Although the world around us seems to be changing on a near-daily basis, this year’s Marketo Engage feature announcements at Adobe Summit have strong continuity with announcements from last year.
My overall impression: this is a focused and thoughtful plan, with a good mix of improvements to existing features and new innovations.
- Account-Based Experiences and Predictive Audiences continue to roll out
- Overhaul of Marketo Sales Insight
- New Unified User Interface
- Audience sharing throughout Adobe Experience Cloud
- Improvements to core platform – program member custom fields, execute campaign flow step, and more
The overarching theme I saw from Adobe Summit is one of increasing cohesion and integration, with the longer-term vision for how Marketo Engage will drive the overall B2B capabilities within Experience Cloud becoming much clearer.
The roadmap also includes several deep technical improvements to the core platform. These are not the most PR-friendly features – but they are the things that make power users and advocates very happy. It’s evident that Marketo’s product team is listening carefully to this audience.
Safe Harbour: This post does not represent any kind of official “roadmap.” It’s just one person’s observations based on reviewing the Adobe Summit sessions and some follow-up discussions with product team members. It may contain errors or omissions. The features mentioned may be at various stages of development, including still in the design phase. Thus, timelines are approximate.
Unified User Interface (Sometime 2020)
Marketo’s next generation “Sky” interface has been in an open beta for the past few years now. The new UI looks nicer and incorporates many compelling new features but still hasn’t been widely adopted, possibly due to feature gaps between Sky and the legacy interface.
The “Unified” user interface revealed at Adobe Summit is an effort to bridge the gap between the two experiences. It includes some incremental updates to aspects of the legacy UI (which will be a mandatory upgrade for all users) along with the ability to toggle other parts of the interface between Sky and legacy more easily.
The mandatory updates to the legacy UI include:
- Replacing the navigation tree on the left side with the Sky tree, which will be re-designed to match the Adobe Experience Cloud aesthetic.
- Enhancements to the navigation tree to reach parity with the legacy UI – for example, support for multiple workspaces and the ability to move content from the tree to engagement streams.
- Adding global navigation across the top.
The UI toggle will control the experience of the non-navigational parts of the interface (everything to the right of the tree and below the top navigation). Rather than having to jump into a Sky parallel universe, a user can put on “Sky Goggles” to see their work (for example, building a program) in the Sky UI without losing where they are.
My reaction: on the one hand, I feel relieved that Marketo is bringing the interfaces together and creating an easier path to Sky adoption. Too much has been invested in the new UI, and too many good features live there, to not do this.
However, it will be very important to get the details right. If mandatory changes to the legacy UI remove existing capabilities or break user expectations, there will be problems. It sounds like the product team is listening very carefully to users (having surveyed 1500+ of them) and testing thoroughly to ensure the rollout is a success.
Account-Based Experiences (ABX)
Marketo’s ABM module has been available for some time now. It can group records into named accounts or account lists, profile accounts using a predictive model, identify new target accounts not currently in your system, and measure engagement from an account-based perspective.
It also provides a set of simple triggers and filters to use in smart campaigns and the ability to target a list with ads on paid media networks. But overall, the connection between the ABM module and Marketo’s core functionality is still limited.
Marketo aims to change that with a new concept: Account Smart Lists. This goes beyond simply filtering a group of people based on account properties (which we can already do today). Account smart lists might enable the following types of queries:
- Show me accounts with at least one decision maker
- Show me accounts with at least one person who has downloaded a white paper in the last x days
- Show me accounts with at least 5 people who have attended a webinar in the last x days
- Show me accounts where there has been no activity in the last x days
Account smart lists is a much deeper structural change to the core platform and brings “account-based” querying to the forefront across all marketing activities. This change reflects an awareness that account-based strategies are not something separate from normal B2B marketing or a flavor of the month – they are core to the discipline.
I have heard we may also see this reflected in how the product is bundled, with ABM features being included as standard in some Marketo tiers, instead of being a separate add-on.
Marketo Sales Insight Overhaul (Sometime 2020)
The venerable Marketo Sales Insight (MSI) CRM plugin for sales enablement hasn’t had any UI changes in quite some time, so this overhaul is very much welcome.
The initial screenshots look promising. In addition to an overall new aesthetic, the concept features a new tab, “Insights,” which shows an overall timeline of all interactions. This will be easily filterable and toggle-able between a single contact view or overall account view.
