel and, while there is an opportunity to join in with many discussions (not unlike a radio phone-in show), many users admit to listening passively in the background while doing something else. Chats are not recorded and can’t be listened to after they finish, which gives them a sense of urgency and FOMO – join in now or forever miss out on what was said. To create a sense of exclusivity (and presumably to avoid the Fail Whale crashes that plagued Twitter in its early days), new members can only sign-up to Clubhouse if invited by a current user. Each user has two invites to share. An ephemeral nature has helped create an engaged user base and the invite-only sign-up process has only added to the curiosity.

As most of this recent buzz has been fueled by a burst of activity in Silicon Valley, the content on the platform at the moment tends to lean heavily on the US tech and investment scene – users went wild when Elon Musk hosted an impromptu interview with Vlad Tenev, CEO of trading app Robinhood, during the recent Gamestop stock saga. Despite this, as the user base continues to grow and diversify, it’s not hard to imagine how the content on the platform might evolve with more space dedicated to topics such as sports, cooking, health, art, culture, politics – you name it. Users have grown from just 2,000 last June, to over 10 million by March this year, although the app is still only available on iPhone for the time being.

Advertising on Clubhouse

Clubhouse currently does not host any advertising on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that savvy brands can’t get involved. Burger King parent company, Restaurant Brands International (RBI) hosted an hour-long “Open Kitchen” chat with customers the day after reporting its 2020 earnings results in February. CEO José Cil, CMO Fernando Machado and some other executives spoke about the company’s sustainability work and Burger King’s new loyalty program, and they have plans to continue the chats every two weeks.

But there are other ways for advertisers to join in the buzz too. Similar to the way that sponsoring podcasts and webinars currently works, brands can sponsor rooms and get the host to read out a short sponsored message or shout-out during a call, maybe along with some kind of special offer for listeners. Alternatively, brands can sponsor a room or club and have their brand name included in the title of the event so it stands out as users browse through their feed. Some topic-specific clubs are starting to gain a significant following and there could be opportunities for paid guest spots where brand representatives would get a chance to speak to their followers.

While it may feel like there are already enough social media platforms out there, if history has taught us anything, it’s that there always seems to be room for one more. The recent explosive popularity of Clubhouse suggests that this concept has legs. Twitter has recently announced a copycat product called Spaces, and Facebook is also reportedly working on something similar. First-mover advantage can be a real asset when it comes to new channels so brands in the region should start thinking about how they might use a platform like this to get in front of their customers.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Social Media
Moderating Campaign Middle East’s AdTech Strategies 2021 Panel

Moderating Campaign Middle East’s AdTech Strategies 2021 Panel

I was delighted to moderate today’s AdTech Strategies 2021 panel for Campaign Middle East. The panelists were from Google, Huawei Ads and MMP WorldWide.

Find out more here and watch it here.

Programmatic after cookies

The cookie is dead. Long live … the what? As Google joins other technology game-changers in their move towards a pro-user-privacy and preference model, programmatic advertising continues to evolve to stay relevant in a world that is now increasingly leaning towards first-party data. Campaign’s panel of industry experts look at the latest updates to programmatic advertising and how clients can make the most of them.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Speaking, Tech