What Sitecore 9 means for Marketers

Sitecore 9 released recently as part of the platform’s rebranded Experience Cloud offering. Sitecore and Adobe are fighting for top spot in the enterprise web content management space, as Gartner’s WCM Magic Quadrant shows. So what does Sitecore 9 bring to the table for marketers? And how will it help Sitecore attract more big brands to its platform?

The added power of machine learning

Machine learning has been a buzzword in digital marketing and data management for a while. It means your machine or system is continually learning behaviour from large quantities of collected data to provide a business outcome.

The collection, storage and use of data to personalise customer experiences across all marketing channels have been Sitecore’s calling card since Sitecore 8 was introduced in 2015. Sitecore 9 ramps this up with some nifty innovations. Chief among these is Sitecore Cortex, it’s new machine learning tool. This is a dedicated engine for processing machine learning algorithms at scale.  

Sitecore Cortex

The benefits to marketers include:

  • New customer insights that would have previously been extremely difficult and time-consuming to discover. For example, new audience segments to target, based on the content visitors are consuming.
  • Automated testing and optimisation. Content can be iteratively scored and rescored to map to relevant customer segments. This improves personalisation experiences.
  • Measurable personalisation, based on a customer’s current and past context. Sitecore uses an engagement value to measure personalisation effect. This means marketers can tie conversions to revenue to measure success.  

Feed Sitecore with your other systems’ data

Sitecore xConnect lets you seamlessly connect and collect data from other 3rd party software systems such as your CRM, ERP or EPOS and store them in Sitecore xDB. This significantly enriches the quality of the data that you have available for personalisation and machine learning. And the richer the data, the more intelligent the results. What’s more Sitecore xConnent allows:

  • Push and pull on contacts and interactions with the connected 3rd party system
  • Automatic indexing of any contact, facet, interaction or event in Sitecore xDB.

Enhance your entire marketing strategy

Anyone that’s been frustrated by Web Forms For Marketers (WFFM) in Sitecore can breathe a big sigh of relief. They’re gone in Sitecore 9! Sitecore has introduced drag and drop to some of its key built-in marketing tools. This means redesigned web forms that are actually simple to set up and reuse.

Sitecore Forms

Another useful drag and drop feature is the ability to easily create engagement plans to nurture prospects with highly personalised messaging, offers and emails.

marketing automation

Frankly, this user interface (UI) overhaul was overdue. Sitecore offers brands the ability to create highly personalised, contextual experiences but this hasn’t always been easy to put into practice. Improving the UI will make getting the most out of Sitecore much smoother for marketers.   

The promise of future innovation

Sitecore isn’t sitting on its laurels. More innovation is promised in later versions of Sitecore 9. Two that stand out are codenamed, ‘Horizon’ and ‘Zenith’.

Sitecore Horizon will extend intuitive drag and drop to content creation. This’ll change the way that marketers can design pages in Sitecore, with real-time tips and insight as you create and publish content.

Zenith will enhance Sitecore’s headless capabilities. It’ll let you store, manage and distribute content, from one simple interface in Sitecore to external devices such as aps or IoT’s.

Overall Sitecore 9 is an exciting release. Sitecore is ahead of the curve in using intelligence and insight, gleaned from seamless customer data, to drive highly personalised experiences. This makes Sitecore a great digital marketing platform choice for brands.

Nintendo Switch – Early Impressions

After the Wii U fell flat, Nintendo needed a hit with their new console the Nintendo Switch. And with two million sold in the first month, they’re off to a great start.

As a marketer, I’m impressed with how Nintendo has marketed the Switch. The branding feels right. Ad’s were well placed, numerous and clearly showcased its strengths. We saw the switch docked for a home console like experience and at numerous locations for gaming on the go. Most noticeably Nintendo has pushed the Switch as a social experience to enjoy with friends, whether indoors, outdoors or travelling.

This marketing effort stands out as a failure to properly market the Wii played a big part in its poor sales performance.

But is it any good? I picked one up at launch and here are my early impressions.

When docked to a TV the Switch isn’t as powerful as Sony’s PS4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One but that’s not it’s MO. It’s as a hybrid system that the Switch shines brightest. It feels incredibly instinctive to move between TV and portable modes. You can be playing on the TV, remove the Switch from its dock, and almost instantaneously continue gaming without having to restart your game.