Additionally, the grid will show a list of upcoming virtual or in-person events that a person is registered for, allowing sales to easily understand upcoming marketing touchpoints and plan their own outreach accordingly.
It’s a huge improvement.
For my next wish – let’s please bring the data from the Bizible Insights into this UI as well (for those who are Bizible customers), so we don’t have two nearly redundant regions on page layouts in CRM.
Predictive Audiences (Now in Beta)
This feature was announced at Adobe Summit last year and is currently in closed beta.
It includes a new set of filters you can include in a smart list:
- Lookalike of Program Members: This filter evaluates lead level characteristics such as standard demographic and firmographic fields to identify an audience similar to that of another program that you select.
- Likely to Unsubscribe: Similarly looks at lead level properties and identifies whether someone is likely to unsubscribe.
- Likely to Register: This filter looks at the program context and assesses whether a person is likely to register based on how similar audiences have interacted with programs of a similar channel, considering audience size, geographic location, and similar factors.
You can set a threshold for each of these filters and fine tune them to send more targeted emails that convert at a higher rate. This enables marketers to achieve performance goals while minimizing audience fatigue.
I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit skeptical about whether these sorts of machine learning applications are ready to deliver on their promises. However, I was impressed by the results achieved by Kimberly Galitz, a Marketo Champion who runs marketing automation at Bandwidth. She was able to reduce her audience size for email sends by 73% and still meet about 80% of her audience registration goals.
Adobe Experience Cloud Integrations
Although Marketo was purchased by Adobe about 18 months ago, it remains very much a standalone product from a functional perspective.
However, based on this year’s roadmap outlined at Adobe Summit, we can expect much tighter integration in the future, as connecting Marketo Engage to the rest of Adobe’s Experience Cloud (their suite of marketing solutions) is a major focus, as emphasized at Adobe Summit.
Adobe Experience Manager (Now Available)
Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is Adobe’s content management system (CMS) and also functions as a digital asset management (DAM) tool.
For companies using AEM to store digital assets, Marketo users can now integrate AEM directly with Marketo, allowing them to import AEM assets into Marketo’s Design Studio as well as directly from within the email and landing page editor.
This feature (currently available) can streamline campaign production workflows and solves some version control issues involved in sending creative assets back and forth via email or chat.
Currently the image synced over becomes disconnected from its source, once inside Marketo, but the roadmap for this feature includes real-time updates, so that a change in the AEM file would synchronize with Marketo.
To better understand the significance of this feature, it’s useful to first put into perspective what the Adobe Experience Cloud (AEC) is and how it works.
The AEC consists of several interwoven layers, outlined below.
Platform: This is a repository for all your known and anonymous customer data, where data can be ingested from multiple sources and prepared for use.
Services: These are prebuilt services that help activate your data – for example, you can use Real Time CDP to consolidate that data into customer profiles.
Applications: This data can then be leveraged in various applications within the AEC – for example, to create audiences for advertising, to create personalized web experiences, and so on.
Consequently, when you consider the audience sharing feature, think of Marketo Engage being connected with the rest of this ecosystem, with the data ultimately flowing both ways.
Senior Manager of Marketo Product Management Badsah Mukherji described several phases to this effort:
- Marketo → AEC: As a first step, it sounds like we’ll see more of a point-to-point integration between Marketo static lists and other AEC applications – for example, sending a list of people to be retargeted on paid media networks.
- AEC → Marketo: As a second step, we could see data from those other AEC applications also flowing back into Marketo – for example, syncing an audience from Adobe Audience Manager back to a Marketo static list.
- B2B CDP: The longer-term vision is to enable Adobe Experience Platform to be a true B2B customer data platform (CDP) – with full support for B2B data structures at the platform level. This would enable the creation of B2B profiles and the ability to activate that data across the full range of applications in Experience Cloud.
Adobe’s marketing software has generally been B2C focused, and so many of the entities common to B2B thinking (e.g., accounts and opportunities) are simply not part of the CDP data model today.
This is a significant change for both Marketo and the Adobe Experience Cloud as a whole, as it will enable a wide range of B2B-friendly applications across the suite.
Other Integrations from Adobe Summit
LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms (Now Available)
Marketo now supports three additional field types for LinkedIn Lead Gen forms:
- Test Leads: Just what it sounds like – the ability to mark a record as a test.
