Summer '23 Release Review
Published on 05/20/2023
As we come crashing into the second release of 2023, Salesforce is pulling their fingers out and are bundling one of the single most exciting packages of updates in a long time. With changes across the board from CloudPages, Content Builder and Intelligence Reports, there will likely be something here that will be of interest. But, the key question is, are each of these changes a welcome value add?
One of the highlights of this release is that it’s one of the few releases in recent years that hasn’t featured a range of functionality being sunset or announced as end of life. It’s a new growth focused release which is a great state to be in. So, let’s get started.
In-App data is being added to Intelligence/Intelligence Reporting to provide parity for your In-App campaign activity. This will manifest with new attributes available within Intelligence Reporting for use in Pivot Tables and Reports covering:
Some workspace management capabilities are being added to Intelligence, find out more about the options available here. These should help keep your workspaces neat, efficient and simpler to navigate. If you’re using Intelligence within your Marketing Cloud activities beyond the Intelligence Reports available in the platform natively and have some tips, tricks or ideas that have been game changers to you, reach out and we’d love to provide you a platform!
Whilst we may have suggested there’s not much going away in this release, it’s time to mention a feature leaving your Intelligence platform (it will never stop being strange referring to Datorama as Intelligence). This isn’t a Salesforce led initiative, this is Google retiring Universal Analytics. If you’re not already on a GA4 Property already, make sure you get that change done before 1st July to prevent a break in service. Just make sure you have the Email to Web conversion tracking app installed from the marketplace.
Export your data to Google BigQuery from your Intelligence Workspace. Simply access the Database Tab, select Google BigQuery as the vendor of choice and follow the on screen prompts to get the data into your Google account for wider use across your org.
Enhancements to Pivot Tables are coming to Intelligence. Underneath Analyze & Act, just select Pivot Tables, select your Pivot Table and via Visualize view the Pivot Table Widget. Once you’re there, hover over the specific table select Drill-down or Filtering. Drilling down and Filtering will give a more accessible way to view your data at a more granular level.
Transactional Messaging NotSent Events are being added to the Tracking Extracts within Automation Studio. It’s one of those elements of SFMC that you don’t know you need until often it’s too late! If you’re not already leveraging the NotSent tracking extract, there’s even more reason now to get it into your regular workflows and monitoring with the inclusion of Transactional Messaging NotSent Events being included. This is the best non-code way to view unsent email messages across the whole platform, whilst NotSent doesn’t have a data view. That said, we’ve seen new data views get added in recent releases, perhaps the product team is more open to adding new data views than we may have historically thought. Would a NotSent Data View be of use to you? Especially with NotSent only retaining 2 months worth of data, an upgrade to 6 months could be helpful.
Potentially overshadowed by the announcement of Salesforce 360 Data Genie Cloud 360 Audiences CDP, Salesforce & Meta announced a partnership around the Meta Cloud API, introducing selling directly in chat. You’re now able to migrate your existing integration with a third party provider, like Sinch to the new Salesforce Marketing Cloud META-Direct offering. This features some additional platform enhancements including faster approval of templates and some self-serve account management capabilities. But… this is also joined with the announcement that on 1st June 2023, WhatsApp Template-Based Pricing is changing. This change is universal to all businesses using Marketing Cloud WhatsApp Messaging. Pricing changes rarely mean discounts for the majority of customers, so make sure you review what the pricing changes mean for you and your org!
As we’ve highlighted before, on occasion releases can get multiple bits of the release notes pie and we have one in this release.
One of these screenshots from the release notes is from Spring ‘23. The other is from Summer ‘23.
In the age of Journey Builder being pushed as not just for 1:1 but also volume communications, journeys can get complicated and the use of decision splits can cause journeys to become unwieldy. This is absolutely a welcome feature, but it would be great to be able to use it in drafts as well as running journeys. Being able to copy a decision split and all of its dependencies in a collapsed form would be useful. Journey Builder product team - roadmap?
Journey Builder History is one of those items that has often been a pain point of using the tool. Many businesses need to be able to identify issues, potentially keep auditable reviews of what a journey has done to confirm an exact customer experience the history capability has been sorely lacking. With this release, there is a new REST API either being produced or (perhaps more likely) being supported officially after blog posts spilled the beans on something undocumented. Keen to see if there’s a value add beyond the previously undocumented methods or whether it’s just a new piece of documentation being advertised as a new capability.
