Dynamics 365 Real-time Marketing – My first look

I have recently been asked to review the new real-time marketing feature. I have therefore been busy testing its capabilities and comparing real-time marketing and outbound marketing. This post will include my initial findings and thoughts. And at the end of this post, I will try and give a summary of the pros / cons of real-time marketing compared to the features we already have in Dynamics 365 outbound marketing.

The current outbound marketing capabilities are targeted at sending mass communications to your customers and then nurturing any resulting leads. Real-time marketing has a different focus, it is trying to be a smarter aimed at creating a more personalized approach based on specific customer actions. (aka events.)

Installing

The use of real-time marketing is optional! Meaning you may need to install it before testing it out. If you are considering this option, I would recommend that you test it in a trial before enabling on your production instance. (I couldn’t see an option to uninstall real-time marketing!)

In the settings area of you marketing app, you will find a “Versions” option. Use this to check if real-time marketing is installed and install if required.

Tip:
The install is lengthy so allow plenty of time!

Once you have real-time marketing installed you will find that your existing marketing option in the app is now described as “Outbound marketing”. And there is a new area called “Real-time marketing”. It is this new option that I will be testing out.

Within real-time marketing you will have options to define journeys, event triggers, segments, consent center and more. Channels available include emails, push notifications and text messages.

Event Triggers

As already mentioned, real-time marketing is aimed at a personalized approach, meaning messages will typically be sent to customers based on actions they complete. (aka events) Therefore, my first area of interest was the concept of events triggers.

Often, we will use event triggers in real-time marketing to decide when to send what messages. Out of the box several triggers exist including things like, customer voice response submitted, email opened, incident created, lead created and more. You can even create your own custom event triggers. A process which involves creating new event, which in turn will produce a code snippet. Developers can then use the code snippet to trigger the event.

At this point I have not created any custom events! But you can read about custom event triggers here … Create custom event triggers in real-time marketing (Dynamics 365 Marketing) | Microsoft Docs

Send SMS

We have three channels available. Text messages, push notifications and emails. The first I considered was text messages.

It is possible to send a text message in a journey. Before you can do that, you’d need either a Telesign or Twilio account. Once you have your account under SMS providers you will be able to enter the details of the account. Including the provider’s name, customer ID and your API key or Auth token.

For my testing I decided to connect my existing Twilio and Telesign accounts to real-time marketing. I already have then setup in my Omnichannel for Customer Service channels. Omnichannel for Customer Service will have (largely) an inbound focus. Whilst real-time marketing is focused on outbound scenarios.

Once you provider is created you can create SMS message templates, ready to be used in journeys. Below you can see I have created a template for my Telesign number. Notice that we also have a very useful “test send” option. This allowed me to check my message and SMS setup before creating a journey. For me that worked “well”, as I found my Telesign account was working as expected but something was wrong with the account details for my Twilio account. (Something for me to fix later as that was a Twilio issue! Maybe I simply had no credit on my account!! )

Notice in my first test I set the message designation as “transactional”. I did this as I assumed “commercial” messages needed consent and I was yet to configure my consent center!

I am now ready to create my journey. In my first test I decided to trigger the journey based on a contact being created.

Creating the steps in my journey was simple enough. As I just wanted to send this SMS. Although I did add a condition into my journey (just as a test really). My condition meant I’d only attempt to send an SMS if I knew the contact’s mobile number. I guess in the “No” side of the condition I could have decided to send an email if I didn’t have a mobile number.

Once my SMS and journey was published, creating a new contact triggered the send of a text message to that contact. One thing to note here was the format of my mobile numbers! On the contact I needed to enter a phone number with a format something like “+447767207939”. When I entered “07767207939” the message seemed to fail. You might need to be aware of this, as out of the box I don’t believe Dynamics 365 enforces any validation on phone number entry.

Creating my SMS template and associated journey was a very simple process. But afterwards when trying to view any analytics I felt the level of detail seem limited compared to outbound marketing. If I am right, you may find the level of insights we get in outbound marketing is greater.

