Consumers today expect relevant, meaningful, consistent experiences at each and every intersection with a brand. If a buyer purchases a product via an Instagram ad, they don’t want an email days later pushing the same item. They want smart communications, personalized content, speed, and an all-around reliable and cohesive brand experience.
But this caliber of experience isn’t easy to deliver. Marketing technologies address different pieces of the omnichannel puzzle, but stringing solutions together to work as a cohesive, data-driven marketing technology (martech) stack is often a challenge. That’s why industries and users of all kinds are turning to the next generation of marketing technology: the digital experience platform (DXP).
What is a DXP?
Ask 100 people what a digital experience platform is, and you’ll likely get 100 different takes. Even industry analysts like Forrester and Gartner define a DXP slightly differently.
Here’s how we define DXP at Acquia:
A digital experience platform (DXP) is a collection of products that work together to help organizations deliver an exceptional digital experience to their customers. A DXP achieves this coordination by eliminating technology silos. It provides businesses with one central hub from which to create, manage, deliver, and optimize content-driven experiences across any and all digital channels.
A DXP gives organizations tools to gather comprehensive, cross-channel data to understand their customers, and then incorporate these lessons into the creation, management, and delivery of content. Whether a customer encounters a brand on a website, app, chatbot, social platform, customer portal, in-store kiosk, digital billboard, or wearable tech — a DXP connects these digital touchpoints into a smaller, more informed ecosystem for marketers to manage.
To achieve this, DXPs pack a lot of functionality into one system. They combine the power of many popular technologies, such as e-commerce, campaign management, digital asset management (DAM), customer relationship management (CRM), customer data platforms (CDP), and personalization tools. Certain vendors provide more capabilities than others (and not all of the products mentioned are always included — or needed), but generally speaking, all DXPs must:
- Offer content management and media storage capabilities
- Enable the quick development of websites, portals, landing pages, or apps
- Collect and connect customer data across touchpoints and content using APIs
- Use data to facilitate the personalization of digital content for customers
- Measure content performance and user experience through analytics
The history of DXPs
DXPs — and the idea of a highly interconnected set of technologies for customer experiences — have evolved in response to the changing needs of the industry. Consider this: Before 2008 or 2009, your brand’s website was your DXP. Then came the iPhone and other smartphones, and suddenly, the digital experience began expanding.
Fast forward through the last decade — past social media, Siri, Alexa, Google Home, in-store point of sale, digital signage and screens, chatbots, IoT, out-of-home media, marketing automation, and more — and the channels, platforms, and technologies that comprise a brand’s potential digital experience strategy have exploded, forcing marketers to completely rethink how they interact with customers. The way business was conducted ten years ago simply doesn’t work today, because the world has dramatically changed with respect to technologies, business expectations, and customer expectations.
How is a DXP different from a CMS?
While a DXP can offer content management system (CMS) capabilities, the two solutions aren’t one and the same. A traditional CMS focuses specifically on the management of content for websites (think: blogs, e-commerce sites, company intranets, and landing pages). But many organizations today need to connect with their customers across more than just their web properties.
Enter the DXP. A DXP takes CMS functionality to the next level by addressing the entire scope of the user experience across not only a brand’s website but all digital channels. Often coined “the next evolution of the CMS,” DXPs are quickly becoming an attractive, more comprehensive alternative to a traditional CMS.
Types of DXPs
Marketing platforms never come in just one flavor; DXPs are no exception. Not only do DXP quality and capabilities vary from vendor to vendor, but there are actually two distinct types: an open DXP and a closed.
An open DXP is a solution that integrates multiple products from different third-party vendors into one, centralized system. An open DXP provides organizations with the flexibility to integrate products of their choosing, such as the CRM they love and are already using or a new technology that meets their needs perfectly. Additionally, many open DXP vendors also offer pre-built integrations with third-party products that are vetted and available for customers to “turn on” in the system.
A closed DXP is a self-contained platform with all DXP components or products built into the system itself. So rather than tapping into existing third-party tools, all DXP components are developed and maintained by the DXP provider and sold as a suite. That’s not to say a closed DXP can’t integrate with outside products; it’s just designed to work best within its own ecosystem of products.
Choosing between an open and a closed DXP comes down to preference. That said, most buyers prefer an open model. A closed DXP is nice for organizations lacking tech resources to facilitate integrations or for those who want to work through a single vendor. But the latter can be limiting. There are more than 9,000 marketing technologies out there, many of which do a really excellent job at what they’re built to do. So rather than reinventing the wheel, open DXPs put their time and resources toward bringing these best-in-class products together to work seamlessly within one global platform.
The four elements of a digital experience
Data and content are the foundation for any digital experience and thus the foundational elements of any digital experience platform. If you can’t create engaging content quickly and collect and analyze customer data, then you can’t deliver a digital experience. Any vendor who doesn’t have content and data at the core of their definition and capabilities is not the right vendor for you.
1. Content: How we engage. The content acts as the “what” of the actual message, whatever form it may come in (e.g., an article, social post, digital ad, or e-book), needs to be created and delivered. Content is the key to any experience, and enterprises need to be able to create massive amounts of it quickly, effectively, and at scale. A true DXP provides a single source of truth of content for the entire organization. Everyone — developers, IT, and marketing — must be able to rapidly create and update content and to do so without advanced technical skills. That content needs to be discoverable, shareable, and reusable across any touchpoint (web, mobile, email) or modality (screen, voice, gestures) so that it can be created once and published to any channel.
2. Data: How we understand. Data answers the essential questions: who your customers are, where they’re interacting, and how they prefer to engage. All of this makes up customer understanding, which tells us exactly the type of content we should use to engage with them. A true DXP provides a single source of truth for data via real-time 360° customer profiles. It must open up data and make it accessible to everyone across an organization through pre-built connectors that integrate to both new, legacy, and offline channels. That accessibility allows any team who needs it to view the data and report on it without creating bottlenecks.
