How To Evaluate Your Adobe AEM Project Success (Before You Start)

Check out the big brain on Brad

 

A long time ago in a school system far, far away (Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be exact)…

I spent the first ten years of my school life in accelerated programs and split classrooms. I had off-the-charts test scores, attended special schools for academically talented students, and hated every second of it. In the paraphrased words of Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction, I was a smart mofo. In 9th grade, I transferred to a public school and discovered the magical art of complacency and laziness. It was all downhill from there.

Since I was new to the school, breaking into the already-established social groups was a slow process. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the various social groups in a typical midwest American high school (sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads), you would find me sitting smack-dab in the middle – in the Venngina, as I like to call it. I didn’t fit into one particular social clique because I was a little bit of everything – an amalgamation of all. I normally sat the back of the class with the Metallica potheads, goth girls wearing black wedding dresses, and other clock-watching loners who counted down the minutes until 4:20 PM. No reading, writing, and arithmetic back there, just puff, puff, give.

To say that my high school grades sucked because of my complacency is an understatement. I went from being the next Doogie Howser to barely scraping by. I got straight C’s and D’s my senior year in one of the worst schools in Michigan. My high school has only a 55% graduation rate, my history teacher is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a prostitute, and we made national news when a basketball player dropped a sack of weed onto the court during a game.   When you barely graduate from a school like this, you’re a dumb-ass. Even Joe Gunchy, the world’s worst Adobe Architect, could graduate with honors from here. To me, high school was a four (nearly five) year sentence that I had to serve because my parents and Michigan law forced me to attend.

Related: MEET ADOBE AEM’S BIGGEST ENEMY – JOE GUNCHY

Sometimes in class (when I wasn’t skipping), we were allowed to trade papers with our our neighbor to grade each other’s tests, reports, or quizzes. When that happened, no matter who in the Venngina I sat next to, I magically got all A’s.  Other times, we were allowed to grade our own papers. When that happened, I got A+’s!  The rest of the time, our papers were graded by the actual teachers (the ones who weren’t in jail). When that happened, I got F’s.

But, then I got wise…

Instead of reading books, I learned to read people. Instead of studying the subject, I studied the teachers themselves.  Understanding how a teacher prepared their lectures and graded material provided great insight into how to prepare for quizzes, tests, and exams to achieve top scores.  It isn’t cheating, it’s simply understanding the evaluation criteria and details of what good looks like before doing the work.  When I figured out this secret, my grades changed drastically. I spent less time doing unnecessary B.S. and had more free time to do more important things in life – like mope around, play Hacky Sack, and listen to The Cure.

Checkin’ Homework

Why do you suppose my self-evaluated grades differed so greatly from my instructor-evaluated work? According to me and my lenient peers, I was on course for an Ivy League life.  But, according to 100% of the Michigan colleges that didn’t agree with my D’s get degrees philosophy, I was on course for a life as a Walmart cashier.  The difference is, as a self-reviewer you have personal stake and pride-in-ownership which leads to overlooking the small details and errors. These ultimately add up to large errors when aggregated and break the proverbial camel’s back. This is why having an impartial reviewer is important.

Related: YOUR BABY IS UGLY: HOW EXPERIENCE, CANDOR, AND EMPATHY CAN SAVE YOUR ADOBE PROJECT

As consultants, we’re often called upon to evaluate a client’s Adobe AEM platform to determine how flexible, scalable, and (re-)usable it truly is. We effectively get to grade their homework and we need to do it thoroughly and impartially. Unfortunately, this engagement usually happens after the fact, when the platform is already live in production. So, the remediation of the findings often remain unattended, or fixing them causes significant refactoring of code and regression testing of the platform until it becomes entirely unusable, unmaintainable, and is scrapped entirely.  

Start. Right. Now.

What if you knew the grading criteria of a best-in-class Adobe AEM implementation before you began? That is, what if you knew the definition of good as defined by industry best practices, my kick-ass blog, and Adobe then designed your platform to those standards right from the start? This article does just that.  I will show you the evaluation criteria I use as well as additional input from Adobe to ensure you start your project the right way.

Evaluation Overview

I’ve broken down the evaluation into three major sections: Component and Template Reuse, SEO Best Practices, and the Authoring Experience. We will do deep dives into each section in future articles.