I like the freedom the bundled joy con controllers offer. They attach to each side of the screen for handheld mode or can be detached for multiplayer gaming. I’ve found using them in the joycon grip configuration fairly comfortable. Although you may want to invest in the pro controller for longer sessions.  

Battery life is reasonable. I’ve experienced around three hours for Breath of the Wild and six and a half hours for Shovel Knight.

I should note that I haven’t experienced any of the early gremlins reported by some users. E.g. Left Joy con de-syncing, the dock scratching the console or dead pixels. But these problems seem to be fairly low spread and the type of issues associated with a new system launch.

Breath of the Wild

PROs of the Nintendo Switch

  • It delivers true console quality on the go. This is the systems USP and fortunately, Nintendo has delivered on the promise of a proper hybrid console. It’s been amazing to play an AAA game like Zelda on a handheld.
  • The high build quality. Unlike some previous Nintendo consoles, the Switch feels like a premium product. Much less plasticky, it’s well balanced and feels great when used in portable mode.
  • The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. As a launch title, and a system seller, it’s right up there with Mario 64 and Halo. What’s more, after ploughing more than 100 hours into it, this is quite possibly the best game I’ve ever played. It’s a real game changer for open world games. Apart from the brief opening plateau section, you can approach the game in any order and travel to any point on the map. Spot a mountain in the distance and you can climb it. The physics are incredible and this breeds creativity in how you play the game.  
  • The launch line up. While many have criticised the launch lineup. I disagree. While low on quantity, there’s a good variety of quality games available. Apart from Zelda, there’s Snipperclips, Fast RMX and Shovel Knight – all of which rated 80 or higher on Metacritic.

CONs of the Nintendo Switch

  • The cost of accessories. While the Pro Controller looks great, feels comfortable and performs brilliantly it costs around £60. That’s £10 more than comparative PS4 or XBox One controllers.
  • Compared to the console the docking station looks and feels a little cheap.
  • No apps or Virtual Console available yet. This hasn’t really bothered me. I have about a dozen devices on which to watch YouTube or use other apps. But I guess it would be nice if they were here at launch.

What’s the future like for the Nintendo Switch?

The Nintendo Switch looks set for a bright future. The buzz around the console means more third party developers will produce or port games to it. Plus there’ll be the usual high standard first party Nintendo games.

I’m not a Nintendo fanboy! I try to give all my consoles equal love. But for my money, the Nintendo Switch is a real cracker. I love switching out to play from the sofa or on the go. Once again Nintendo has gone in a different direction than Sony and Microsoft and It’ll be fun seeing how it pans out.

Thanks for reading. Please share any comments you have on the Nintendo Switch below. Plus, you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Virtual reality marketing

While virtual reality (VR) is nothing new, virtual reality marketing is starting to create buzz as the next big marketing medium.

As a marketer and gamer I’m excited to see how VR develops over the next couple of years. And I’m not alone. Interest in VR technology has risen sharply as new VR products launch or are announced.

Google searches for virtual reality are up by nearly 400% in the last year. While a recent study from Greenlight VR showed promising results for VR. Their survey found 71% of people felt VR made brands seem “forward-thinking and modern.” Tellingly 53% said they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that’s using VR.

Goldman Sachs have predicted the VR market could be worth almost £60 billion by 2025.

Three major benefits of virtual reality marketing

  1. Immersion

One of VRs biggest selling points is its high level of immersion. Once users put on the headsets there is less distraction. They pay more attention to the content presented. This is good news for marketers trying to raise brand awareness or deliver their marketing message.  

  1. Tangible

VR offers the closest thing to actually being in a location or situation. Powerful for companies that sell a product or service that’s not tangible. For example, hotel or holiday brands can virtually transport people to any global location. They can showcase their resort in a way that’s just not possible with traditional brochures or video.

  1. Interactivity

VR promises access to highly interactive content. On a simple level this can be exploring a location. As VR advances so will the degree of interaction with the environment. We can expect more and more innovative uses as brands and agencies become comfortable with the technology. This interactivity will help marketers build memorable customer engagement experiences.   

How brands are already using virtual reality marketing

Brands across a variety of industries have found inventive ways of using virtual reality marketing to connect with their audiences. Here are five great examples:

Marriott

Marriott was an early adopter of virtual reality marketing. They created ‘the transporter’ with Oculus Rift technology. This used VR to transport users to locations such as London or Hawaii.