Email activity windows are coming to Journey Builder, having previously only been available in Email Studio & Automation Studio. You’ll be able to implement burst windows by using just delivery windows and hourly thresholds independently from one another within Journey Builder. Hourly thresholds have been a longstanding staple of IP Warming and deliverability management, so have been in Journey Builder for a little while, but delivery windows to implement a burst is a nice new feature to have.
Decision Splits will lose the crown of being the only part of Journey Builder that can interact with both Contact and Journey Data as a result of this release. Journey Data is being added to Exit and Goal Criteria as a nice enhancement to enable users to compare what someone entered a journey with against what they have now. For example, if you have a goal in a journey to move someone from one Frequency Band to another one, but have a range of Frequency bands entering the journey, you should be able to compare all frequency bands in one journey. Previously you may have required a journey per entry frequency band to be able to say “Frequency Band has improved by 1 level”. Now you should be able to do all those comparisons within a single journey.
One of the key barriers to wider adoption of Journey Builder, especially in larger organizations is the throughput capacity of the tool. Whilst it has improved drastically in the last 5 years, starting at (anecdotally) circa 50,000 journey entries in an hour to 2m activities per hour across your tenant, for the largest of the large senders, that isn’t quick enough. If you have a sale email to get out the door, a pre-sale launch message, you don’t want that message landing with some customers hours earlier than others. You can’t give a consistent digital experience with that range delivery. This release introduces a new beta system optimization dashboard, to highlight which journeys right now are impacting performance, identify reasons why specific journeys may be running slow and provide advice to improve the speed of a journey. It’s definitely a step in the right direction to making Journey Builder more accessible for high volume throughput. Doesn’t solve the capacity limitations of the platform, but it will help users identify where they can prevent issues from appearing.
A common key decision for integrated SFMC and Sales/Service Cloud orgs is the use of Salesforce Data Entry Events as Entry Sources for Journeys. There are limitations on the Sales/Service Cloud side around Apex that currently can be difficult to identify at pace or diagnose issues at all because the Objects used on the CRM side are hidden within the Journey itself. The Journey dashboard will give you the option to filter and see which Journeys are using Salesforce Data Entry Events and then filter to specific objects and identify where you’re reaching those limitations. This will allow users to take preventative action and move Journeys to more sustainable methods of entry when outgrowing the capacity of the Salesforce Data Entry Events.
A bountiful release would not be such a joy without the inclusion of some new developer features. Admittedly, the way Salesforce has called this specific section out with just a single new feature (albeit a pretty neat one) does feel like a token gesture. Especially with the REST API for Journey History being bundled in with Journeys. Anyway… On to the actual Salesforce defined Developer focused feature release. Parse JSON with AMPscript to enable the use of JSON data in personalized content. The release notes for this call out the function as
BuildRowsetFromJSON(), but we would assume it’ll be
BuildRowsetFromJSON() when it goes live. I vaguely recall
BuildRowsetFromJSON() was a wrong answer on one of the SFMC certification exams, so make sure when you take the exam you study for the exam, rather than the reality!
Another one that could possibly have been better served in the Developers category, but alas! Legacy REST API Routes are being changed to match the UI data access permissions. If you’re using the unofficial/undocumented legacy REST routes, don’t be surprised if they stop working if you don’t audit the permissions of Data Extensions first. The following routes are impacted:
Check the Shared Data Extension permissions to identify whether you’ll be impacted by this change. Such is the risk of undocumented/unofficial API routes, they may be super useful, but be aware that they can with minimal or in some cases no warning be taken away from you!
Salesforce has bundled a few things under their Cross Cloud category for this release, but it’s definitely more akin to the old school Distributed Marketing release notes of old. The Legacy REST Routes gets its second showing of the release here, but beyond that it is the Distributed Marketing show! These are summed up as:
I’m sure these features are super useful, but Salesforce has given about 2 lines for each of these. If you have any specific experience that highlights the value of these changes, let us know and we’ll include it!
There’s a couple of neat things coming to Content Builder in this release, including the introduction of a Content Builder Recycle Bin. For many years we have waited for the option to restore something that has been deleted by accident rather than re-upload it. The release notes specify that it’ll be only the content owner who can recycle it fully, so if you have the right permissions laid out for it, it should be tricky for a user to accidentally remove production content owned by another user. Whereas now, it’s a couple of clicks and gone with a panicked call to Salesforce support.
Custom Domain Cloud Pages get a couple of useful new features around error handling and creating trustworthy customer experiences. I’m specifically keen to see the error pages, right now the options are limited across the board, whether this would be a consistent experience for expired links in emails vs just spelling a link wrong is yet to be seen. It would be great if this error page would make the original target URL available for logging and management purposes. Giving SFMC users the opportunity to capture these kinds of customer experience issues would enable users to resolve friction points in customer journeys as well as generate alerting capability simply. Very interesting to see what this specific feature encompasses!