Only use this evaluation if the following statements are true:

  1. You renounce the idiot Adobe ArchitectJoe Gunchy and all his work and ways (and all his empty promises) and surrender yourself to the Adobe Best Practices Gods
  2. You are creating a reusable platform consisting of templates, components, and services to be used by more than one brand or business unit to create independent websites or micro-sites
  3. Your platform will provide the flexibility for a brand to create a best-in-class unique site, while keeping within enterprise standards and guide-rails. Play with whatever you want, as long as you stay in the yard, if you will
  4. The primary user of the platform will be a brand manager or business-level user, not a nerdy developer
  5. Your SEO mojo needs help and you want to improve your ranking, easily

Component and Template Reuse

You will review component and template documentation, architecture, and code to validate its capabilities for reuse and ensure the platform’s readiness for the creation of additional sites.

  • Verify proper use of component inheritance for maintainability and extensibility
  • Verify proper use of composite design in component architecture
  • Verify components and templates are void of styling in the markup

SEO Best Practices

You will review template dialog options for the integration of SEO Best Practices.

  • Reconcile inventory of templates and components against a checklist of brand-specific SEO recommendations to ensure inclusion of Schema Markup, canonical tags, social integration, and more.

Authoring Experience

You will find opportunities for simplifying the Authoring experience.

  • Ensure proper use of contextual help, field labels, dialog field validation rules, component and template naming conventions, paragraph system, and more.

Evaluation Execution

Again, I will dive into the details of each in future articles. For now, munch on this:

Component and Template Reuse

To ensure the platform templates and components follow best practices for creating reusable, extendable components and services:

  • Verify there are no styles, colors, or brand-specific functionally embedded into the components that cannot be re-configured without custom component development efforts.
  • Verify proper use of composites in component and template design to maximize reuse and simplify the extension of the components for brand-specific functionality that deviates from the platform baseline functionality.
  • Verify no embedded site-specific labels or copy are used in templates or components that cannot be changed through properties or placeholder labels and values
  • Verify proper use of overlays for overriding platform functionality that will not affect other sites hosted in the environment
  • Verify ability to display custom, site-specific error and exception pages independent of other sites hosted in the environment
  • Verify supporting Java models are void of brand-specific functionality or configurations that would require code changes to incorporate into a new site
  • Verify components do not duplicate functionality for ease of maintanance
  • Verify use of Touch UI, versus Classic UI for editing pending deprecation of Classic UI in 2018 (and deprecation of Coral UI 2.0)
  • Verify proper use of the paragraph system in templates to maximize flexibility
  • Verify consistent authoring experiences across components
  • Verify flexibility of AEM Tagging hierarchy for use on other brands
  • Verify flexibility of workflow processes for other brands

SEO Best Practices

To ensure the platform templates and components incorporates industry SEO best practices into the framework:

  • Verify ability to auto-generate site-independent dynamic sitemap XML
  • Verify ability to customize page URLs
  • Verify ability to include Canonical tags into pages
  • Verify ability to include Meta description and custom Meta tags into pages
  • Verify images include Alt Text
  • Verify ability to include Schema markup (JSON-LD) in pages
  • Verify ability to include OG tags in pages
  • Verify ability to easily adjust page Redirects
  • Verify ability to include Meta robots tags into pages
  • Verify platform follows best practices to reduce Page load time
  • Verify ability to generate Robots.txt
  • Verify ability to display custom, site-specific 404 , 500, and general exceptions pages
  • Verify ability to include Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools integration

Authoring Experience

To ensure the platform templates and components incorporate industry authoring best practices and integrations into the framework:

Evaluation Categorization

The output of the evaluation should label its findings into categories to simplify future prioritization of the recommendations to enhance the platform for more flexibility or reusability. I use a high, medium, and low scheme:

  • High – Immediate need to modify or update platform functionality to accommodate additional brand sites into the platform. Failure to modify or update this feature would not allow additional brand sites to leverage this feature.
  • Medium – Limitations of platform functionality that require future modification or update to accommodate addition brand sites. Workarounds or simple configuration exits for the interim until planned updates can occur to update the component or template.
  • Low – Simple recommendations such as Authoring inconsistencies that still allow platform adoption by other brands, but limit usability.

Adobe Best Practices

Adobe has a ton of information on development and implementation best practices. Start reading the links below to get you on your way.

https://solutionpartners.adobe.com/home/enablement/training/aem_training.html 

Implementation Guides

Step-by-step technical guides to help implement a single Adobe Experience Cloud solution.

Implementation Best Practices

 

Laziness and complacency forbid me from writing conclusions. Therefore:

If you like this blog, leave a comment or SHARE it on your social channels.