- Hidden Fields: Fields that can be populated with a hidden value, such as UTM tracking parameters. You can have up to 20 hidden fields.
Microsoft Dynamics Sync Enhancements (Now Available)
Marketo’s Dynamics connector moves closer to parity with the Salesforce connector with the following new features:
- Sync to CRM in Real Time: Previously, a record passing through a sync flow step could take 5 minutes or more to appear in CRM. It will now sync in near-real time.
- Change Owner Flow Action: Allows you to assign the record to a different Dynamics user. This will also implicitly sync the record, if it is not yet in Dynamics. Lastly, it can only be used in triggered campaigns and not batches.
- Create Task: The task can be customized with tokens. It can only be used in triggered campaigns and not batches.
Core Platform Improvements from Adobe Summit
Accelerated Batch Processing (H1 and H2 2020)
For 2020, Marketo plans to roll out technical improvements that should vastly increase performance for batch emails. The expected throughput will be up to 3 million emails per hour by H1 of 2020 and 5 million emails per hour by H2.
This is part of an ongoing effort to improve the performance of Marketo’s service under scale, and follows an update in 2019 which accelerated trigger campaigns, reportedly reducing backlog by up to 10x.
Other planned improvements include processing speed increases for program membership, segmentation, and scoring.
Execute Campaign Flow Step
The significance of this feature will likely seem arcane to non-practitioners, but as a long-time Marketo user, it’s the announcement that I’m most enthusiastic about.
Background: Why This Matters
As Marketo requirements increase in complexity, it becomes highly desirable to separate functionality into separate workflows or smart campaigns.
For example, a lead lifecycle / lead management program may have 10 or more separate processes that occur when a new person enters the database – set and time-stamp lifecycle stages, request data enrichment, populate consent fields for compliance, normalize data values….and so on.
Typically it’s important for these actions to occur in a specific order, and thus controlling order of operations in your Marketo instance becomes paramount. In other cases, you may want to take commonly-repeated functionality – for example, creating a task or sending an alert – and place it inside a centralized smart campaign, which functions as a sort of micro-service that other programs can request. This makes it much easier to update and maintain this functionality.
The tools to do all this are available today – but it can be challenging in practice. The result: many Marketo implementations are not as robust and reliable as they could be.
Today’s Options and Their Limitations
Some people add in wait steps to allow one process to complete before another begins. This is not a recommended approach, as it really is just a “best guess” and will either artificially slow a process down or fail if your system is under load and the first process takes longer than you expect.
More sophisticated approaches require “daisy-chaining” campaigns together, either using the request campaign flow step or having one campaign trigger off the output of another (e.g., a data value changing). This is effective, but can be challenging to architect correctly and for other users to understand easily.
How the “Execute Campaign” Flow Step Would Work
As envisioned today (and it is still in design phase), this flow step would enable users to configure “executable” campaigns, which would be indicated by a particular type of filter in the smart list.
These campaigns would contain whatever processes the user needs to execute.
In the parent campaign, you would then use the Execute Campaign flow step to invoke those campaigns as needed. You could also indicate whether the campaign should execute in series (meaning that the next flow step in the original campaign would NOT begin until the executed campaign completed) or in parallel (meaning that the original campaign would continue processing immediately).
The following is a diagram demonstrating my current understanding of how a series of executable campaigns would run.
You would also have the ability to pass program tokens between the originating and executed campaigns (I would hope that trigger tokens could eventually also be passed too).
Some benefits of this feature that I see:
- It increases architectural simplicity when coordinating multiple synchronous processes and reduces risk of unintentional errors in the design of the system.
- It promotes good architectural practices, leading to a system that is more modular, scalable, and maintainable.
- It lends itself to a “microservice” approach, particularly through the ability to pass tokens between campaigns that are in different programs. This makes it easy to use tokens from local programs inside a centralized service.(For example, you could set an MQL reason as a local program token and then reference it in a centralized task creation campaign outside of that program.)
- Because executable campaigns are batches and not triggers, it would in theory decrease the active trigger load on a Marketo instance by reducing the need for active “Campaign Is Requested” triggers.
Anonymize / Depersonalize Flow Step
The rise of new data privacy regimes such as GDPR have kept MOPS teams busy the last few years and have also created technical challenges.
For example, consider the “Right to Be Forgotten” under GDPR: today this effectively requires organizations to delete a person’s Marketo record entirely. But by doing so, companies can impair reporting and decision making at the aggregate level, as all traces of that record have now left the system.
