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Digital experience management – web content management for the omnichannel age?

Digital experience management represents an evolution of web content management for a more omnichannel commercial world. We explore its definition and applicability

In the wake of the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown, providing customers with a consistently positive digital experience has become more important than ever – no matter which sector an organisation operates in.

As a result, there has been an uptick in the number of businesses looking to either purchase, or construct their own, digital experience platform (DXP). Gartner describes DXPs as “an integrated and cohesive piece of technology designed to enable the composition, management, delivery and optimisation of contextualised digital experiences across multi-experience customer journeys”.

To create these contextualised digital experiences, such systems “orchestrate multiple customer-facing applications via a single interaction or presentation layer”, says Irina Guseva, Gartner’s senior research director. This orchestration is enabled by means of application programming interfaces (APIs) that integrate the DXP with a range of third-party applications, from sales and service to customer relationship management (CRM).

To put it another way, the software enables companies to engage more effectively with their customers in all things digital and to use the data gleaned from such interactions to further optimise and automate their experience going forward. The ultimate goal here is to boost the firm’s top or bottom line, increase customer loyalty or boost brand awareness.

But DXPs are nothing new, says David Friar, technical director at digital marketing consultancy Cognifide. In fact, they are the latest evolution of web content management (WCM) software and, as such, aim to:

  • Provide a single system to produce content and deliver it to all chosen channels, including email and social media, in order to boost efficiency and ensure clear messaging.
  • Deliver a coherent customer experience by ensuring all content is displayed in a consistent manner.
  • Orchestrate all of the company’s digital assets, ranging from websites and mobile apps to voice assistants, and wearable tech, to enable a coherent, automated response to customers’ behaviour in order to engage with them more effectively.
  • Use appropriate data to ensure the customer experience is personalised and therefore more engaging.
  • Make it easier to alter digital experiences based on customer feedback using a mix of automation and agile approaches.

“We see adoption across all verticals, from higher education to manufacturing, with about half of buyers following the build route and the other half the buy path,” says Guseva. “Interest in DXP, as a superset of WCM toolsets, is growing, but because DXP is a newer market and represents an evolution from WCM, it is still emerging.”

Confusion, cost and complexity

As a result, this situation can sometimes generate “confusion around the definition and use cases” of the technology, says Guseva, not least because the DXPs themselves offer varying levels of functionality and maturity, with capabilities in some instances made available via third-party software. Machine learning support is also increasingly common.

But Friar warns: “You can buy a platform that will cover about 80% of your needs, but don’t underestimate the amount of effort required to get it up and running as none of them are plug-and-play, and they also have to be customised and configured – although what takes significant development time is if you need to integrate it with other systems.”

Adoption, meanwhile, tends to be most widespread at the mid-sized company and enterprise level, says Guseva, and generally falls into two categories:

  • Global organisations needing to become digital businesses and provide a better customer experience.
  • Companies with mature customer experience (CX) strategies that see DXPs as the “connective tissue” they need to integrate their CX technology stack.

But even in these instances, the cost and complexity of such implementations can be off-putting, not least because they tend to entail large organisational change projects.

“A key pitfall is approaching this kind of initiative as a purely technical problem because it involves transforming the way people behave and the skills they need to have,” says Friar. “So, the key thing is to plan for that from the start by introducing not just a technical build and set-up project, but also a coherent enablement programme.”

Friar cites the example of tackling one element of a DXP initiative in the shape of personalisation, an approach that many organisations embrace rather than going for a “big bang” implementation.

“If your aim is to deliver a data-driven experience, where the system constantly responds to the customer based on what the data is saying, the amount of content required from different organisational segments is massive,” he says. “You also need effective processes around your content workflow and approval systems – it’s a huge organisational shift.”

As a result, Friar recommends taking an agile, iterative approach to this kind of programme. “Have end-goals and aspirations, but take small steps towards them and be prepared to change direction if necessary,” he says. “This is a pretty big puzzle to solve, so most organisations will have done one or two bits well, but a clear roadmap will help them focus on their priorities for the future.”

Case study: Macmillan Cancer Support

Macmillan Cancer Support is in the process of revamping its digital estate in a bid to provide stakeholders with a more personalised experience, a key element of which is offering relevant content at the time of need.

The charity started its three-year, agile-based digital transformation project last December with the help of a systems integrator, the aim being to streamline its multiple back-end legacy applications, which included a number of content management systems (CMS).

Richard Dodd, the organisation’s director of digital, says: “Our tech and digital presence has grown organically over time, so it was about recognising that we wanted to offer more consistent digital products and experiences to multiple, varied audiences and to strengthen our content strategy and visual identity.”