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Free Adobe Training Resources (for the People)

If you know me at all, you’d know that “free” is my second favorite F-word.  So what could be better than some effing FREE Adobe training?  Nothing legal, that’s what.

Check out these helpful links for getting up-to-speed on Adobe’s platforms.

free

AEM Community 

The Adobe Experience Manager Community is a place to ask questions and learn from Adobe’s experts, customers, and expert developers. It is a platform to connect with your peers — quickly seek out answers to get the support you need, talk with other developers, exchange examples, discuss the best practices, share experiences, useful blogs (like this one) and get help from the Adobe experts.

See https://blogs.adobe.com/experiencedelivers/experience-management/aem_community/

AEM GEM Sessions

Gems on Adobe Experience Manager is a series of technical deep dives delivered by Adobe experts. This series is a complement of the product documentation and of all the other technical channels, allowing developers to get in touch with one another and have deep-dives on specific topics.

See https://docs.adobe.com/content/ddc/en/gems.html

AEM Ask the Community Sessions

Ask the Community Sessions are monthly webinars hosted by Adobe/Community members for the community on the topics asked by YOU.  Topics vary from how to study for AEM ACE exam to deep technical topics like configuring a Dispatcher.

See https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/topics/ate-sessions.html

 

AEM How-to articles

Super useful articles on how to do everything from using HTL to creating a throttled Twitter component. Tons of content here.

https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/topics/how-to.html

AEM 6.3 New Features and Help Videos

If fancy book learnin’ isn’t your thing, then how about watching some safe-for-work (SFW) videos for once?  Check out these links to helpful videos:

Assets: https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/assets/index/aem-6-3-assets.html
Sites: https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/sites/index/aem-6-3-sites.html
Project & Collaboration: https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/platform-repository/index/aem-6-3-projects.html
Platform: https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/platform-repository/index/aem-6-3-platform.html
Forms: https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/forms/index/aem-6-3-forms.html

AEM Cross Solution Help Articles

I’ve been preaching Multi-solution Architecture for a while now. If you haven’t heeded the warning, you need to start learning how to integrate AEM with other solutions.

Start here:

https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/using/integrate-digital-marketing-solutions.html
https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/using/aem_campaign.html
https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/forms/using/user-profile-data-integration-feature-video-use.html
https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/assets/internal/livefyre-integration-user-experience-improvements.html
https://helpx.adobe.com/experience-manager/kt/forms/using/user-profile-data-integration-feature-video-use.html


Cross Solution Recipes

I refer to these slides often when working through multi-solution integrations. These get into the value proposition of connecting two or more solutions as well as how data is exchanged across the platform.

See: https://helpx.adobe.com/marketing-cloud/how-to/use-cases.html


AEM Community YouTube Channel

You won’t find any Harlem Shaking, ice bucket challenges, or mall hauls here. Just a one-stop shop for information about the AEM Community.

This video sum up everything about the AEM Community.

IMMERSE 2018

IMMERSE is a global virtual conference for the Adobe Experience Manager developer community held in May. You missed the 2017 conference, but you can get on-demand only access to the 2017 sessions and Adobe is making the 2016 sessions public this week!

Stay tuned for a 2018 link, but get great IMMERSE content here:

https://docs.adobe.com/dev/products/aem/events/0416.html

Big thanks to Kautuk Sahni, Scott MacDonald, and Charlie Shafton at Adobe for helping me compile this list.

Adobe offers Multi-Solution Architecture Training Options

Adobe is now offering multi-solution integration training courses to the partner training inventory.   Currently, there are two sessions available from instructor Varun Mitra for AEM to Campaign integration for simplifying email creation and Target to AEM integration for personalization. Both are common use cases and you should attend to start your Multi-Solution Architect training path.

Follow this link to the Partner Portal: Gain Multi-Solution Expertise with AEM Technical Integration Training

Gain Multi-Solution Expertise with AEM Technical Integration Training

Customers are tackling complex challenges, sometimes best solved by more than one solution. Developers and Architects are invited to register for an upcoming Adobe solution integration training designed to introduce the fundamentals along with guided instruction and hands-on exercises. Two sessions are now available, with more to come.

The courses are free to Adobe Partners. Again, if you’re not currently a partner, you should enroll with your company as a Community Partner. After approval, you’ll be granted access to the training, news and presentation material online.

Adobe Solution Partner Portal link here.

