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January 2021 - Release Notes Summary

Jason Cort

Published on 01/15/2021

Happy new year!

It feels like only a couple of weeks ago that a group of trailblazers were looking at and reflecting on the year that was 2020 (Session 1 and Session 2) and bringing the SFMC year to a close, but it’s time for the first release of 2021!


One of the key characteristics of the releases throughout 2020 is that there was a focus on certain themes and bringing the overall platform into a better state. Permissions have been broken out of catch alls for Journey Builder, SFTP has been given a swift kick up the security upgrade path and content builder templates have been made more accessible. There’s been a strive to make SFMC more self supporting with the improved Setup window allowing users to toggle settings that previously required a support request and whilst the ambition was to make SSL certification self-serving in November, it’s making a rare second appearance in release notes this time around. The foundations of last year have meant that whilst the overall new capability increments were a little light on the ground, 2021 should be a big year for taking your Marketing automation efforts up a notch.

Security and Setup

The majority of this you’ll find under the App and Setup heading in the release notes, but there’s some closely aligned elements in other categories so I wanted to bring them together.

As mentioned above, Self-Serve SSL certs are back in the release notes this time around. Currently you need to raise a support case to get SSL certification in place (If you’re on a private domain without an SSL, you’re probably getting sick of all the images not loading in Chrome by now!). But, unfortunately the “when” on this is essentially unconfirmed. So, hopefully this gets brought in time for this release, it would be a shame for it to make the cut 3 times in a row.

Some key _(no pun intended) _elements bringing themselves to the fore right now is encryption and the option to start using your own encryption keys as opposed to just the default ones available. The theme of bringing things up a level from a security perspective slipping into 2021 with the option of how you want to encrypt SFMC. Definitely something to look into if you’ve had worries that your data at rest is encrypted in the same way as other tenants on your stack.

The timer officially starts on the retirement of the SFMC Public Key and you will no longer be able to create new File Transfer activities using it after June 1st. So it’s great that BYOK is being rolled out to decrypting files received from other sources. The official advice from Salesforce is that you stop using the standard public key as soon as you can. There are some details for creating a key pair in the documentation here.

Social Studio is getting the Multi-Factor Authentication and Single Sign-On treatment in this release, so you’ll be able to enforce SSO and MFA once it is live.

Finally, on the subject of SSO - Don’t forget to update your SSO Certificate for SFMC! You can do this now. Don’t get caught out because you forgot to update it.

Cross Cloud Integrations

As mentioned in previous release notes, the V2 Marketing Cloud connector is going away in less than 3 months now and the deep linking from Sales/Service Cloud in to SFMC is being removed in this release. If you’re using V2 and are on an edition of Salesforce CRM that supports it. If you are using a Salesforce Professional Edition, you will need to upgrade your Sales or Service cloud edition to Enterprise or Unlimited in order to access V5. If you’re not sure whether it makes sense for your business to do the upgrade, you can check out the difference between V2 and V5 here. If you’re not in a position to upgrade to V5, you may need to investigate other options for transferring data between your Marketing Cloud org and Salesforce.

It’s not all just good to go if you’re one of the multitude of users who is using the V5 app to integrate between SFMC and Sales/Service Cloud. You will need to make sure that your integration is using the connected app not the legacy integration to ensure connectivity between the two systems persists beyond January 30th. If you’re not sure whether you’re using the connected app or the legacy integration, jump over to the Salesforce Integration screen in Marketing Cloud & if you see a Tracking User Name and Tracking User Password field in the config settings - you’re using the legacy authentication method. Get that updated ASAP and you should be golden!

Distributed Marketing

Possibly the single most updated element of SFMC in the past year, the capabilities for Distributed Marketing keep adding up! If you’re using Custom Personalization Interactions for segmented sends, you’ll now be able to use multiple tabs as opposed to one (recommendation is no more than 10 tabs with no more than 10 fields to keep it performant). This should be available now if you’re using version 230 and above of the DIstributed Marketing package.

Restrictions have been given an update with the option of using regular expressions and wildcards in the restricted words section. There’s also been an addition for the ability to restrict sending based on an active flag or a date range to make sure no content goes out that is no longer or not yet relevant. So check out Restricted Words and Restrict Sending in your Distributed Marketing package!

Data Management

Farewell Discover Reports. You were helpful to have around, but the formal announcement of Discover being retired will be on February 1st 2021. But, it’s not going away without a replacement! Datorama reports will launch as part of this release and as the release rolls out, we’re expecting to see some more enablement details made available. We can’t add a whole lot of specific details here because they’re not currently available yet, but, having participated in some of the user experience research around it - this looks to be a big step forward. Whilst it may need some time to mature and may not cover all of your immediate analytical needs, it would be worthwhile considering what you can achieve with the new tool when it launches as opposed to creating new things that will sunset in 2022 as Discover is turned off for good.

MobileConnect is getting some new attributes in the Data Views. You’ll be able to add the JBDefinitionID and JBActivityID to your queries against the _SMSmessagetracking Data View. This should help you map your Journey Builder SMS activities more effectively. The actual Data View documentation hasn’t been updated yet with the full definition of these fields but it seems likely that JBActivityID will correspond to JourneyActivityObjectID the same way that TriggererSendDefinitionObjectID does to Email activity. So this will be the first time that there has been a simple way to match with an attribute between Mobile Connect and Journey Builder.

Also in the realms of tracking your SMS, you’ll be able to get the transient, bounced and delivery events for your SMS when sending them from the transactional API. When sending your SMS via the transactional API, just subscribe to the SMSTransient, SMSBounce and/or SMSDelivered events in the process.