Tip:
It did take time for the analytics on my journey to populate. So, if you aren’t seeing them check back later!

Later I tested creating a commercial SMS. Initially this did not send as I had no consent created for text messages. So, I manually created a consent record in the consent center. Then my message sent. This has flagged that I need to devote more time to testing consent on text messages. As unlike other channels consent is not assumed and must be created for each number. Additionally, I may need to further investigate unsubscribe options with text messages. As the logic for unsubscribe is baked into emails but in my first tests I wasn’t as clear on the process we should follow for text messages.

Send an Email

Creating an email (like text messages) is done under the channel option. I did find that the emails created here were separate to the emails in my outbound marketing area. As where the templates which could be applied to the emails. However the editing experience in real-time marketing is broadly similar to the capabilities I’m familiar with in outbound marketing.

Before sending an any emails you do need to check some compliance settings! Below you can see that in the compliance option I entered my address.

The consent model may also be important. Restrictive means consent must be given for allowing emails, SMS and tracking. But non-restrictive means a customer initial opt in will be to receive emails and allow tracking. (SMS opt in is always needed!)

Another tip here is you might want to authenticate any domains you wish to send emails from! Or the deliverability of your messages might be adversely impacted. For my test I found my messages often ended up in my junk / spam folders. So in a real scenario authenticating domains would be essential.

When we create an email we can pick a template or create our message from blank. As mentioned, we then have a similar editor to that found in outbound marketing. You will need to ensure certain settings are completed. Such as a send from address, reply to address, company address (from compliance) and subject.

Tip: The check content option is useful as that will indicate if any “must have” elements have been missed or incorrectly set.

Inserting images into my email involved entering a URL or picking an image from my library. Within real-time marketing we have a library that contains images, videos and documents ready to be used in messages. At first, I thought this was separate to the “Files” option we have in outbound marketing. But I did eventually find an option in outbound marketing that will copy all my files into real-time marketing. If you want consistent use of images between real-time marketing and outbound marketing you might want to upload images in the outbound option and then use this copy function.

Once my email was created, I decided to revise my previous journey. That was actually a simple process as on each journey we now have a “create new version” button. So, I used this to create a new version of my journey and add my email. I now had one journey that would send an email or an SMS.

Tip:
I did find that the “create new version” button only existed on a live journey. When I returned to a completed journey, I did not have the ability to revise it. (I guess because once it is finished, you’d need to revise it and restart!)

After publishing my new version, I could see that the old journey was marked as completed. The new journey had a “2” at the end of its name. This was automatically added, I assume to denote that it is the second version of this journey.


I have come across many scenarios previously when the marketing team wanted to revise an outbound journey once live. Previously the options to amend a live journey have been limited. So I really liked the revise a journey option.

Unsubscribe

The ability to unsubscribe from marketing messages is obviously important! Ultimately real-time marketing (like outbound marketing) will be looking at the “Allow bulk email” field on a contact to decide if a message can be sent. All marketing messages will have an unsubscribe link. Below you can see that even when creating an email without a template a basic footer including an unsubscribe link is automatically applied.

Below you can see that I have clicked on the unsubscribe link in my email. The default look of the unsubscribe page will be like this.

If I submitted a change to my contact preferences, then I saw a message similar to the one shown below;

The settings that control this unsubscribe page can be found in the compliance area of marketing settings. As shown below.

I guess the unsubscribe page does what it says on the tin. But so far, I have found the options more limited than those available in outbound marketing. As in outbound marketing we can use subscription lists to allow customers to tailor their preferences. We can also create a marketing page of type “subscription center” which could include a custom branding / imagery approach. The approach in real-time marketing is simpler but doesn’t offer the same level of flexibility.

Consent center

The consent center allowed me to load any existing consent data from contacts in outbound marketing into real-time marketing. My understanding is …. But even if you don’t do this I believe any settings to you have in “allow bulk email” field would be taken into account.