 

Finding the Unicorn: The Role Your Organization is Missing (and May Never Find)

Adobe states that over 80 percent of their clients own three or more solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud, including six of the ten highest revenue Pharmaceutical companies. This number will likely grow, as Adobe saw a record 26% increase in revenue Q1 of 2017. The true value of the Adobe Marketing Cloud comes when these solutions are connected together, to provide a consistent, relevant experience across channels and devices. Finding and retaining talent with the ability to connect multiple solutions of the platform is now a mandate. In the Adobe world, this rare role is called the Multi-solution Architect (MSA).

The mandate for an organization to retain a Multi-solution Architect was evident at the 2017 Adobe Summit, as the majority of technical sessions involved combining two or more integrations such as, Adobe Experience Manager integration with Adobe Analytics and Adobe Target, Audience Manager & Adobe Analytics: Your data management power couple, and The Dynamic Duo: Adobe Campaign & Adobe Analytics for real-time re-marketing. Last year, it was estimated that there were only about 15 true Multi-solution Architects worldwide at Adobe. In agencies, there are likely none.  And with an already steep investment on the platform itself, hiring this rare consultant would break even the largest organization’s implementation budgets.

Computer Futures is one of the leading supplier of Adobe talent in the U.S., with Adobe themselves being one of its largest customers. In their 2017 Adobe Market Report, they state that, “the true multi-solution architect will be the most valuable individual in the marketplace.” Currently, there are an estimated 40 open positions for an Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) developer alone, and even more for an Adobe Campaign developer. An individual with the experience to connect both systems (or even three or more solutions) would be like finding a unicorn. And with new legislation on the table that would effectively double the salary of H1B workers to a minimum of $130,000 per year, the available talent pool to fulfill these roles will decrease as the low-cost developer pool shrinks.

“For the most part, ‘true multi-solution architects’ are working for Adobe directly. This is where they naturally receive the best training and gain the most project exposure year on year. There are some that have flown the proverbial nest or exist outside of this, but they are extremely hard to come by.” -Dave Fox, Computer Futures

It’s important for you to heed the call and extend your AEM practice to multi-solution consulting and execution to align overall solution architecture to digital marketing strategy and goals. This ensures marketing campaigns are fully integrated to deliver a consistent, personalized experience and messaging across channels, and are continually measured and refined through data-driven insights.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Since you won’t likely won’t find an MSA, you have to make one.  If it’s you, how do you get up-to-speed on your multi-solution architecture practice?

The Adobe MSA acts as the facilitator between the business and the individual Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for each solution, so there are soft skills needed in addition to the nerd stuff. Even the greatest musicians need a conductor. Assuming your organization’s offering is silo’d (like most), it’s the job of the MSA to provide the connective tissue between your web, relationship marketing, social, media, data, and insights teams. Although the technology was created to provide the horizontality across these silos, your antiquated, pre-digital business model and processes will hamper its effectiveness. You are the glue.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Tell a story: “When Dr. X visits our homepage, we identify he is a Cardiologist who has never prescribed our drug. We dynamically show content in the hero space specific to first-time prescribing Cardiologists and a clear call to action to contact a sales rep in his area. When he clicks the button, we take him to a Contact a Rep Form. Blah, blah, blah.”  Notice the story has no Adobe solutions (or any technology solutions, for that matter) listed whatsoever.  You first need to define the what before the how.Your story should always tie back to a measurable business goal. In this case, it is to increase registrations and rep engagement. Now, it might not be your job to actually create the story, it is your job to bring the story to life.
  • Start small. Too often, organizations take the Joe Gunchy approach and choose the largest implementation as their ‘pilot’.

    “Go big or go home.” –Joe Gunchy

    You need quick wins, so start with a short story (not a novel), then map the data, content, and technologies needed to bring your story to life:

    • Homepage (AEM)
    • Doctor speciality data (first and third-party data in Audience Manager)
    • Doctor prescriber data (first and third-party data in Audience Manager)
    • Geolocation data (browser info in AEM Context Hub)
    • Behavioral data (Analytics data shared with Target)
    • Contact a rep form (AEM/Campaign)

When you identify a missing piece in your technology landscape, you need to weigh the value of acquisition/customization.  Is it easier to modify the story or the technology landscape to achieve quick wins while still achieving your business goals?

