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Sitecore 9.3: a new vision? .
Standing back again at the bar of the Swan and Dolphin in Orlando this November, the buzz in the Sitecore world was most definitely around two things, SaaS and the Content Crisis.
The annual Sitecore Symposium, Sitecore’s chance to show off its future vision, road map and impending releases once again took place in Orlando, Florida in early November 2019. Compared to previous Symposiums, of which I’ve been fortunate enough to attend three, I would say this one felt different. It felt different to me as Sitecore seemed to have changed its tone from previous Symposiums, no longer was it about personalisation, automation and some of the more cutting edge features of context marketing.
This time the message was focused on much more real world, “today” issues that many marketers face.
Whilst there is no doubt that all serious marketers are hungry to embrace and implement contextual marketing, personalisation and automation - in order to build long-lasting brand-consumer relationships built on trust, loyalty and value - the point where they often stall is ‘where to begin’ and ‘how the hell do I create enough content to support contextual, personalised experiences’.
The other pain point experienced by lots of Sitecore customers is that of upgrades and feature management. Sitecore releases a new X.Y version twice a year but the time needed, and therefore the cost of keeping up, can detract from a digital teams ability to execute ‘proper’ marketing and experiences. Consequently, brands ‘typically’ (in my opinion) don’t keep up to date with upgrades, opting for a lumpy and bumpy major upgrade every couple of years. In this symposium, Sitecore seemed to set out a solution to these foundation layer challenges. The first was Saas.
For those that have watched Sitecore’s platform mature over recent years, the announcement that Sitecore has a vision for a Software-as-a-Service offering is not a shock!
Over the past few years, Sitecore has moved from being ‘on-premise’ software, to ‘Platform-as-a-Service’ through deployable Sitecore applications on the Microsoft Azure cloud, to ‘Infrastructure-as-a-Service’ through Sitecore Hosted Cloud - where Sitecore will host and support your enterprise application. Consequently, the idea that Sitecore will now offer a SaaS option is the next natural step in the platform’s evolution.
What do we know about Sitecore SaaS?
Well, not a huge amount at this stage. We know that Sitecore ‘has a Visions for SaaS’, as Mark Frost, Sitecore’s CEO, set it out both at the start and end of the three-day event.
Other things we know are:
- It will launch in Summer/Autumn(Fall) in 2020 as a SaaS-based CMS (XM) only version of Sitecore. Consequently, we don’t believe it will have the marketing suite included, for which Sitecore is most famous (top right in Gartner and Forrester WCM Magic Quadrants). This will make it good for Proof of Concepts, brochureware, campaign sites etc.
- It has been in development for some time and so is a new product and will continue to evolve to include all current XP features (we think anyway!). Given that this includes many of the best bits of Sitecore we are predicting a late 2020 release of the full XP platform on SaaS - possibly being the headline announcement at Symposium 2020, in Chicago next October.
- It will be a proper SaaS offering that is both configurable and extensible, allowing you to still build custom web and mobile app experiences, integrate these with internal systems etc but on a hosted and supported version of Sitecore, that includes ‘continuous upgrades’! Thus taking care of the upgrade issue once and for all!
- It will be hosted on Azure (almost a given…)
- It will probably evolve to include a version of Sitecore Commerce, although this is me speculating at this stage and is likely to be years away!
- It’s likely to have a day 1 integration option with Sitecore Content Hub - as this is already a SaaS-based solution that can be integrated into Sitecore’s content management system and media library.
The second ‘big theme’ was ‘Sitecore Solving the Content Crisis’.
Sitecore solves the Content Crisis
Anyone who is responsible for creating a website, content strategy, social media campaign or mobile app knows that one of the biggest hurdles to success is having a good supply of kick-ass content!
As someone who runs workshops develops strategies and roadmaps content-led personalisation projects I know that content production is often the single biggest blocker to a proper rollout. It takes time and effort and can be seen as going over and above what must be delivered in the case of personalised versions for people or segments.
Sitecore has the answer though! In 2018 Sitecore announced the acquisition of Stylelabs, a full SaaS-based Content Production and Workflow Management platform. Over the past year, this has been re-branded and launched as Sitecore Content Hub - a one-stop-shop solution for the management, production and distribution of content and product information.
With the integration of Sitecore Content Hub with Sitecore XP, creative and content teams can create and manage all their media assets and content and then push them to distribution channels - including Sitecore XP, as the web and mobile channel.
With content analytics included creative teams can then assess the impact of their content across all online and offline channels - quite a powerful tool for the content focused marketer!
Does it solve the content crisis, well, yes and no. It’s a great platform and the seamless integration with Sitecore’s Media Library and Content Tree does mean that content can be managed centrally, up-stream of your Sitecore website, and then pushed, measured and evaluated globally. However, somewhat obviously, it doesn’t actually create content using AI or ML and so there is still a requirement for organisations to become both thought leader, journalist and publisher.
That said, if you had everyone in your organisation using it then you would cut back on the content silos that exist in every business and therefore reduce potential message conflict and duplication within your organisation.
All in all, it’s definitely an enabler in helping you solve your content crisis!
The End to End Content Marketing Commerce Platform
Rounding out Sitecore’s focus on Content, Commerce and Cloud was the following diagram, produced by Pieter Brinkman, Senior Director Technical Marketing for Sitecore, that shows how all this fits with Sitecore’s vision for the platform and its purpose.
This clearly shows that Sitecore is consolidating its position as an enabler of context marketing for commerce focused websites and apps.
Sitecore is sending a message to the market that it is an end to end solution for the management, distribution and personalisation of content at the point of engagement with the customer. It’s a powerful message in a time where most people want to personalise, some are doing it but most customers are not quite feeling the impact, as yet! (see my blog on personalisation to individualisation at scale for the stats on that one!).
In conclusion then, Sitecore 9.3, whilst perhaps not being the sexiest release from a context marketing perspective, does seem to be tackling some of the key day-to-day issues that all modern marketers face.
It’s a recognition that, in Sitecore XP, there are some great features and it opens up huge possibilities and opportunities, but the day to day demands of content management and creation, along with the IT overhead of upgrades and patches, can get in the way. Sitecore 9.3 and the following SaaS release (estimated in Fall/Autumn 2020) are huge steps forward in making the process of creating ‘human connections in a digital world’ (the tag line for Symposium 2019) far easier.
So is it a new vision for the platform? Not really, but it’s certainly a focus on the day to day issues that prevent some brands from creating remarkable customer experiences and that can only be a good thing!
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 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 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 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.