Fresh off another Episerver Ascend in London, Tony Kelly - Digital Marketing Specialist, gives us the rundown of his experience, insights and highlights of the event.
I caught most of the keynote talks and all the digital marketing track, and occasionally drifted over to the developer track. Here’s a summary of what went down and what we can look forward to from Epi in 2020.
Justin provided a thorough insight into what we can expect to see coming down the track in 2020 and beyond, focussing mainly on content and commerce features.
We started with a look at the various moments of truth that users go through in a purchasing process, and how the first moment of truth when a user completes their purchase has been preceded by a zero moment of truth when they begin to search and research their purpose.
The SEO side of my brain strongly agreed.
Justin was then joined on stage by David Knipe, Director of Solution Architecture, who ran through some of the 160 unique features released by Epi in the recent past. These spanned across CMS, Commerce and platform & cloud, some of which were picked up in the later demo sessions, so we got to see the new features in action.
I really enjoyed this talk which reinforced the fact that without the right attitude to your customer and the experience you provide them, all the technology in the world won't help.
Cate started off with a tale of purchasing a SIM card in holiday on Dubai that turned into a spiral of shocking customer support across chatbots, online, in-store and on the phone.
Throwing technology at a solution that needed a human touch and consideration for the experience of the end-user failed miserably!
Cate concluded by running through a host of companies who are leveraging technology intelligently to deliver customer-centric solutions.
While these solutions at times felt high-end or niche to specific locations (the Bay Area of San Francisco featured heavily as you can imagine), many of the ideas didn't feel out of reach with the capabilities of the Epi platform - this talk wasn't Epi specific as Cate was discussing use cases from around the world but, as you can tell, the cogs were turning in my head around how these could be aligned back into Epi tools and projects.
There were lots of demos and new features discussed throughout the day, but these stuck with me most:
As a question that comes up in most projects, this was a big hit with the audience.
Quite often content reviewers that sign-off final drafts don't have access or login for Epi CMS. This can be a real pain point in approval sequences and getting content signed off quickly.
This feature means you can grab a URL that can be shared with anyone. They can then leave comments on this landing page draft to be passed back to editors for final changes before publishing.
Another nice feature that reduces friction from a CMS editors’ workflow.
The current workflow means that to edit a block on a page a user must find and open the page, open and edit the block, make the change and publish the block, revert to the page and publish to push the change to live.
This can make it tricky to preview changes on pages prior to publishing.
On-page block editing allows CMS editors to make changes to a block at the page level, preventing the need to leave the page to access the block, and makes it much easier to preview the change to the block on the page prior to publishing.
A/B testing is not new to the Epi platform, but David Buo ran through a useful demo of delivering consistent user journeys after A/B testing.
The demo started with a simple A/B test on the homepage, testing a hero image on the homepage with some text and a call-to-action.
If the user engaged with the block being tested, the content on the destination page dynamically updated using a visitor group that targeted the segment of users who had engaged with the A/B test.
A simple but effective use case showing how A/B testing can be used far beyond the element being tested on a single page.
Rob Stoves, Senior Solution Architect at Episerver, took us through a nice use case of progressive profiling using personalisation driven by visitor groups when a user engages with an Epi form on your site.
This session was based around A/B testing and how you may wish to test reducing the amount of data you ask for from users when completing a form.
Rob stripped a form back to only ask for an email address when a user wanted to download a whitepaper. A visitor group can then be used to identify users who have completed this form and on their next visit, or on the download confirmation page, they can be prompted with another form to complete further details to fill out their profile.
This is a great use case of the benefit of using Epi Forms, rather than an external provider like Hubspot for example, as it keeps data centralised providing greater functionality within the wider Epi suite of platforms to customise the user journey.
I detoured over to the developer track to listen in to Jonas and our EMVP Janaka Fernando provide an update on Episerver Insights and some of the development work that we have been involved within this platform with Eason’s, which will soon be rolled out to the wider Epi community.
Janaka provided insight into the context of the project and how it had been born from a marketing need to better target customers using online and offline data.
The technical side of the project involved joining the dots between the different data silos, and Jonas ran a packed auditorium through some of the code behind the scenes and how custom filters are made to slice the data in the Insights UI.
I’ve been lucky to have some visibility on this project for quite a while, from the conception of the idea with Eason’s to the challenges of mapping the data together in various systems, so it was great to see it being introduced to the wider Epi community at Ascend 2019.
While most of the keynotes focussed on new features or updates from other partners on recent projects, Steven & Janaka took the audience through the Eason journey and how to continue to build momentum within a project that has been in-flow for the last few years.
It was a refreshing approach and one that focussed in on an often-avoided question of how to continue to provide growth after a big launch and huge change in a brand’s online presence.
Ongoing optimisation and sweating the asset to maximise opportunities for growth should be the bread and butter for marketing teams and automation specialists and remove heavy reliance on technical development to drive results.
As a side note, this was the third time Janaka had taken to the stage throughout the day. A trojan effort in educating the wider Episerver community and someone we’re lucky to bounce ideas off and learn from every day!
If you could choose a keynote speaker to chew the fat with for an hour or two, Matthew would be high up on that list.
An absolute whirlwind story of technology and trends of the future that are going to impact all aspects of business and society for the next 5, 10 or 50 years.
I swayed from feelings of total irrelevance in how we work today to absolute intrigue around how some of the world’s most challenging issues could be on the verge of being resolved – from world hunger to long-distance travel.
Central to the talk was a codex of several hundred technology trends which Matthew tracks and advises businesses on around the world. With some help from the audience, Matthew randomly dove into a few of the topics and essentially made whole industries redundant within a few short years. Mind suitably blown several times.
A scary and fascinating (in equal measure) talk. We can get on board with the changes coming down the track, or we can stand still and get left behind in a relatively short space of time.
This talk from Deane Barker really shone a light on the importance of content within a web project and highlighted that it can often be one of the last things to be considered, which is a huge issue.
Fundamentally, users are coming to your site to consume content – be it product information, read an article, watch a video or download a PDF. Yet in many projects, writers and creative content producers are often nowhere to be found during project planning, parachuted in at the end to get something on the page.
For me, this talk also produced the quote of the day:
How many projects jump straight to a technical conversation, or design and UX research begin without being aware of what content is going to be needed to support critical user journeys through the site?
Your customers and prospect are not coming to your site to review how pretty your website is, or to make sure that their data is integrated into your CRM after they complete a purchase. Those are important to your business and helping it to perform and improve efficiency, but they do not fundamentally solve the problem of why a user has visited your website. That’s where content comes in.
I can’t finish up without mentioning the food.
I arrived at the venue quite early and had skipped breakfast at the hotel, so to be met with a spread of pastries, fruit, smoothies and cereals was a much-needed surprise.
After each session, the food stations had been generously re-stocked, and a several course lunch (for me at least) provided sustenance for an afternoon of demos and keynote lectures.
Prior to joining the afternoon sessions, a few of us took the walk the plank VR challenge. Falling off the edge of a building may not have been the smartest of moves after a big lunch (one of our developers found it too much and talked himself off the ledge – no Liam’s names will be mentioned), as we queasily made our way back to the talks.
After grabbing some conference swag, it was time to make the journey back to the airport inspired with new ideas and platform updates to relay back to the team and our clients.
Until the next time - thanks, Epi.