This is part two of a three-part series on leveraging Sitecore’s rules engine to enable digital transformation. Read the previous post looking at setting a foundation by defining a content strategy for your personalized experience.  

Sitecore has a very robust rules engine that helps drive the personalized user experience, but before you can create a custom experience for your audience, you need to do the setup work. The first thing to do (after you’ve defined your content strategy) is configure your existing audience segments and personas in Sitecore.

Part 1 of the Sitecore personalization series: Developing a content strategy for a custom Sitecore experience.

You can implement personalization at different levels. You could simply use profile keys to create a very direct and specific level of personalization. This is also less work from an ongoing management perspective. You can also implement all the features that we’re going to look at to create a much more dynamic experience, but this comes with more setup and more features to manage and track.

There are a few different steps you’ll need to take to get started, but first let’s make sure you understand the basic terms Sitecore uses.

Profile: Profiles are used for organizational purposes, not to create a user profile.

Profile keys: Profile keys are attributes that are applied to your personas – think of audience segments or content categories.

Profile cards (Personas): Profile cards are groups of profile keys (attributes) that are used to assign values to content items or components.

Pattern cards: Pattern cards are used to map profile values to your website visitors. These cards are used to profile your audience and make assumptions about who specific types of visitors are and what you want them to see.

To get started with personalization, you’ll need to set up the profile keys, profile cards, and pattern cards in the marketing control panel.

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The first thing you’ll have to do is set up profiles to organize your profile keys, profile cards, and pattern cards. This again is more for organizational purposes than anything else. Below is what Sitecore provides out of the box. Focus, function, persona, and score are profiles. Background, practical, process, and scope are profile keys. You also have a folder available for profile cards and pattern cards.

Profile Keys

The profile keys you create should map directly with the categories and attributes in your content matrix.

The first thing you’ll have to do is create profiles (groups of profile keys) and the corresponding profile keys. The profile keys that you create should map directly with the categories and attributes that you’ve defined in your content matrix. For example, you could create profile keys specific to your B2B audience and another set of profile keys for your B2C customers. In addition, you might create another set of profile keys for the different stages of your sales or conversion process, independent on the type of customer visiting your site. If you have an extended conversion cycle, you can customize the messaging to each of your audiences based on where they are in the buying process.

Profile Cards/Personas

The next step is creating profile cards (and personas). The profile card is going to be a combination of various profile keys. When going through this step, think about your B2C customer that is just doing the initial research, or the existing B2B customer that has been with you for 10 years. Each of those customer groups have different needs, and your site should display different content to each of them and they both need to be represented in the profile cards that you create.

Keep in mind that both of those customer groups may share some of the same profile keys, but the weight of each profile key will likely be different for each. You’ll have an opportunity to score each profile key associated with the profile card when you set them up. Later, these profile cards will be assigned to Sitecore components/content items to indicate which audience they should be directed toward.

Profile card example – default profile keys displayed.

Pattern Cards

Pattern cards profile your anonymous site visitors and make assumptions about who you think they are.

Next, you’ll need to configure the pattern cards. Pattern cards are similar to profile cards, but there is a key difference. Profile cards are focused on the content, so your assets and messaging should all align to a profile card. Pattern cards, on the other hand, are focused on your audience – they are used to profile your anonymous site visitors and make assumptions about who you think they are. Each site visitor can only be mapped to a single pattern card at a time, and depends on their activity on your site. The pattern that they are associated with can change over time. While setting them up, you might feel like you’re duplicating efforts, but the cards have different intents and are used to drive personalization is different ways, which is why they need to be created separately.

Just like setting up the profile cards, you’ll want to score each profile key and weigh it according to the assumed audience you’ll be targeting.

Pattern card example – default profile keys displayed.

Creating a Personalized Experience

So how does all this create a personalized experience? There are a few last steps before you’re up and running. Set up your threshold, or the number of pages a user has to visit, before you start profiling them. This helps to set a baseline for what you know about them, rather than just firing off different versions of content without any context. Next, tag your content. As you create new content or edit existing content, you can select one of your newly created profile cards and apply it to a piece of content (or to the page as a whole). By doing that, you’re telling Sitecore that this piece of content is associated with this specific audience (in our example below, with the B2B customers).

Applying a profile card to a component.

Finally, we can set up the rules that pull everything together. Out-of-the-box Sitecore gives you more conditional statements than you’ll need. Scroll through the list and find the statements that fit your needs – this again is where you can make your personalization simple (based on a single profile key) or more complex (pulling in profile card or pattern card scores).

90 percent of the Sitecore personalization features you want will be available without the need for a developer.

At this point, you may need some development work to pull in data from an external source or create a new conditional statement that leverages a custom piece of functionality, but 90 percent of the personalization features that you want or need will be available without the need for a developer to get involved. If you look back at all the steps we’ve taken, there has been no development required! Personalization with Sitecore is a configuration and content entry task, not a development task.

In the next post, we’ll look at how to roll out this new experience and what to consider when scaling the solution.

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