  • Connect the dots. Study the Adobe Use Cases  found in the Adobe Solution Partner Portal. If you’re not an Adobe Partner, you can register as a Community Partner to access this content. The use cases show how data is exchanged between solutions for a variety of scenarios. Understanding these will give you a foundation for implementing their connectivity.  A multi-solution connected diagram looks like this:Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 11.44.01 AM.png
  • Follow best practices.  Check out the Build a Digital Foundation using the Adobe Experience Cloud tutorial for tips on how to integrate AEM with other solutions. Also, read the  Integrating with the Adobe Marketing Cloud documentation then actually try some hands-on execution of a small use case. Start by simply personalizing a single piece of content in AEM using the out-of-the-box Context Hub for geolocation or other available trait, then eventually move up to AEM + Target integration, then Analytics to Target to AEM, then AEM to Campaign, etc. Fail fast, and learn.

    “E pluribus unum (Out of many, one)”

  • Out of many, one.  This is the opportunity to organize around your team of internal SMEs to help with the connectivity between solutions to bring your story to life – a journey manager, of sorts.  Do you have to know every detail of every Adobe solution? Nope.”You don’t have to know how to push every button, you just need to know there’s a button to push.”   Let the SME’s do their SME’ing while you retire back to your cubicle knowing you’re the rarest mofo in the org.

    #unicorns4life.

Jumping into Adobe AEM Development

Got a great note from a reader asking advice on whether he should dive in and learn AEM development:

I am a User Interface Designer with minor Front End Developer skills. I was recently hired by a major eye wear company  for the sole purpose of migrating a version of one of their Native Apps over to AEM. I have no real experience with AEM Development, but I am a fast learner and I already have the AEM portal experience mastered (along with creating articles, collections, layouts, etc..)

My question is: Do you think it is viable/worth it for me to dive head first into AEM Development and try to learn the various languages/frameworks necessary to be able to customize an AEM app? Or is it something that would take years to understand and a complete change of my skillset?

Kind of a random question, I know… but your article was great so I thought I would reach out for advice. Thank you Mr. Meehan!

Seemingly Unrelated Story Time…

I grew up in a stereotypical, plain vanilla American suburban neighborhood – complete with station wagons, paper routes, penny loafers, Golden Retrievers, the works. There was even a pool up the street where you could pay 50 cents to swim all day.

I didn’t know how to swim until I was almost 11 years old, and none of my friends knew it. I could have won an Oscar for Best Actor for the work I did in that pool. I had all the individual skills to be a swimmer, but I never put the pieces together. If I held onto the side of the pool with my hands, I could float and kick my legs – no problem. When I was away from the wall, I would just walk with my feet touching the ground and paddle my arms so it looked like I was swimming. But, once I felt the curvature of the floor move towards the deep end, I would turn around and go back the other way because I knew I would be over my head.

Fast forward one muggy Michigan summer…

Somehow my ultra-conservative mom made friends with a backwoods, country bumpkin lady who had just moved to Michigan from a little town in West Virginia. She looked exactly like Willie Nelson in drag. I can’t remember her name, but it was one of those redneck stoner names where two regular stoner names are mashed together to make it even more rednecky, like “Misty Sue” or “Deena Jo”.

One day we were at the pool (or “swimmin’ hole”, as she called it) and she saw me walking in the shallow end, paddling my arms. She knew I couldn’t swim and I knew she was about to expose my secret as soon as she finished the Virginia Slim cigarette dangling from her lips. She paced back and forth along side the pool like a junkyard dog, watching me. I knew I was doomed, so I stayed in the pool until my hands and feet were as pruned as a crocodile’s scrotum. Yeah, I said it.

When I finally got out of the water, she took the last drag from her cigarette, dropped it into a can of warm Shasta soda and shook it.  Ssssssssssst.  She slowly walked over to me, grabbed me, then said, “Ya know what time it is, hound dog? …It’s swimmin‘ time!”

At first,  I thought it was weird that someone just called me, “hound dog”. Then, I was relieved because I thought she was going to say, “Hey, everyone! This kid can’t swim!”  Then, I realized “swimmin‘ time” loosely translated to “throw me in the deep end”.

I tried to scurry away and break her grip, but I couldn’t. She had me a crazy country wrestling hold I called, The Full Willie Nelson.  The more I struggled, the more my sunburned back scraped across the stubble on her leathery legs, until I could take no more. I conceded and wilted onto the scalding concrete.

fullnelson

She lifted me up over her head and threw me into the middle of the diving pool, which was the deepest part of the L-shaped pool. I sunk down about three feet, panicked, and started kicking my legs until I got to the surface of the water. I kept kicking my legs and flailing my arms and realized that the more I kicked and flailed, the more I moved closer to the safety of the wall. “Holy sh*t, I’m swimming!,” I thought.

I spent the rest of the day jumping into the deep end on my own and swimming back to the wall, all while Mrs. Willie Nelson smoked and watched from the edge.

