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4 Things I Learned At SUGCON

— The Sitecore community is rapidly growing and there's a lot to learn!

Posted: October 09, 2015

Last week our team attended SUGCON 2015 in New Orleans, LA for our first Sitecore conference.Though we weren’t quite sure what to expect, we came away impressed with the organization, attendance, and quality of information at the conference. We made some great connections there and it was definitely worth the trip.

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SUGCON had a great turnout!

The conference had tons of great sessions and keynotes. I attended several sessions on topics like personalization, E-Commerce, customer experience, and the Federated Experience Manager. I came away with fresh perspective, key insights, and valuable information that I believe anyone involved with Sitecore would benefit from.

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Cara and I had a great time in New Orleans at our first ever Sitecore conference

Here are a few of my takeaways from the conference:

Personalization - Much More of a Planning Exercise than Implementation

I sat in on a session titled “Full-On Personalization” that was presented by Sitecore MVP, Sean Rusinko. Sean’s session was full of great info and he did a great job of presenting the information. He's definitely well versed on the topic of personalization. He started out by demonstrating the types of implicit and explicit personalization that exist in Sitecore. He followed by noting that all of the tech giants (Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, Uber, etc.) provide personalized experiences and because of this web users come to expect these types of personalized experiences.

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An excellent presentation on personalization.

Sean spoke to the notion of “connected experiences” and how full-on personalization looks across all channels of the customer’s journey. And by all channels he referred to mail, email, social, web, TV, and in-store experiences. In order to provide connected experiences, an “orchestration of technology” must occur that ties multiple systems together. Connecting to Sales Force, Dynamics, or any CRM is critical.

Towards the end of the presentation he showed the infographic that we’ve all seen about all the different software solutions that exist in the market today. He spoke to how marketers are tying all these various systems together and creating a hodge-podge solution. He then paused and stated, “This no longer works.” The notion was that having several small systems coupled together isn’t efficient for marketers. Instead having one unified system that can tie all of these together is the best case scenario. He even went as far as to say, “If you’re publishing content outside of Sitecore then you’re doing it wrong.” The reason one would want to stay within Sitecore when publishing content is because by publishing within Sitecore provides data on user’s preferences, profile, and interests which ultimately helps you better personalize experiences for users.  

Sean stressed the importance of planning around personalization within Sitecore. He quoted, “Personalization is much more of a planning process than an implementation process,” and that statement is dead on track. When you think about tying all these systems together, tracking user info, and ultimately trying to offer a personalized experience to each user… it’s a process that should be planned out thoroughly. And if you’re going to do it you might as well do it right! Spend the time needed and fully leverage the functionality that Sitecore’s personalization offers.

Sean continued discussing how to plan for user experiences. When planning the experiences of your users be sure to consider your user segments, their respective journeys, and content that you can associate with each of those journeys. Also think about the phases of your customer’s life cycle. We should strive to map content to each phase of the customer life cycle. Keep the customer’s intent in mind and be able to tie content, goals, and calls-to-actions to each phase.

Another thing Sean urged the audience to do was to create engagement analytics. Create scoring for the actions you want your users to take or else you won’t be able to measure personalization.

In the end of the session Sean wrapped up by leaving the audience with a few pointers. He said it’s best to build a roadmap, plan out the vision, roadmap it over time, and hire a digital marketing manager!

Customers Seek Outcomes & Experiences Provide Outcomes

The first lunch keynote was provided by Darren Guarnacia, Chief Strategy Officer at Sitecore. In my opinion, Darren’s presentation was one of the best at SUGCON. He motivated the audience and encouraged them to re-think the way they do business.

Early in his speech he quoted an ex-Cisco CEO’s comment to a crowd he once presented, “40% of businesses will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years due to disruption.” The statement pointed to the notion of really thinking about our business models. Darren noted that we tend to, “throw technology at problems rather than rethinking our businesses,” yet that's not the answer.

In his words, “Everyone is chasing the dream of experience...experiences create emotions,” and ultimately, “people don’t want products, they want outcomes.” He even gave an algebraic formula for outcomes:

  • Context = Content x Intelligence
  • Journey = Context x Interaction Channels
  • Outcomes = Journey x Products
  • Or in a one liner
    • Outcomes = {[(Content x Intelligence) x Interaction Channels] x Products}
Darren’s speech was engaging throughout the entire presentation. He rounded out his presentation noting that if content is king, then context is queen and that context needs data. I thought Darren made several great points and I saw him the next day and told him so!

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We need context to make content successful. Great talk by Darren Guarnacia.

Plenty of E-Commerce Functionality in the Sitecore Landscape: The E-Commerce Showdown

While at the conference we met with several of the E-Commerce vendors and visited their booths. On the 2nd day of the conference I attended the on-stage E-Commerce face off which was really neat and very informational. It was indeed interesting to hear them describe themselves with their opponents sitting right beside them. There were 5 main E-Commerce players at the conference and seemingly in the Sitecore landscape. Those present were Active Commerce, Insite Commerce, U-Commerce, Orckestra, and Sitecore’s Commerce Server.

All of the systems are powerful. From what I could gather it seemed that Active Commerce, U-Commerce, & Sitecore’s Commerce Server were all integrated very tightly with Sitecore’s platform. That is, they are modules that are built on top of the platform and consequently they have a native feel and can leverage all the “goodness” of Sitecore. Insite Commerce also leverages Sitecore’s personalization, but is not as native. Though, Insite Commerce seemed to provide functionality in the B2B market that the others did not.  U-Commerce is the new kid on the block in the E-Commerce landscape.

If you want to know which one is the best then I hate to let you down – they’re all good. It’s like building a house, one should use the right tools for the job at hand. This session was a good one.

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Hanging with the InsiteCommerce Crew at SUGCON

The Federated Experience Manager is Powerful & Helpful for Transitioning Sites

I also attended a session on Sitecore’s Federated Experience Manager given by Fred Faulkner and Cory Dixon. I’ve experimented with FXM and from what I could tell it's very powerful, but I wanted to know more.

Attending this session validated my thoughts on the power of FXM. All one needs to do is to include the beacon: a snippet of JS, on a site and then you can serve content to that site from Sitecore. That functionality is powerful because not only can you serve content on other sites, but you can also begin to get data from user interactions with the content on the site.

The speakers provided a tip about the selectors used in FXM. It’s best to select elements with the least specific ids or classes because they are the ones less likely to change. The more specific a selector is the more individual the element it describes is. That was a small tip, but a helpful one that can potentially save you some headache.

Also, notable was the concept of using FXM to bridge the gap during a site transition to remove road blocks to buy-in. In scenarios where it’s difficult to do a site cutover from an old system to Sitecore it can be difficult to move all web properties at the same time. Using FXM can alleviate that issue and help make the transition smoother. You can stand up a new Sitecore site, then leave the other properties as they are and simply use FXM to serve content from Sitecore to the external sites until you are able to transition those web properties over. Win!

Thanks Sponsors! 

Thanks to the sponsors and organizers for providing for and hosting the event. The conference was exceptional and I believe the entire team had a good time while they benefited from the invaluable sessions and unique networking opportunities at SUGCON 2015. Without the time, energy, and efforts of the organizers and resources from Sponsors this event wouldn't have happened. My only request would be to have some bacon at breakfast next year!

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