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In the explosion of marketing technology over the past three years that has seen a tripling in startups with cloud, app, and web-based solutions for your marketing department, there’s one company that has been around almost since the original dot-com boom.

Sitecore, launched in 2001, considers itself a marketing experience company. Essentially, the company is the grand old man of marketing technology.

Today the company announced that perhaps the oldest “beauty brand” in the world, L’Oréal, has signed a deal to use its marketing platform in order to build personal relationships with all its customers and users. I took that as an opportunity to get to know Sitecore, what it does, how it operates, and why the company thinks it can take on the massive marketing clouds from competitors like Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, and perhaps IBM.

Fashion Week 2014, Charlotte Ronson

Above: Fashion Week 2014, Charlotte Ronson

Image Credit: Broke & Chic

“They say that people remember some of what you say, more about what you do, but everything about how you make them feel,” Sitecore chief strategy officer Darren Guarnaccia told me yesterday. “L’Oréal is all about how they make people feel, and this deal is all about their need to extend that throughout the entire value chain.”


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Something similar might be said about Sitecore.

At its root, the company was a web experience company — as the name still betrays — helping brands understand what their customers were doing online, and how they could interact with them in more personalized ways. Today, Sitecore has solutions for social and mobile, email and e-commerce, and more traditional marketing media such as, yes, print.

But the goal, Guarnaccia said, is the same: humanizing marketing by helping companies understand their customers.

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“Marketing automation is a funny term,” he said when I asked how Sitecore compares itself to marketing automation systems like Hubspot or Marketo. “Maybe a better name is nurture marketing. What hits me is the notion of time … a lot of marketing doesn’t have a sense of time — it’s how we become more human about all this, like when you talk to a friend. Where do you pick up from a previous conversation?”

fashion-week-1-1In other words, when you chat with an acquaintance, there’s a shared history and a set of shared memories. You know that your friend likes sports — and, in fact, he has the bad taste to be a Yankees fan — and you don’t have to ask the question again every time you meet.

A lot of marketing, however, does just that.

Sitecore’s platform is designed as a single unified set of technologies across virtually all media and customer touch points — including in-store or point-of-sale — that share a common dataset about customers. L’Oréal will be using it globally with tens of thousands of stores and millions of consumers to understand its customers at one-to-one scale, and interact with them, hopefully, in that human, friendly way.

And eventually, in a system that is being tested right now, L’Oréal will allow stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s to offer personalized service for women with live data on their preferences, ideal shades, and fragrance favorites delivered via tablet right to the cosmetics counter.

“L’Oréal wants to understand what a woman means,” says Guarnaccia, getting a little bit mystical, perhaps. “The goal is understanding the person behind the keyboard and then delivering experiences that matter.”

What L’Oréal is doing mirrors what dozens of other major brands are trying to do. Via social, via mobile, and via technology that tracks and is beginning to understand who we are and what we’re doing across desktops, smartphones, and tablets, global brands are starting to have the capability for the first time of “knowing” each of their millions of end-user clients individually — rather than just the stores or partners who re-sell their goods to consumers.

That’s a game-changer.

It does, of course, also have privacy implications that we’ve only begun to explore. For Sitecore, however, it’s all about customer experience.

electro fashion“We’re giving marketers the tools to respond, even predict what you need,” Guarnaccia says.

I asked Guarnaccia about competing with the big marketing clouds, which are trying to do similar things. Salesforce1, for instance, is all about a new “era of hyper-connection” in which global brands have intimate conversations with a customer. And Adobe is underlying its marketing cloud applications with a single data layer that will more easily permit a unified view of the customer across its entire suite.

Guarnaccia responded by hinting that the big marketing clouds were suites in name more than in effect.

“A lot of vendors are talking a good game,” he said. “Sitecore is a single platform with a unified view of the customer … so marketers don’t have to stitch together 16 different marketing systems to understand a customer across email, web, mobile, etc.”

In other words, Guarnaccia is saying that Sitecore’s differentiation is that it actually is unified, built together rather than integrated bit by bit, stitched together as companies bought new pieces of the puzzle.

That’s something that L’Oréal is buying, along with some 3,500 other enterprise customers, Sitecore says.

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