Get to the Point…

Adobe is selling the hell out of AEM right now. Internally, they simply don’t have the capacity to keep up with all of the services opportunities to stand up, develop, and manage the platform, so they’re turning to partners to do the work.  If you’re hiring, you’ll be lucky to find a single AEM developer just sitting on the bench. And, if you do, they won’t be there long.

Time to jump in!

You already have some of the individual skills required to start developing in AEM. Most importantly, you’re already familiar with the tool. If you do this now, you can ride the demand wave for the next four years or so until the market evens out.  By then, you’ll be leading your own team.

The easiest way to learn it is to just jump in and do it.  Learning to code is the easy part. Since Sightly, we’ve enabled most of our front-end developers to create templates and components on their own without much back end coding. Template and component development is a good place to start.

Don’t get over your head!

You don’t need formal training,  but you do need a mentor who can take a look at your design and code to make sure you’re developing using best practices. Most of the clean-up work we do is directly related to a client hiring a development team who oversold their capabilities, didn’t follow any standards, and left the client with a non-scalable platform littered with hundreds of templates and components. Hundreds!  Don’t be that guy.  If you don’t have a mentor, get involved in the Adobe developer forums. There are some incredibly talented men and women on there who were once in your shoes and will answer any question you have.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Helen Hayes, whoever that is…

“The expert at anything was once a beginner.”

-Someone named Helen Hayes

Jump in the pool, hound dog. It’s swimmin’ time.

 

Stone Soup: A Recipe for Personalization Using the Adobe Marketing Cloud

This article is the first in a series I’m devoting to the idea of multi-solution architecture; that is, the ability to understand how (and when) to connect other solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud to help drive consistent, personalized experiences across channels and devices.

If you think you’re just going to be an AEM architect in this “digital disruption” age, you’re wrong. Over 70 of my clients own two or more solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud and that’s growing quickly.  Clients now expect agencies and system integrators understand how these work together to meet the marketing goals of their business.

Adobe has a specific role within their organization dedicated to the strategy, planning, and implementation of multiple solutions called the “Multi-solution Architect” (MSA).  It’s such a rare skill-set in the marketplace that within the walls of Adobe themselves, there are currently only around 15 MSAs worldwide.  This capacity gap means opportunity for you, if you take advantage of it now.

The job description for the Adobe MSA calls for expertise in at least one solution of the Marketing Cloud and (for starters), and the ability to at least ‘whiteboard’ which solution should be used in conjunction with one another to target and personalize their experience. So, it doesn’t mean you have to know ‘how to push the button’ on every solution – you just have to know there’s a button to push and delegate to your solution experts when appropriate.

Here are a few key characteristics of the MSA from the job description:

  • Leverage your deep knowledge of digital marketing technology to align overall solution architecture to digital marketing strategy.
  • Become a trusted advisor for Customers in planning, implementing and optimizing cross-channel digital marketing initiatives, creating a digital-first culture and mastering digital operational excellence.
  • Lead customers to place a stronger emphasis on targeting and optimization, apply data-driven insights to fine tune planning and improve digital ROI.

I learn best by example, so I’ll use the solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud as ingredients in the cupboard to make a recipe for personalization following the theme of an old folktale called, “Stone Soup”. This will help you start to understand the what/where/when the other solutions besides AEM should be used and get you on a path to becoming a Multi-solution Architect.

Stone Soup

Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers. Then the travelers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they are making “stone soup”, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, the stone (being inedible) is removed from the pot, and a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all. Although the travelers have thus tricked the villagers into sharing their food with them, they have successfully transformed it into a tasty and nutritious meal which they share with the donors.

Wikipedia, the source of all truth

Let’s imagine instead that this fantastic Stone Soup we want to create is a fully-personalized, cross-channel marketing ecosystem and the ingredients the villagers supply are solutions from the Adobe Marketing Cloud.  If we add the ingredients one-by-one, what personalization can we do? How could each ingredient make the soup even better? Let’s get cooking…

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM)

Adobe Experience Manager is a comprehensive content management solution for building websites, mobile apps and forms

aem

Our first ingredient we’ll add is Adobe Experience Manager, since this is the one you know best. On it’s own, we can do some basic personalization by leveraging the internal Context Hub, which is the new-and-improved version of the Client Context.  Think of the Context Hub as a place to store key/value pairs of known information about the visitor –  First name: Brad.  Last name: Meehan.  Sex: Sure.  Out-of-the-box we have basic information we can key-off of like geolocation and device data, and you can integrate with other services to populate the Context Hub on your own with other useful, custom data.