Not only was Macmillan’s “spaghetti” digital infrastructure expensive to maintain, but it was also difficult to scale and optimise. As a result, says Dodd: “At some point, you have to pull the cloth off the dinner table and restock.”

To do so, the charity decided to re-platform its website onto Sitecore’s digital experience management system on an “audience by audience, need by need” basis, with the eventual goal of decommissioning the old site and operating on a single CMS. The new system is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and is integrated with Digizuite’s digital asset management software, Google Analytics 360 and Hotjar heatmap and user behaviour analytics tools.

Meanwhile, the first audience to benefit from its service and content transformation are those living with, and affected by, cancer.

“People can come to the website at diagnosis and it guides them through everything they need to know, from information to offer,” says Dodd. “So it means they have access to all of the emotional, practical and information-based support they need throughout their journey.”

Becoming more dynamic

The fact that fewer people than usual had access to cancer diagnosis and treatment during the Covid-19 lockdown meant that being able to offer such information was particularly important at that time, he adds.

The organisation has now also introduced an authentication and registration system to provide service users both with an account and their own personalised dashboard, which includes access to tailored, curated content and acts as a launch pad to an online community group.

Work is also under way on revamping the fundraising and marketing element of the site to make it easier for visitors to find digital fundraising products, register for events and make donations. This part of the initiative is due to be complete by the end of the year, with healthcare professionals being the next audience under the spotlight after that.

Dodd believes there are a number of benefits from the move. In operational terms, reducing complexity and migrating to a standardised platform provides more consistency and control and makes it easier to react swiftly. For example, he says, during the Covid-19 lockdown, Macmillan was able to create a coronavirus hub in a week rather than the usual month.

The charity has also seen user engagement levels improve already when looking at core metrics, such as click-through and bounce rates, as well as user feedback.

“We can now be much more dynamic in our personalisation approach and how we market our portfolio,” says Dodd. “So really it’s about being more competent in introducing the right content at the time of need.”

Case study: Hargreaves Lansdown

“Improving clients’ digital experience is a key part of our customer experience strategy, so it’s important to get it right,” says Chris Worle, chief digital officer at financial services provider Hargreaves Lansdown.

Moving this experience forward at pace is also vital, he adds, “as we’re no longer judged just against direct rivals, but also against those offering the best digital experiences out there, such as retail. So we’ve got to be constantly iterating and moving forward or we’re effectively going backwards”.

Hargreaves Lansdown started its digital transformation initiative at the start of this year, with the aim of creating a consistent, yet personalised, experience across both parts of its website – the marketing side, which was based on a 10-year-old content management system, and the PHP-based accounts and dealing element.

“Having technology that allows us to start tailoring our capabilities and experience is important because what a 20-year-old investing for the first time needs is very different to someone in their 70s drawing down their pension and managing their wealth,” says Worle. “So the idea is to offer people a more personalised experience in order to create the best outcomes and help them achieve their investment goals.”

To make such a large agile-based programme more manageable, the decision was taken to break it down into individual customer journeys, which would go live on Adobe’s Experience Manager system one by one. The first customer journey, which is due for launch in September, deals with applying for a stocks-and-shares ISA, and was chosen because of a desire to both improve the current experience and boost conversion rates.

Far-reaching benefits

“The challenge with this kind of technology is that the benefits are so far-reaching and the potential is so great, you can get lost in the broad question of what it’ll do for you,” says Worle. “So we broke it down into a number of examples and said ‘this is the broad vision, but if you start with this journey and that part of the website and experience, these are the benefits to the client and us, and here are the KPIs [key performance indicators] and how we measure and prove it’.”

As part of the project, Hargreaves Lansdown is also working to ensure that its processes, from the design to the implementation stage, are repeatable and that testing is as automated as possible to “make scaling up the migration easier”, says Worle.

As for the digital transformation work itself, this is undertaken by cross-functional teams comprising both in-house developers and people employed by systems integration partner Cognifide, as well as members of the user-centred design team, which focuses on user interface issues.

“The aim is to move the experience forward and not just rebuild the current one,” says Worle. “So while the teams are mainly made up of tech people, there are a huge number of stakeholders involved who join sprint reviews and contribute as and when it’s necessary and beneficial.”

However, another key consideration when going down this route is recognising that such an initiative is “not just a tech play”, he says.

Instead, it also involves cultural change as it “puts capability back into the hands of people across the business and decentralises the technology and experience chain”, he adds. “So, all of a sudden, it’s up to colleagues in marketing and the client experience team to deliver and effect change for clients to ensure they get the best outcomes.”

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