Root content for Customer Domains, essentially giving users the option to determine default content if a subscriber attempts to copy the domain from a hosted cloud page to explore your offering. Previously this would error and you wouldn’t have an especially robust customer experience, these kinds of issues can impact the trustworthiness of your email activities to customers. Providing users the option to create a default fallback is what many Email Marketers are used to when delivering dynamic content, this is a long time overdue.
Event Notification Service gets a bump in this release, prior to this release the ENS only sent notifications around the Transactional Messaging API, this is being extended to cover Automation Studio errors as well. The notification will include Automation Name, Type, Business Unit (not sure if it’ll include the friendly name or just the MID), File Location and Error Details. This could be useful in supporting automated retries of erroneous automations, based on the response of the Notification. Definitely something to investigate when it goes live.
Automation History Details as a CSV download. From the enterprise BU within an SFMC Org, you can jump into Setup and Download Automation History. This will help identify whether you have problematic automations that fail regularly at a glance without needing to visit each automation in turn. Useful for keeping the platform running in an optimal fashion.
Data Extension Storage report moves out of Beta and to General Availability in this release. There’s some useful tools in this, allowing you to identify Data Extensions that may be holding more data than is optimal, high volume Data Extensions such as Send Logs or Data View Archives could be typical culprits. But, it will also help you identify Data Extensions that may not be configured correctly and could be optimized to ensure the platform is running efficiently.
One of the hidden gems of SFMC is the ability to import from one Data Extension to another, bypassing the SQL timeout limit if you need to move the full depth and/or breadth of a Data Extension from one place to another without compromising the integrity of the source DE. Salesforce is claiming this is now 10 times faster than before, which would be game changing.
SQL Query optimization in line with validation, where Salesforce will start to highlight whether there are any specific code issues that could cause your query to be non-performant or prone to issues. Salesforce claims that it will also provide suggestions on how to improve your code. It’ll be interesting to see what these suggestions are like and whether it’s things like “You have 4 JOINs in your Query, you should consider splitting it” or if it will be more useful around optimal SQL code rather than just generic “do less in SFMC” type queries.
Package Manager is getting some industry specific templates to help marketers work faster. It’ll cover Landing Pages (Cloud Pages surely?), automations, content and journeys. May be worth having a look and seeing whether there is anything you’re not currently doing that would be worth adopting.
At the beginning of this article, the question was asked as to whether these new features are all a welcome value add or not. Summarily, most of them are. But, there are 2 key items to call out in the General App, Setup & Security that are staring right down the barrel of billables and contracts. Some users will recall the introduction of contact overage charges before Salesforce had introduced a non-developer option to delete contacts. It seems that Salesforce may have learned from their mistakes and are making user serviceable views of billable items available before the likely enforcement of some previously unmanageable line items on your contracts.
Do you have a large amount of regular automations? Do you have a group of users who are heavily using Automation Studio for their day to day activity? The release of Automation History Details as a CSV download will make it possible for you to identify your usage. You will then be able to monitor this against your contractual limits and with that information Salesforce may make a specific attempt to enforce overage charges. If you’re a heavy user of modular automations, you may need to refactor things to ensure your usage is within your contract or be prepared to negotiate if Salesforce comes knocking.
If you have a large volume of data in your SFMC org, whilst it’s not a Data Warehouse or Data Lake, you can store vast quantities of data in Marketing Cloud. You can do lots with data in Marketing Cloud. If you are doing lots with lots of data in Marketing Cloud, the general availability of the Data Extension Storage report to allow you to monitor how much your org is currently holding and where is the first step in you being able to prepare your org to make sure when it comes to contract renewal time that you’re using SFMC in an efficient manner to prevent being charged for over using the platform with contractual line items that users have had no mechanism to monitor until this release.
This may sound like conspiracy theory, but the pricing structure of SFMC has changed over the last few years. It now includes Automation run counts as well as Data Extension Storage as default line items. Whether the volumes are appropriate for your business will be down to your ways of working and the way you architect data from a cost and management perspective. Don’t get caught out by this, get a plan in place to review your contract and your current usage.
Besides the above, the new AMPscript function and new Cloud Page capabilities are pretty cool. I’m looking forward to seeing how they get used. This release is super focused on optimizing the use of the platform, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Everyone working in a more efficient manner will mean everyone can achieve more with their investment in Salesforce.