Once you have the key/value pairs in the Context Hub, you create Audiences and Offers to display unique content for those segments using the values as ‘traits’.  But, if you want to show content for a specific audience that is not at first identifiable using these values, you would have to ask the user “self-identify” who they are.

By self-identification, I mean asking the user to explicitly select their path for a particular journey, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  “Are you a new or existing customer?” or “Would you like to buy or sell a car?”  This works for a small number of audiences, but I’ve seen instances where a client wanted the user to select from a list of over 80 roles to show them different user journeys for each.

Now, if we were cooking in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen, this is where he would say, “Self-identify? Are you f**king kidding me?!”   But you, our trusted MSA, would say, “There’s another way…”

grady_hellskitchen_post

Key Points to Remember:

  • Create, manage, and publish content specific to their audiences
  • Basic personalization functionality using Context Hub
  • How do I know the audience segment if values in Context Hub aren’t available or useful? The user must self-identify.
  • Licensing determined by number of instances

Adobe Analytics

Analytics is the industry-leading solution for collecting, organizing, analyzing and reporting

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What if the user’s behavior could determine their audience instead of asking them explicitly?  If the visitor is reading articles about “How much car can I afford?”, viewing current auto loan rates and trade-in values, and using payment calculators, they are likely a buyer versus a seller.  We can use these behavioral decisions to determine the audience they belong to and use this to drive personalization. We can also identify outliers, or anomalies in what we thought our visitors would do, versus what they actually do on our site and adjust our strategy ad hoc.

The key here is to be nimble. A human’s attention span is now less than that of a goldfish. You must determine their audience segment quickly and show them relevant content, or the user will look elsewhere.   I usually give a site about three clicks to find (or progress to) what I’m looking for before I use bad words in front of my kids and bailout completely.  Don’t judge.

I heard a weird statistic that said, ‘of the Adobe customers that own only one solution, 95% own Analytics.’

Analytics is an essential solution of the Adobe Marketing Cloud. I can use my Analytics data to identify high-performing content or assets, and share that with Adobe Target to show offers in AEM using the native Target/AEM integration.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Use it to learn about the visitor as they browse
  • Display personalized content based on their behaviors
  • Determine user segment quickly or user will bounce
  • You can use this on your existing web properties and mobile apps, regardless of the technology platform you used to build it.
  • Licensing determined by number of server calls per year

Adobe Target

Adobe Target is personalization solution that makes it easy to identify your best content through tests that are easy to execute. So you can deliver the right experience to the right customer.

atAdobe Target is the ingredient we’ll add to our pot to automate personalization using things like click-stream data from Analytics without having to manually manage or create targeting rules.  This fully-automates our behavioral-driven personalization effort using AEM and Analytics alone, solving the goldfish issue. Here’s a video demo of the Automated Personalization feature of Target.  Kinda bad-ass.

AEM 6.2 has native integration with Target and you can use audiences you create in Target to drive Offers authored in AEM.  Conversely, you can use Target (regardless of the presence of AEM) to author experiences using Target’s Visual Experience Composer.

You can also do A/B and Multi-Variate Testing (MVT) to determine and promote the best content for our Offers. Meaning, you can test combinations of copy, images, colors, etc to see which perform best to help drive conversions.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Automate personalization
  • Create “personalized” content using native Target to AEM integration
  • Perform A/B and Multivariate Testing. See what’s working.
  • Promote best performing combinations of content.
  • You can use this with your existing web properties and mobile apps, regardless of the technology platform you used to build it.
  • Licensing determined by page views per year

Adobe Audience Manager

Adobe Audience Manager is a data management platform that helps build unique audience profiles to identify the most valuable segments and use them across any digital channel

aamWhat if instead of driving personalization from learned behaviors, you could instead identify and target an audience before they ever did a single thing on the site?  Or if you could show the visitor a relevant, targeted offer in a search results page? Audience Manager is Adobe’s Data Management Platform that allows you to use first, second, and third-party data to create audiences and do cool things.

First party data is information you already own about your visitor, such as if they are an existing customer or not.  But, unlike data stored in your CRM system, data in Audience Manager is anonymized so there’s no Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to secure, manage, or audit.  But, visitors are still uniquely identifiable and have a single Marketing Cloud ID to share across solutions so we are marketing consistently to the customer regardless of channel.

