The world of marketing technology and marketing automation is wide, complex and full of different functions and features to pick from. Digital marketers are constantly looking for new ways to do their jobs faster, create more meaningful messages and connect with their audiences. Marketing automation makes managing campaigns, channels, follow-up and everything else much simpler. The key is choosing the right tools.
My career background is in Marketing Operations, specifically Email Marketing. I have worked with six different marketing automation platforms – some have been robust and reputable, some adequate but lesser known, and some you couldn’t even find with a Google search. However today I’d like to focus on two products specifically: Acquia Campaign Studio, the open marketing automation platform and Salesforce Marketing Cloud (which I’ll refer to the rest of the way as SFMC).
Both solutions offer marketing automation and campaign management capabilities as well as the ability to enable personalization and dynamic content. What qualifies me to compare these two systems? In my roles at two different companies prior to joining Acquia, I used SFMC every day for 5 ½ years. Along the way, I acquired advanced developer and ‘superuser’ access credentials, and I learned SQL, HTML, and SFMC’s internal scripting language, AMPscript.
Here’s a list of the features and activities in SFMC that I’ve used extensively and for which I would consider myself to be a power-user.
- Creating and deploying emails
- Personalizing messages with AMPscript and Data Extensions
- Querying and segmenting the database
- Creating automations with Automation Studio and Journey Builder
- Tracking automated customer journeys
- Creating multi-channel and platform reports
- Building forms
- Setting up landing pages
- Sending mobile push messages
- Posting to social media
- Importing contact data
The History of SFMC
Let’s review a little history about SFMC. The “Marketing Cloud” was essentially created in 2013 when Salesforce acquired the email company ExactTarget. I had been an ExactTarget customer for a while already, and after the acquisition, I became a SFMC customer. For a long time, I had to catch myself from saying “ExactTarget,” or “ET,” because, despite the name change, the functionality of the tool did not change and the interface only underwent a very minor redesign. Data Extensions, the Query tool, and AMPscript – the existing features from ExactTarget – still worked in exactly the same ways. Like many former co-workers and users in my network, I missed the days when ExactTarget existed apart from the behemoth that is Salesforce, but more on that in a bit.
Since the acquisition, the email tool formerly known as ExactTarget has been revamped to become a suite of marketing products – what SFMC calls “Studios” – and it has undergone some updates to broaden its usability. This expansion has allowed for more communication channels such as mobile push, web advertising, and social media publishing, as well as enhanced automation, easy-to-use builder tools, and analytics functions.
SFMC vs. Campaign Studio: Email Builders
SFMC has certainly improved their email creation experience over time, and I’ll give them credit for making their tools more usable. Acquia Campaign Studio was also built with usability in mind. No coding experience is required for either platform.
The biggest post-acquisition addition to SFMC was the introduction of “Content Builder” back in 2016. Content Builder removed HTML and AMPscript and replaced it with drag-and-drop features. This change was designed to help users without any HTML knowledge create personalized emails within the platform. There is still a lot of setup required, such as creating your personalization segments in Data Extensions, uploading all the content to be used, and rendering previews.
If you’re creating an email in SFMC with several levels of personalization and variants of dynamic content, it is still a slow, manual process. Instead of writing out the AMPscript, you need to define your rules in a new builder. Being a creature of habit, I would tend to use the classic builder, however, Salesforce is really trying to push users out of this. Salesforce has even said that they won’t even be providing support for classic by next year. Read their statement here.
The Content Builder function lives in two places: the email studio, and as part of the overall cloud dashboard “Content Builder.” It’s put at this top level so that content can be utilized across channels and across business units. For example, a banner used in email studio can also be accessed and published in the Social Studio. And, a banner can be placed into numerous child accounts from a parent account. This makes it easy for different business units to have access to the same content.
Acquia Campaign Studio’s email builder is created to be used the same way as SFMC’s Content Builder. You can use a variety of templates to design the best emails for your brand. There are various drag-and-drop elements to use including dynamic content, CTA buttons, HTML blocks, image blocks, and social media links. I really like having the option to use the HTML “code mode” just in case I want to see the bare bones of a content block. The dynamic content blocks work the same as SFMC’s builder where you set your variants and define what data to bring in based on segments to personalize. After just a few uses, I felt very confident in my ability to customize the templates with colors and columns and backgrounds – whatever I need to make my messages visually pleasing and impactful.
If you’re serious about evaluating these platforms’ email builders, consider these key takeaways:
1. Both SFMC and Acquia Campaign Studio have similar WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors for building and editing content, so team members without HTML or coding knowledge can create attractive effective email templates. Unlike SFMC, Acquia Campaign Studio can help get you started with customized templates that match your brand and messaging strategy so your marketers can hit the ground running.
2. Both platforms’ email tools enable personalization and dynamic content, but there are some differences in terms of how users access the contact data that’s needed to make these features work best. In SFMC, users rely on the separate Data Extensions tool (more on this in Part 2) to bring in pre-defined segments and dynamic content elements. In Acquia Campaign Studio, standard and custom contact field data is easily accessible in multiple locations throughout the platform, so users can modify their dynamic content targeting filters directly within the email builder. Obviously I can no longer claim to be totally unbiased, but after using these similar features in my day-to-day life, I do feel that the intuitive access and flexibility to contact data gives Acquia Campaign Studio’s email builder an edge as it helps me move faster.
3. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how I lived in SFMC for the past 5 1/2 years. I can honestly say it took me three of those years to become a power-user. As for those different coding languages, I taught myself along the way – SQL, HTML, and SFMC’s internal scripting language, AMPscript – I did these things not because I had a longing desire to possess such deep technical knowledge, but because it was essential to using SFMC to perform daily functions. This level of technical knowledge is not necessary with Acquia Campaign Studio’s email builder.
And there you have it! A breakdown of both the Acquia Campaign Studio and Salesforce Marketing Cloud email builder capabilities in action. Check back for Part 2 where I'll dive into the contact management capabilities of each tool.