Program templates: Best-of-class in a bottle

I’ve worked with companies using Marketo across large teams and small teams. Each has their own set of challenges, but one they share is the need for consistency and simplicity in their marketing programs.

All too often, you’ll see organizations with programs that just don’t feel consistent, because they all have a different look and feel. And if the front-end looks disjointed, then all the behind-the-scenes structure, tracking, and reporting is at least as messy.

It’s easy enough to spin up a new program in Marketo, or clone a prior program and adapt it, but real productivity comes with the use of templates for your programs. Meticulously created and maintained, these are your absolute best campaigns, and are your ticket to more predictable marketing efforts. With program templates, big teams benefit from better alignment and turnaround time. Yet even a one-person Marketo master can benefit from standardizing their processes in templates.

Where do templates make sense?

Your first step is identifying where templates actually make sense. Build a list of your most common use cases in Marketo. Do you run a lot of events in the field? Webinars? Downloadable content? Here’s my rule – anything I’m doing more than a few times a quarter is a prime candidate for a program template.

Next, identify all the assets you might need in your program. For an event program, that may include invites, reminders and follow up emails, Registration and thank you landing pages. Plus all the smart campaigns for sending emails and tracking registrations.

You want your templates to contain every possible asset you might need for most circumstances. There will still be occasions where you need to build something more custom, but these should become the exception to the rule once your templates are in place.

Marketo Program Templates

You should also use this opportunity to review your program channel tags. I prefer to maintain a small list of channel types in Marketo, as it helps keep your list of templates small too. For example, Marketo out of the box contains tags for tradeshows and roadshows. Yet these are built quite the same in Marketo. Unless you have major reporting needs that require this differentiation, I recommend collapsing these sub-types into broader categories, like “Event”, “Webinar”, “Content”, etc. Stay away from overly specific channel names, because it’s a pain to change the tags once the template has been created, and you ideally want to avoid maintaining a big list of templates.

Once you’ve identified your key use-case programs, and all the assets they need, build out everything in a shell template program, but leave the content of everything empty for now, because you’ll be setting tokens for most of it.

Token Time

Next you’ll want to tackle the setup of your program tokens. While you can follow any naming convention you like, it’s important to remain consistent, and record these token names in a document somewhere. I like to use a spreadsheet to log every token name, its type, and its intended use case.

To help keep your list of tokens tight, think of how a particular token can be used globally, across several different templates. In other words, avoid tokens like {{my.Webinar Invite Email Subject Line}}, and instead pick a more generic name like {{my.Email – Invite – Subject Line}}, that can be used across different templates. Remember, in most cases this won’t just be you working with these templates, so sticking to a standard system will keep tokens easier to remember, and more versatile if you need to adapt them to new templates later.

Tokens work great for front end content on your assets, and can be used anywhere in your emails and landing pages. So for an invite email, you may set a token for the sender email, the subject line, the banner image URL, the headline, and even the body text. For a landing page, you may set tokens for your headline, the body content of the page, the header on the form, and even for hidden values on the form itself. For smart campaigns, tokens are helpful for change data value actions and interesting moments. A great use case is logging an interesting moment after a lead registers for a webinar, and populating the name of the initiative in an interesting moment.

Marketo Program Token Setup

When setting your tokens in the program settings, I’ve found it helpful to specify an obvious default value such as “EDIT ME”. This will make it easier to visually see which tokens have been set, and which still need to be edited.

Once all your tokens are built, reference each of these tokens in your assets, and confirm in preview mode that you didn’t misspell or miss any tokens. There are some pitfalls to tokens though. This is far from an exhaustive list, but a few to watch out for:

  • If you set a token for the body text of your email, you may decide to use a rich text token for this. This is fine, but remember that the plain text version of the email will render that same token content explicitly, code included. So you may need to create plain text tokens for these sections.
  • Be careful with setting tokens for links in emails. Anytime a link exists that you want to track clicks, be sure that link is in a rich text token, not a plain text token.
  • Be wary of referencing tokens in your programs that you will only use some of the time. Marketo used to be make it easier to delete tokens in the program settings menu, but it tends to produce errors when you do this now, especially for approved email and landing page assets.

If you want to align to a solid naming convention for your tokens and general great info on the power of tokens, check out Edward Unthank’s presentation from Summit 2015 on the subject.

Tying all the loose ends

Once all your assets are loaded in the program, approve all the assets, and reference them within each of the smart campaigns (but don’t switch on any smart campaigns). This will ensure that when you clone your template, all the asset references are maintained when the program is cloned, and minimizes extra edit work.

Now give the template a test by cloning, and editing each token, checking to ensure everything is populated. This takes time to do, but it is critical that your templates are flawless before you start asking your teams to work in them.

As you begin using the templates, you’ll likely receive feedback over time for improvements. you may also want to update the design of your assets over time. Before making and edits to the template itself, first clone the current version of the template into a new version that is clearly named. Keep the old versions in an archive folder. This will ensure that if you break anything, you can always revert back to the old version.

And that’s it! I’ve opted not to get into my specific program structure, as everyone will have different use cases, and the assets that make sense for my purposes may not always work for you. Though if you do ever want to talk structure specifics, feel free to reach out, I’m happy to talk 1:1.