Making sense of Sitecore profiles

I was working with some folks the other day that were new to Sitecore.   We were going through the inventory of functionality in the marketing control panel and landed on profiles.   The introduction of of the concept of profiles to someone new to Sitecore can be a lot to take in.   Most everyone these days are familiar with common concepts around personalization tied to some form of identifiable visitor segmentation.  Less familiar, are the nuances of implicit versus explicit segmentation. And even less familiar, is a fundamental understanding of Sitecore’s notion of profiles, profile cards, patterns and keys. It can be confusing for anyone other than that experienced marketer that has logged hundreds of hours inside the marketing Control panel.

Everyone that's ever sat through a Sitecore demo has seen real-time personalization in play.  Who doesn't know Sam the sightseer or Bob the business traveler from the Jets demo?   

It looks so easy and straight forward… until you try to apply the demo concepts to your organization’s use case.  One of the most common challenge points I see with folks starting out in Sitecore is the misconception that their profiles and profile cards are going to end up looking like what they’ve seen in the Sitecore demos. The reality is, the demo scripts are intended to demonstrate Sitecore functionality, not to be used as the best practice starter guide.  In most cases, a single profile card is not going to be sufficient to deliver the level of personalization that most clients require.   So, the practical configuration is likely going to look a little different.

To get to some best practice points, we’ll need to start with some high level orientation and a use case.  The use case will be a fictional company called IRIG8, that sells sensor enabled irrigation systems to businesses.  

So, what type of personalization are we going to deliver to the IRIG8 site visitor?  Let’s start simple, with personalization based off of explicit segmentation. That would be visitor segmentation that’s based on information we have collected about the visitor.  On the IRIG8 site, we collect explicit segmentation data including location, industry and visitor job title. You can see an example of explicit personalization in the lower right-hand call to action.  We’re personalizing client references based on the industry (golf course)  and location (Southeast).   This would be an example of rules based personalization in Sitecore. We’re creating a set of if/ then conditions using the rule set editor to deliver the personalized content.

The second type of personalization is based off of implicit segmentation. This is typically based off of user behavior, on the site, in the moment.  On the IRIG8 site, we collect implicit segmentation data including buyer profile (finance, maintenance) and buyer journey stage (explore, evaluate, engage).  Examples of implicit personalization on the homepage above. 

  • Buyer profile:  Hero image messaging, targeting the finance profile
  • Buyer journey stage:  Lower left CTA targeting users in the explore stage
 Sitecore content with tagging applied

Sitecore content with tagging applied

In order for the visitor to start building an implicit segmentation profile we have to create an association between site content and the profile points.  So, we tag content with a profile card that contains the aspect of the profile.  

So, what did we use in this example? 

Profile:  This is a category that houses selectors used to segment the visitor. Buyer profile is an example.

Profile key:  This is a series of selectors that roll up to the profile.  Finance and maintenance are our profile keys for buyer profile.

Profile card:  This is a set of preset profile key values that can easily be associated with content.  It’s easier for a content editor to select a profile card than manually select the numeric value of the profile key.  

We have a series of blog posts planned this year on Sitecore Marketing Control Panel functionality.  If you'd like keep up to date, please follow me on Twitter.