Marriott went ‘mobile’ with their next VR campaign, Virtual Postcards. Using the Samsung Gear VR, users experienced a real traveler’s journey to a unique destination such as the Andes, Rwanda and Beijing.

Thomas Cook

Tour operator Thomas Cook has embraced VR. In 2015 they used Samsung Gear VR headsets in 10 stores in the UK, Germany, and Belgium. Customers experienced standing on a balcony of a Santorini hotel and a helicopter ride above Manhattan.

Earlier this year Thomas Cook ran their Airlines Fantasy Flight campaign optimised for YouTube 360 and Google Cardboard. Set on a Airbus A330 flight users begin their journey in the plane’s cockpit. They can jump to separate videos filmed in economy and premium classes.

Users are challenged to look around the plane to find clues to three of the airline’s newest destinations. When they’re done, they can head to dedicated microsite to enter their answers, which could win them a £3,000 holiday to Los Angeles.

The videos feature real pilots and cabin crew, plus appearances from Kimye, Lady Gaga and a string quartet.

Volvo

VolvoReality gave potential customers the chance to virtually test drive a Volvo XC90 SUV using Google cardboard and their smartphone. Users download the app from either the App Store or Google Play. At launch Volvo offered a limited amount of Volvo-branded Cardboards through the app. It’s immersive with a full 360 degree view from the driver’s seat.

HBO

HBO have used VR to market recent seasons of hit show “Game of Thrones”. In 2014 using an Oculus Rift, wind machines, rumble packs and real elevators, they let users virtually ascend “The Wall” – a massive ice structure that’s one of the TV show’s major locations.

For the 2016 season launch, Oculus Rift owner, Facebook, provided a VR viewing experience through a special 360° synchronization of the show’s opening credits with Facebook.

Unicef

Last year Unicef created a VR film ‘Clouds over Sidra’. Drawing attention to the Syrian refugee crisis it focused on Sidra, a 12 year old girl living in a refugee camp. Users experienced what her daily life was like. The film doubled donations when it was shown on the streets of Auckland.

The technology

How quickly Virtual reality marketing evolves as a channel depends on the success of the technology. Excitingly a host of major tech companies are committed to VR across a variety of platforms.

Mobile

Consumer adoption of VR will be driven by mobile technology and content. It’s how most people will first experience VR. Mobile is the best platform for brands looking to use VR to reach a wide audience. Google and Samsung are the two major players.

Google released the Cardboard in 2014. Cheap and accessible it’s a great way for people to access VR on their smartphone. Google is set to follow up with Daydream later this year. While Samsung co-developed a more advanced headset, the Samsung Gear VR with Oculus.

Mobile VR content is easy to access. A wide range of apps are available from either the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Plus you can watch 360 content on YouTube.

PC

The most immersive and powerful VR systems can be found on PC. But with a powerful PC needed to run them, they’re also the most expensive. This limits their popularity as a mainstream consumer product. They do however allow brands to create dynamic in-store or event VR experiences. 

The best known of the PC VR Headsets is Oculus Rift. It was first announced as a kickstarter project but later bought by Facebook

HTC Hive allows full freedom of movement. It uses IR sensors mounted to walls to map your movement which it then converts to the virtual world. The downside is that you need a relatively large area and it’s tricky to set up.

There are a growing number of VR games and experiences available for PC

Gaming Consoles

Sony leads the way with Playstation VR launching this October. An accessory for the PS4,  there’ll be a full lineup of games plus access to other content. While Playstation VR will run on a lower resolution than its PC rivals it’s also cheaper.

It could offer marketers the best choice for presenting exclusive VR content to a home audience.

What’s the potential for virtual reality marketing?

Virtual reality marketing is an exciting new medium for marketers to connect with their audience. But as with all marketing channels success will depend on how it aligns with the brand’s business strategy. There’s a danger some marketers will jump on VR because it’s trendy. And not consider whether it suits their target market. Lazy or unnecessary use of virtual reality will get disappointing results.

Marketers will have to get creative and think up ways of using the technology to its best potential. Content will have to be compelling and engaging. The technology is here. Consumer interest is growing. Now it’s up to the marketers.

I hope you enjoyed this look at virtual reality marketing. Please check back regularly for more pieces on digital marketing. Plus you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.