Ushering in the IBM Marketing Cloud, and goodbye to Silverpop?

Star Digital have been a Silverpop Sure Agency for a good few years now, we backed the technology because of the vision for one to one communications and a move towards behavioral marketing and automation. The platform has served our clients well, and it only got better when we heard that IBM, the Big Blue, inventors of Watson the cognitive computing architecture, had acquired Silverpop as part of its mission to further enhance its digital marketing intelligence portfolio. Amplify, the annual event held by the Silverpop team in London was a different event this year. With several tracks per session and a big presence from IBM you could feel that the platform was already developing rapidly. There was a genuine excitement from the team and attendees. I wanted to pull out some of the high points from this year’s event as it address issues facing all of us working in digital marketing channels as they mature. We’ve debated for some time the future of digital marketing as a concept, and the IBM team echoed my feeling that the word digital will probably become dated as it is absorbed into mainstream marketing. Digital agencies such as ours will move into a more central role embracing Omni channel marketing. We’ve already seen this happen at Star Digital as we’ve worked on campaigns that operate across digital and analogue disciplines to great effect. IBM really pushed forward with the IBM Marketing Cloud concept at Amplify and introduced some genuinely exciting concepts that feed into the Omni channel mission. The first of these had been touched upon at the beginning of 2015 and is known as the Universal Behavior Exchange. What is exciting about this concept, and I use this word because at the time of writing detail on this is scant, is that it looks like a genuine attempt to open source calls into the IBM Marketing Cloud to share data from multiple sources. Those sources include big data engines such as the social media giants Facebook, Instagram , LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as allowing agencies like ourselves to write our own interfaces to inject client data from ecommerce or online auctions, and use tools to generate look alike data to target more prospects with more relevant marketing communications. We then discovered two new initiatives to support this, with the first, known as the IBM Journey Designer, a tool to make the creation of automated programmes easy, with an enhanced number of decision points already in beta for all current Engage users able to get their hands on it now. The second tool known as IBM Journey Analytics could be a real game changer. Detail is again scant at the time of writing but this looks like an incredible tool for Omni channel marketers to understand the most effective route to achieve the maximum marketing outcomes. It will show the fastest route to achieve a marketing outcome but then go on to show the most profitable route. The Omni channel touch points can all be measured and considered, and for marketers working with large volumes of data, they will be able to test and measure in real time to find the sweet spot for any campaign. Switched on marketers will be able to use these tools prove their campaigns work, the new Journey Designer will interface with Journey Analytics to allow marketers to plan and test multiple role automation programme routes through the enhanced use of IF, ELSE, AND, OR statements. New rules such as DO UNTIL and DO SOMETHING will let them deliver actions such as Rich Push Notifications or targeted deals based on user behavior. Objectives views will track how many people hit a goal point and can be tracked over time, social audiences will allow look alike retargeting on Facebook tied back to the Universal Behaviour Exchange. The theory of this new marketing universe that is the IBM Marketing Cloud is truly exciting for the modern marketer. SIlverpop may be about to be dispatched to the history books but its legacy lives on in this new set of tools backed by IBM. The team at Silverpop started something special, and they have handed the baton on to IBM to finish delivering their vision. I hope that the new enhanced team behind the IBM Marketing Cloud can find a way to get agencies like us enabled as quickly as possible, so that we can push the boundaries and make it work for clients who share the vision. Because now we are an IBM partner agency and we are hungry to get going! Star Digital is an IBM partner agency working in the IBM Marketing Cloud to deliver marketing automation and behavioral marketing outcomes for a wide range of clients in Europe.

Magento: 7 years of Development

As I write this at Star Digital HQ in October 2015 we’ve been developing web sites for clients using the Magento platform for 7 years now. So are we getting the 7 year itch? In that time we’ve seen the product grow from a virtual beta to one of the most in demand ecommerce solutions for mid size B2B and B2C retailers on the planet. It hasn’t come without its own set of problems. The key issues and learning we have had over the years have been as follows; •    Quality of hosting •    Understanding how to optimize properly •    The variability of quality in the extensions market •    The importance of staff training •    The importance of creating a full functional specification •    Managing customer UAT expectations •    Staying on top of the upgrade path •    Converting sites to be fully mobile responsive What we’ve learnt over this time is that customers see the out of the box platform with a theme as the answer to everything. They don’t realize that it all needs to be configured and tested. As a rule we don’t like marketplace themes and if a client is serious about their store and their desire to deliver a unique experience we recommend against it. The time taken to modify and move elements around negates the effectiveness of themes over time. Then there is the question of licensing. A lot of clients with build budgets in the region of £40k still want to ‘try’ it on Community edition first as they feel the licensing is prohibitive at c$18K USD per annum. We don’t push the Enterprise licensing piece ourselves, we explain to the client what the options are and then pass them through to our partners at eBay that explain the benefits. (Although eBay Enterprise at the time of writing is being sold to a venture capital consortium) What we do know is that the Enterprise platform is an essential consideration for clients in the £5+ Million sales per annum as it comes with a full SLA from Magento, access to the ever growing and knowledgeable support team and has features that make it run faster and more efficiently than Community can. We’ve been building and supporting Enterprise since 2010 and we can honestly say that the reduction in developer time on that platform is also a consideration for clients. In 2012 we joined the partner community and put a series of developers through certification on both the back end and front-end disciplines. It was a good learning curve for all involved and helped us to really understand the best ways to develop complex integration to the platform. It earned us our Silver partner status and since then we’ve gone on to develop our agnostic integration solution ‘Magenector’ that allows us to pull data in from multiple external sources and technologies, process it and inject it int Mganeto using the standardized and custom models. In the main, that work has taken place on behalf of B2B customers looking to make the most of ecommerce with their trade customers, but we’ve also been involved in B2C projects where the ERP systems have managed complex deal rules and dynamic pricing. Overall the back end development team at Star Digital has probably seen most of the scenarios that B2B data can throw at us, and our integrations have become robust and solid over time. With the advent of Magento 2 on the horizon, launch set for November 2015 at the current time, the back and front end teams here are busy working through the pre-launch training to make sure we are able to help with upgrades and new project RFP’s. The next 18 months should be very interesting as we watch how Magento 2 impacts the market. Its clear that new enquiries have been quiet since the Spring of 2015 no doubt caused by clients holding off for the new platform. Let’s see what the next 7 years bring! Star Digital is a Magento Silver Partner working in both Community and Enterprise Editions of Magento. They specialize in complex integrations between Magento and back office ERP/CRM systems using their agnostic middleware solution known as ‘The Magenector’.