I can use the “Email consent” and “Phone (text) consent” options to manually record consent. (Or someone can opt out from an unsubscribe form!)

Microsoft’s documentation does state that “real-time marketing and outbound marketing has a different consent model”. And goes on to say that this does not affect outbound functionality! As all outbound features and requirements are left intact. However, I did notice that double opt in is not supported with real-time marketing. I admit I am still “processing” this information and I might need time to experiment with the two consent models in more detail. For example, I am yet to understand how real-time marketing version of consent relates to subscription centers in outbound marketing.

Note: I tested the “Email consent” button. This did update the consent value in real-time marketing. But the “allow bulk email” flag on the contact remained unchanged. So, I am slightly unclear on exactly how this operates! I might need to do more testing ….

Push notifications

I admit I didn’t have the capabilities to test this fully! Creating a push notification is similar to the process for creating an SMS template.

But before you can trigger your push notification you will also need to define your mobile app in the settings area of marketing. As I hadn’t got a custom app available I was unable to test this scenario fully. But the process did look straight forward!


Segments

Initially I created journeys based on event triggers. But I found that I could also create a journey from a segment. And the segments in real-time marketing are shared with those defined in outbound marketing.

The segment creation approach, therefore, is identical in real-time and outbound marketing.

However, I did notice that I can have a journey in real-time marketing that uses the segment in a static manner. Meaning the journey runs once on the current segment members. You might find this useful in some scenarios!

Tip:
I did need to pick a start date / time in the future. (In outbound marketing I often pick a time in the past and the journey starts ASAP!)

Pros / Cons

Below I will try and highlight some of the pros and cons of real-time marketing compared to outbound marketing. These are just my opinions / observations not concrete facts … your experiences will no doubt depend on your specific circumstances!

When I started to test real-time marketing, I admit I was confused! As I didn’t appreciate when I would use real-time marketing compared to the outbound marketing??? The more tests I completed; the more scenarios I could think about that might benefit from real-time marketing. Plus, importantly I started to realise my logic of wanting to use one option or another was maybe looking at this wrong. I had two options available to me and I can happily swap from one to the other!

Outbound marketing remains a great tool for long running nurture campaigns against contacts, accounts and leads. But when you need a “quick campaign” which will simply distribute a “few messages” probably based on events triggered by actions the contact will have taken … then real-time marketing is your friend.

Therefore, a direct comparison of the two options is possibly invalid. (But you know I will try anyway!)

I am starting to think like this …. If I need to send out a targeting message based on an action completed by the contact, then I’d consider real-time marketing. But if I want to nurture or create leads possibly at scale then my first choice would be outbound marketing.

Pros of real-time Marketing

  1. Quick to create journeys
  2. Journeys can run on segments as static
  3. Conditional journey “legs” based on attributed from the contact.
  4. SMS journeys are simple to create
  5. Journeys can be triggered from OOTB and custom events

“Cons” of real-time marketing

  1. Analytics aren’t as comprehensive as the insights available for outbound marketing journeys
  2. Outbound journeys have more options with tiles in journeys. (But then this is probably because they are geared towards longer running nurture campaigns.)
  3. Outbound marketing contains account-based marketing options which I didn’t see within real-time marketing. Real-time marketing seems to be more aimed at contacts.
  4. If you want to collect lead data via forms, track website interactions, monitor redirect links and manage events. You probably still want to use the outbound marketing features.

I admit I am still learning about the real-time marketing feature!

  • I still want to investigate options to opt in and out of text messages,
  • I’d like to further investigate the role of leads in real-time marketing,
  • I want to experiment with how complex journeys can become,
  • And maybe more!

But I feel I have learnt a lot from my initial tests!

In summary, having started out being a little confused about when I might use real-time marketing …. I ended my first look encouraged that real-time marketing contains numerous useful features. And I am now starting to appreciate the type of event driven journeys that might be better suited to real-time marketing. I guess my only remaining reservation area is how the fact that we have a different approach to consent will operate in the real-world. I guess I now need a real implementation!!

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