Sitecore Symposium 2018: My Elevated Experience.

SitecoreSYM18

The theme for Symposium 2018, this year in Orlando, Florida, was Elevate the Experience and, hurricane Michael aside, once again Sitecore delivered to me a properly elevated experience. As a Strategy MVP my experience this year was five days of Sitecore goodness: updates on the platform, case studies and best practice surrounded by expert friends and colleagues, all sharing the latest and greatest in digital customer experiences.

The big news, as revealed by Sitecore CEO, Mark Frost, was the intent to acquire StyleLabs – a complete Digital Asset Management (DAM) and Media Resource Management (MRM) platform. This was big news for two reasons, firstly, it does add forrester magic quadrant asset management and workflow management capabilities into the functional, but somewhat basic, media library and content workflow capabilities of Sitecore. More interestingly though, this is the first time that Sitecore has publically acquired another SaaS platform to fully integrate into the Sitecore Experience Cloud platform. Whilst Sitecore have not made any further noises about this, we (i.e. Sagittarius and I) believe that this could set a precedent for further expansion of the platform through acquisition and integration. Whilst some purists argue this might take Sitecore away from it’s ‘one stop shop’ integrated proposition, it does allow for it to keep pace with its main rival who is literally buying and bolting on new technologies every couple of months at the time of writing!

Further big news was the deeper integration with Salesforce, cementing Sitecore’s partnership with the Salesforce product and giving deeper two way insights and data exchanges between the two platforms. Under the latest release contact data, analytics and behavioural data will be seamlessly exchanged between the two platforms.

Further headline grabbers came in the form of Sitecore delivering on new technologies shared at last year’s Symposium including Cortex, the integration with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning capabilities and JSS, a new JavaScript Services library that, when combined with xConnect, the latest ‘access all areas’ API allows people to implement Sitecore as a ‘Headless CMS’ and then use the API to deliver personalised experiences via any front of house technology – e.g. Angular, React or bespoke Websites. This gives Sitecore customers the chance to build website, progressive web apps and websites using any technology with all the content, layout, personalisation and analytics provided by Sitecore.

Coming back to Cortex, we now know that from Sitecore 9.1, available now, Cortex is a badge added to any new functionality that leverages Machine Learning throughout the platform. The first ‘use cases’ being added in 9.1 include personalisation insights based on ML, with an updated personalisation and testing UI that will highlight opportunities based on successful user journeys to date. Also, further ML capabilities will be available through the integration of Open Calais, the intelligent content structure and tagging platform, is now integrated into Sitecore’s own tagging functionality, allowing CMS users to create structured content and tags automatically.

Future use cases for Cortex, being released in 9.2 and 9.3 (2019) include integration with the new Horizon user interface whereby CMS users will be shown a variety of potential audience segments who are likely to be highly engaged and higher converters. These real time insights, added into the content editing experience, will allow content editors to select segments/audiences/profiles (pick your preferred term) and then personalise the on-page experience for these users. When you then couple this with JSS, you can then deliver automatically optimised customer experiences for audiences that you didn’t necessarily know you had!

Other highlights include:

  • A new Universal Tracker – allowing all flavours of developers to track everything, everywhere into the Experience Database (xDB)
  • Further enhancements to the Testing Module, including new Historic Tests reports
  • Updates to all third party embedded technologies including Telerik for HTML/Rich Text editing, .NET Core and Solr

For some people Sitecore Symposium was a little underwhelming following the razz-matazz of Vegas and headline grabbing Sitecore 9.0 headlines of Headless, Cortex and the Experience Cloud. However, for those of us that love the platform and work with it everyday it was really great to see Sitecore maturing these features and not trying to release the next big thing. In machine learning, integrated insights with Horizon and JSS we now have a version of 9.1 that can deliver on the promise of Sitecore 9.x and that, to me, is the most exciting thing; the prospect of multiple apps on web, mobile and native, all using xDB, via JSS and xConnect, sharing insights, building data and using AI and ML to automatically personalise the individual experience and now supported by a first rate DAM and MRM system allowing brands to get better content made and out to their customers in a fast and efficient way.


Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.

A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.

So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance. 

What is a Content Strategy?

It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.

But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business. 

Who are my Audience?

You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.

So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context. 

Do I need to tailor content?

As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.

 

Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:

  • What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?

  • Who are they most influenced by?

  • What voices influence their behaviour?

  • What type of content do they consume?

  • Where do they consume content and engage with brands?

Different Content, Different Objectives

 All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.

There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.

Hero Content

Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale. 

Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels. 

Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.

Hub Content

Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.

Hygiene Content

Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.

How do I manage all this?

Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.

Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.

Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.

If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.

want to speak to one of our experts?

 
Nick Towers
Nick Towers
Co-Founder & Joint CEO
Co-Founder, CEO and self-confessed massive geek, Nick has been in digital since graduating from law and moving into technology many years ago. Through a combination of building awesome client relationships, crafting a formidable team of digital experts and consistently delivering results for our clients Nick has taken Sagittarius from being a successful small agency to the global digital customer experience consultancy and Sitecore powerhouse that it is today.
Nick Towers

Nick Towers

15 Oct 2018 - 5 minute read
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