Second-party data is information you get from your partners (like Facebook or Twitter) who are willing to share (or sell) data about the visitor. You can’t argue with how powerful leveraging data about our visitors from their social channels would be to increase conversions.  Want to sell more IROC-Zs? Pull in an audience of everyone who “likes” Metallica, Zubaz pants, and Oakley Blade sunglasses. Done.

Companies like Axciom and Datalogix have thousands of data points for nearly every person in the United States that you could purchase and use to target offers. This is third-party data. And you can mix and match traits to create very specific audiences you want to target and use them not only on your website, but in targeted ad buys.

Did you know in the Datalogix data set, there are 18,708,763 people who can instantly be identified as “soccer moms”?  This would have significantly helped me on my Match.com profile.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Integrate with anonymized first, second, and third-party data
  • Identify the user before they see the page
  • No PII data to manage
  • Share audiences across solutions
  • Licensing determined by number of impressions

Adobe Campaign

Adobe Campaign is a cross-channel campaign management tool that helps you improve and personalize campaigns across all of your media.

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Adobe Campaign is the ingredient we’ll use to nurture our clients and prospects via email and real-time in-app messaging with the ultimate goal of keeping them away from the unsubscribe button.

How many times have you received an email from a brand that had nothing to do with you? Or it wasn’t timely and therefore irrelevant to your needs? Just this week I received a message from a company with shipping tracking information for a product I received over a month ago. That would have been great to have weeks ago.

Messaging should not only be timely, but be relevant and consistent to the recipient depending on where they are in their user journey:

  • Learn more about our Wine of the Month Club!
  • Thank you for joining our Wine of the Month Club!
  • New Wine of the Month Club members only! Buy one get one free!
  • Thank you for your wine order! Your 20 bottles are on the way!
  • Track your shipping!
  • Back so soon?
  • Rough day at the office?

You get the point.

Unlike Audience Manager, Adobe Campaign does contain PII data about our customers, but  you can share anonymized audiences with other solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Use first-party CRM data to drive email and in-app messaging.
  • Target and re-target prospects
  • Retain acquired customers
  • Hosted or on-premise options available
  • Licensing determined by number of active emails and number of emails sent per year

Adobe Media Optimizer

Adobe Media Optimizer is a media optimization solution that helps you forecast the best mix of search, display and social ads based on your budget. It also automates the execution of your media plan.

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I recently saw a banner ad for my personal bank with a call-to-action to “Open a Checking Account Today!” – even though I’ve had a checking account with them for the past 15 years!  Since I’m  in market for a used car, I’ve searched numerous times for used car loans in Kansas City and never have I seen my bank’s loan offering in a banner ad or paid search. Either they’re the only bank in Kansas City that doesn’t loan money or they missed a great opportunity to place a relevant ad touting their lending products. What ingredient could we add to our Stone Soup to solve this dilemma in the future? Media Optimizer.

Media Optimizer used in combination with the bank’s first-party data could have been used to identify me (and the other 360,000+ existing customers) and change the messaging to suit my needs. They could have bid, purchased, and displayed targeted ads in real-time specific to my needs.  

Key Points to Remember:

  • Bid, purchase, and display target ads in real-time
  • Show media to targeted customers only
  • Licensing determined by spend for display, search and social

Adobe Social

Adobe Social is a social management platform that ties every piece of data to your bottom line. Beyond just the likes and follows, manage the deep relationship between your customers’ sentiments and your business goals.

asCommunication is a two-way street and it is important to understand what people are saying about a brand, not just what the brand is saying to them. Adobe Social is used not only to create and manage social posts on various social channels and listen to the conversations to identify trends or new opportunities. This used with other tools of the Adobe Marketing Cloud could offer countless opportunities to proved relevant offers and content.

Recently a client wanted to know if it was possible to monitor social channels for trending conversations then use the most frequently mentioned keywords to automatically promote related content on their own website.  For example, say the chatter on the web suddenly increased around Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Your large, reputable auto manufacturing client has numerous articles on their website about recent awards for legitimately having the lowest emission vehicles on the road.  Probably something you’d want to share now!  You could use Social, Analytics, (Target), and AEM to solve this complex, but useful use case.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Manage social engagement
  • Surface trends on Social channels
  • Target content for trending topics

Adobe Primetime

Not a freaking clue.

Key Points to Remember:

I got nothin’.

Conclusion

So, there’s your first taste of Stone Soup. Part two will dive deeper into multi-solution architecture with real world examples of poor digital experiences and how to solve them. Stay tuned.

Please send consulting questions to brad@bradmeehan.com