Google Analytics gets a nice shot in the arm with the cost prohibitive requirement of GA360 going away and you’ll be able to start making use of the free elements of the analytical tool within Journey Builder. Don’t expect it to be a huge game changer, but it should hopefully simplify some of your campaign reporting if you’re a free Google Analytics user. Besides - it’s free… so why wouldn’t you?


There’s some general improvements coming through to Einstein in this release, including a learning portal which will help to understand the use cases for each Einstein capability. So if you’ve ever wondered what you’d use Copy Insights for, take a look and it should shine a light on what Salesforce suggests is a good use case for the tool. There’s also some improvements from an analytics perspective for Asset selection.

One thing to be aware of is Send Time Insight where Einstein can now use data from multiple customers to derive insight about the best time to send an email. Einstein will securely model opted-in customers (that’s us as users, not your customers/contacts) to improve prediction accuracy. The feature is going to have a gradual rollout but you’ll see a banner in the STO dashboard letting you know that the model determining when is best to send your email is using global data. If you do not wish to contribute to the global data, you won’t be able to benefit from this but to opt out, you’ll need to raise a support case.

Image tagging will now automatically tag things in non-english languages, but you’ll need to set that up. Any current tags in place won’t be updated until you update the image that the tag was for which may be a bit of a hassle if you’re using tagging extensively already but definitely a great one to have for anyone using multiple languages! Asset attributes will now also be able to have multiple values, eg: If you have an asset that works well for both football and basketball fans, you can set that as well as having a set of fixed valid values to use to prevent human error on data entry!

Journeys and Messages

This is the big one for this release. After not providing too much in the way of new capabilities and primarily focusing on quality of life changes for Interactive Emails and similar functionality for the last 12 months, Salesforce have gone all in on some new messaging options in this release. Though, they won’t all hit your orgs on release day unfortunately.

However, the quality of life changes aren’t finished for Interactive Email forms. Currently if you have a hidden field, it may be visible to the form recipient, even though it doesn’t need to be. In this release, new or recently modified Interactive Email forms will experience the new behaviour of not passing the hidden field value through the form submission. A nice little addition to customer experience and keeping your interactive form elements neat.

Journey builder contact error details will get an improvement to make it easier to troubleshoot issues that have caused contacts to exit a journey prematurely due to an error. This won’t include every error type right now, but it will cover errors in email, updating contacts, Sales/Service Cloud activities as well as surfacing some errors from your custom activities. You’ll access it in the Health panel of a journey, search for a contact and if that contact got removed due to an error, you’ll get the details of the error so you can make the changes you need to prevent it happening in the future.

If (like me) you’ve been a big fan of the recently added Alert Manager, the default threshold for alerts being triggered will be set for 10 consecutive subscribers for your triggered send definitions to enter an errored state due to bad data or AMPscript failing to evaluate. One thing to note here is that notifications relating to cancelled triggered sends from Salesforce Support are being retired, so make sure you’re getting emails from Alert Manager to make sure your triggered sends don’t start erroring and not knowing about it.

Mailbox provider one-click unsubscribes will now be added to new or modified email headers in any commercial email send classification. One-click unsubscribe isn’t a bad thing and making your emails easy to unsubscribe from doesn’t have to be the end of the world, but having this in will make sure mailbox providers are treating your emails appropriately. But if you do see an increase in Unsubscribe activity after the new release, make sure you check to see if they are coming from your existing unsubscribe process or if they are coming from this. It’s one to keep an eye out for.

Stepping away from Emails, a nice little change is the ability to choose the duration of an SMS Conversation within Mobile Connect. These can be set up at a keyword level and you can now set your double opt-in and Next Keyword based conversations to listen for a response. If you’ve never used SMS conversations, take a look here to see how the conversation window could work better for you.

WhatsApp messaging comes to Journey Builder through a new partnership with Sinch who are an official WhatsApp business solution provider. You’ll need to link your account with Facebook Business Manager and subject to WhatsApp approving your account you could be using WhatsApp messaging within a few business days. You’ll need to create your message templates and create an audience, but the WhatsApp activity will appear towards the latter half of February once you’ve purchased the additional feature. So, whilst it may not be there for you and it may not be relevant for you - it’s something that up until now has required 3rd party integrations rather than native capabilities.

AMP for Email finally lands in SFMC in March. After being announced at AMPFest 2020, the AMP MIME-Type will become available in your business units. If you’ve not heard of AMP for Email (not to be confused with AMPscript in Email), it’s a framework to unlock greater content capabilities, real time status updates and even two way interaction directly from a customer inbox. Take a look at for some of the documentation to help you get started. But definitely don’t get confused with AMPscript and AMP scripts. If you build any AMP emails that you’d like to showcase, get in touch - it would be great to get some examples that showcase just how to push the capabilities of both SFMC and AMP for Email in tandem.


This is a pretty big release overall with some awesome new possibilities, but unlike the releases of the past it’s not a one and done. Things will change over a few weeks. The major new features with WhatsApp and AMP for Email are both expected to land after the final date of the release roll out. The core elements of the release are expected to finish landing on February 6th but WhatsApp and AMP won’t be available until 16th February and 1st March respectively. You’ve got the V2 connector being turned off at the end of March and the SSO certificate needing to be updated before 18th February. So, whilst there’s a lot going on it feels like there’s a lot of calendar management that needs to go into this to make sure you don’t miss any of these features being turned on or turned off for your business.

Keep an eye on the release notes for the items you have any specific interest in, the release edits are listed in the summary page and they do get updated after the original publish date. At time of writing, this summary covered the original publish date. If things have changed that are no longer reflective of the release, we’ll endeavour to keep updates on Twitter.

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