Sitecore Cortex and what it means for marketers

June 8, 2021
5 minute read

We’re really excited about Sitecore Cortex. We can see many ways in which it will make the marketers that use the platform happy. You may have heard about Cortex and are wondering what it is exactly and how it might benefit you.

Maybe you haven’t heard about Cortex, but are interested in what Sitecore is doing with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine learning. Here’s our thoughts on what we consider to be a potential game changer.

What is Sitecore Cortex?

Sitecore Cortex is the platform’s advanced marketing toolset that can leverage AI and machine learning to drive marketing outcomes. All of which is powering what Sitecore call “Contextual Intelligence”. Sitecore describe it as,

The ability to discover (using machine learning to process data) the most likely needs & Intentions behind every interaction, then use that insight to deliver the relevance that leads to mutual value” (source).

Is Cortex simply AI and Machine learning in Sitecore?

It’s a lot more than that.

Artificial Intelligence is the broad concept of computers behaving in a way that can be considered smart. It isn’t a single technology or concept as such, rather a collection of concepts that combine to replicate some of the magic of human intelligence.

Machine learning is a lower level concept. Essentially it is the capability for computers to deliver valuable insight from big data. Machine learning is form of AI. It could be argued that it is one of the most relevant and useful forms of AI.

The important point here is that AI isn’t necessarily the Hollywood style sentient robots, Turing tests and fears about the rise of the machines. Practical applications of AI are here now and affecting our lives in much more subtle but powerful ways.

An example of this is the ‘Discover Weekly’ feature on the music streaming platform, Spotify. By running analysis on previously listened tracks, Spotify uses AI to suggest a weekly personalised playlist to its users.

Why are we excited about Sitecore Cortex?

There is a lot of buzz around machine learning and artificial intelligence currently and for good reason. But buzz and noise doesn’t necessarily translate into tangible technology that can make your life easier as a marketer or deliver value to your customers.

This is where Cortex comes in. Sitecore Cortex is the collective name for the features of Sitecore that combine to enable “Contextual Intelligence”.

These are:

  1. xDB – big data collection and processing capabilities within the Sitecore CXP
  2. xConnect – big data in, big data out of your Sitecore platform
  3. Machine learning – letting smart algorithms process your data, surface opportunities and trigger intelligent responses across all your digital channels

Those reading this that are familiar with Sitecore will realise that not much of this is new. xDB has been powering advanced features of Sitecore since version 7.5. xConnect was released with Sitecore 9.

These parts of Sitecore are the bits that deal with big data. They have been doing so for a while, therefore if you have been running Sitecore already, you will have a tonne of data about your customers (if you have xdb enabled).

If you were to analyse all this data, the likelihood is that there are significant insights held within it. Insights that would help you to:

  1. Deliver more relevant customer experiences
  2. Make marketing operations more efficient
  3. Gain deeper understanding of customers

How can Sitecore help with big data?

This all sounds powerful, doesn’t it? But there is so much data, in fact gigabyte after gigabyte, that is way too much to be processed manually. Don’t worry, you don’t have to because Sitecore helps you process this data.

All the graphs and reports that you see on your Sitecore dashboard are processed data that has been organised into formats that help you understand the insights.

(Source: Sitecore)

Personalisation and segmentation

Then we have the rules that can be manipulated into the Sitecore rules engine. Sitecore has been running rules over user data for years, powering advanced personalisation and segmentation.

These parts of Sitecore are amazingly powerful, but also limited. They need a developer to write the code to process the data and if a developer hasn’t written the code process (a particular bit of segmentation logic), then you simply won’t be able to apply it to your data.

There’s a lot of pre-coded rules and reports in Sitecore, but they aren’t tailored to your business or your data, which can make them redundant. You can however ask us to code it bespoke to your business for you. We’re great at it and we do it a lot.

What this means is that there’s currently the capability within Sitecore for you to derive Contextual Insight and use it to drive your marketing.

The challenge is related to scale. The more data you get, the more difficult this becomes. Even though we think Sitecore is the best platform to help you do this, we still recognise that it is difficult to keep on top of and can be overwhelming to small marketing teams. But this is precisely why we can be on hand to offer support.

What makes Sitecore Cortex a game changer for organisations?

Currently, Sitecore users are required to define upfront engagement value, segmentation rules, facets etc. If you don’t define it, it won’t be processed. What if we are missing something?

This is where Cortex becomes a game changer.

  1. It has the ability to automatically process your data using a variety and combination of machine learning algorithms.
  2. It also has the ability to apply this processing in practical ways that improve the relevance of the content being delivered across any channel.
  3. Therefore, Sitecore Cortex is a tool that can bring advanced marketing practice to the smallest of marketing teams.

How will Sitecore Cortex benefit current Sitecore users?

As with all things Sitecore, Cortex will also be a framework for us developers to extend functionality for you as our customers.

Cortex will help you to get the most from your platform. If you have invested a lot of time and effort already, Cortex will enhance what you have already done. If you have a load of data, but don’t know where to start looking for Insight, Cortex will help you by revealing insight you may not have known was there.

In the current version of Sitecore there are a few subtle instances of machine learning algorithms that are working behind the scenes to:

  • Analyse every purchase journey to identify highest value segments
  • Test variables to optimise key engagements

But this is really the tip of the iceberg. The start of something that can change the way in which Sitecore works for your organisation. Some of the most exciting features are going to be with us in Sitecore 9.1. We expect this to be the main theme of this year’s Symposium event.

One of our Sitecore MVP’s, Jeremy Davis will be speaking this year, so if you’re able to attend it’s well worth popping along to his talk.

What can Sitecore Cortex do for your organisation?

We’ve tried to get behind some of the buzz and look at what Cortex would mean for you and your organisation in practical terms. Hopefully this has given you a better understanding of Cortex and you are as excited as we are.