The “Anonymize Person” action would allow companies to respect privacy rights while maintaining data for aggregate reporting. Accessible via either a smart campaign flow step or a single flow action, it would anonymize any personal data on the record and then log an activity when the anonymization is complete.
Ignoring Email Filter Bot Activity
Many companies deploy spam-blocking email security software that inspects email links, which can generate false positives for click activities within email marketing platforms of all kinds. At the end of the day, many practitioners can no longer trust their email performance reports.
This feature intends to mitigate that by removing activity easily associated with email filters. It sounds like this would be based on IPs and user agents. Support would also be enabled to update the list of IPs and user agents associated with email filters on a periodic basis. This feature would be turned on by default, but customers could opt out of suppression through support.
My impression is that this is a complex technical challenge to solve (if bots could easily be evaded, then spammers would do it too), so it will be interesting to learn more about how the Marketo team aims to achieve this.
DDoS Bot Protection (Now in Beta; GA June-July)
On other fronts in the battle of the bots, Marketo has a beta feature to protect instances from spam form submissions. Today it’s possible to protect your instance with reCAPTCHA validation, but this still requires allowing the record to enter Marketo before assessing it.
This feature blocks bot form submissions before they enter the instance, which greatly simplifies the process. I believe Marketo is leveraging Cloudflare to do this under the hood.
Program Member Custom Fields (Now in Beta)
Program Member Custom Fields (PCMF) fills a significant gap in Marketo’s data model.
Person fields give information about a person (name, email, phone, favorite color, etc.). Program fields / tags store data about programs (program name, channel, target product, etc.).
But what if you want to store information about a person in the context of a specific program. For example, if you are hosting an event and you want to store information about the person’s meal choice, you would previously have needed to use a person field. But if a person attends two events at the same time, you could run into trouble – you’d be overwriting data.
PCMF now provides a way to capture this information at the program member level, making it extremely flexible. A few other possible uses:
- Storing UTM parameters to track what drove a person to engage with an offer.
- Storing a preference in the context of a specific offer (e.g., a chosen gift, t-shirt size, etc.).
- Storing the value of any person field as of the time they engaged with a program (providing a fixed record of a field that may be changing on the person object).
These fields can be defined in the Marketo Admin area, and an instance can have up to 20 custom fields on the program member object (meaning the fields you define are shared by all programs).
Once defined, you can then use them in form assets, view them in program member lists, use them in smart lists/campaigns, and import and export them via UI and REST. PCMFs come with new filters (Program Member Data Was Changed / Not Program Member Data Was Changed) and a trigger (Program Member Data Changes).
They also have a new flow action to change program member data, which will support choices and appear in the activity log.
Perhaps best of all, Marketo intends PCMF to be released with no charge to existing customers as of the middle of this year.
Conversational Experiences is a chat bot that can initiate conversations on your website, conduct discussions using branching decision logic, deliver content, and book meetings.
It looks a lot like Drift, and I questioned why Adobe would want to build something so similar to an existing vendor’s tool, especially when Adobe has a very strong existing partnership with Drift. Why not just focus on making the Drift integration stronger?
However, Adobe does have a potential advantage in the chat space. It leverages the ubiquitous file format that they pioneered: PDF. Typically, PDFs are an analytical dead-end. But a PDF content asset shared in Conversational Experiences will integrate with Adobe’s Document Cloud, providing insights on document interaction that (so far as I know) go beyond what existing chat products are capable of.
For example, sales and marketing could see that a person engaged with particular pages of a PDF document, printed it, performed specific keyword searches, and so on. These details could then be used for sales follow-up or in marketing automation workflows such as scoring, lead management, etc.
Furthermore, this PDF behavior could also be integrated into Adobe Analytics, providing rich content engagement analytics.
Sources and Acknowledgements
Information and screenshots in this post comes from the following sessions at Adobe Summit:
- Expand Your Marketo Engage Capabilities
- AI Practical Uses for Today’s Marketers
- The New Era of Experience in B2B
Thanks also to Ajay Awatramani and Niranjan Kumbi of the Adobe Marketo Engage product team, who offered some additional insight on the roadmap, and to Kimberly Galitz of Bandwidth, who discussed her experience as a beta customer of Predictive Audiences.
Until next year, when we can hopefully gather in person at Adobe Summit…