A true DXP will also automatically stitch together profiles and segments across channels, devices, and systems, as well as dedupe and cleanse that data for a single view of customer interactions across online and offline channels.
3. Machine learning: True intent at scale. Machine learning (ML) is really just a means to an end: identifying and delivering true customer insight at scale. ML models can stitch together customer data and activities and accelerate operations. Machine learning algorithms are used to identify customer preferences, what segment they belong in, and, most importantly, what they’re likely to do next based on their behaviors. It provides true intent — an understanding of which customers tend to buy online, who your highest value customers are, and predictive models to understand which channels and times of day they’re most likely to engage.
So, once you’ve applied machine learning to the data, you’ve achieved the third component of a digital experience platform: insight at scale. As your business needs continue to expand to new regions, channels, and systems — all of which are gathering new data on your customers — machine learning can enhance the data and more effectively determine which content should go to which customer.
4. Orchestration: Connecting the pieces. The fourth element in this admittedly simplified breakdown is orchestration. You might call this customer journeys, journey mapping, automation, or the like, but they all fall under the same umbrella. You have data on a customer and have created content for them. You’ve used machine learning to gain forward-looking customer insights. The last step: producing a digital experience, which means being able to create a cohesive customer journey. Each touchpoint needs to be optimized to make the most of that particular moment without disruption. A DXP enables teams to personalize experiences and create customer journeys without having to use code. Teams should also be able to easily duplicate successful campaigns and localize to help drive engagement across distributed organizations. Combined with content, data, and machine learning, orchestration puts engagement into motion to deliver the right message to service every aspect of the digital experience: websites, applications, channels, modalities, whatever drives customers toward their preferred solution. It helps businesses know what to deliver next and instills confidence that they’re taking the next best action.
The result for a business that invests in the right DXP (and has the organization’s commitment and a process to get there) is the holy grail: a self-guided customer journey.
DXP and DAM
As we said earlier, content is the backbone of every digital experience. But getting this content out into the world and across all of a brand’s various digital channels is challenging. That’s why many organizations leverage a digital asset management (DAM) solution as part of their DXP.
With a DAM component, organizations can search and access content without leaving the DXP, helping teams move more quickly. It also ensures that only up-to-date, approved, and on-brand assets make their way into a brand’s digital experience. Teams can use dynamic resizing tools to adjust the images they pull from the DAM system, convert file formats on the fly, import metadata for search engine optimization (SEO), and much more. A strong digital experience is contingent on so much that happens behind the scenes — and a DAM system is often step one in setting up a solid, forward-looking digital marketing strategy.
When to use a DXP
With so many vendors making a case for their particular solution, it’s tough to know when a DXP is really needed. This timing is different for every organization (and resources certainly play a role), but many organizations invest in a DXP when they’re looking to achieve objectives like the following:
Create comprehensive strategies
Not every digital strategy requires a DXP. However, any organization with long-term omnichannel marketing aspirations should consider one sooner than later. The more ambitious a strategy becomes, the more difficult it is to understand what’s working and not working. A DXP eliminates traditional data silos by connecting customer data across all digital touchpoints and content, ultimately helping marketers execute their comprehensive strategies with greater speed, agility, and confidence.
Build personalized user experiences
Personalization at scale is tough to achieve without the help of technology. But, many times, technologies only address part of a user experience. They rarely marry insights about a customer across the entire brand experience. A DXP solves this by unifying all data and digital experience tools into one comprehensive and unified platform. In turn, organizations gain a deeper customer understanding and can deploy smarter, more effective personalization tactics.
Impactful campaign management
Campaigns are challenging because they require quick insights and even quicker action. A DXP consolidates data from multiple sources for speedy analysis.
But that’s just part of the equation. Campaigns require ongoing optimization and A/B testing, which can leave marketers stuck waiting for developers to create or update landing pages for them. A DXP gives marketers the tools they need to make these updates and push changes live all on their own.
Benefits of a DXP
To learn more about the relationship between marketing and customer experience (CX) in creating omnichannel success, we surveyed 205 marketing and CX professionals across North America, the United Kingdom, and western Europe. In one survey question, we asked, “What are the biggest obstacles to creating a cohesive customer journey across touchpoints?” For most respondents, “technology limitations” was the highest-ranked response.
That’s telling. As organizations adopt more and more technologies, creating a cohesive brand experience across various channels doesn’t necessarily get easier. A DXP is specifically designed to address this shortcoming by focusing on the digital experience and the specific (yet comprehensive) product offering needed to support it. With the right DXP in place, organizations will reap the benefits of:
- An integrated approach to data and content for smarter budget allocation, more informed campaign optimization, and faster decision-making
- Smarter personalization through machine learning and cross-channel insights into customer characteristics, preferences, content consumption, and more
- An open architecture solution for customizable and easy integration of existing and new cutting-edge marketing tools
- Turnkey content creation methods for more agile digital marketing and less reliance on web developers
- A 360° view of the customer to effectively cleanse, manage, and operationalize online and offline data
- Governance controls to keep content on-brand, protect customer privacy, and mitigate risk
DXP for the future
No matter how you spin it, receiving a positive digital experience is and will continue to be a priority for customers everywhere. Some brands can deliver on this expectation with the handful of marketing technologies they’re currently leveraging. But as digital strategies continue to evolve and more digital channels enter the mainstream, the brands that harness the power of a DXP will have the advantage.
Open source DXP “foundation” platforms like Acquia allow you to continue your customer-centric focus, constructing your DXP in the manner you see fit from top software across vendors. Our approach values and promotes simplicity in integration of cross-channel customer journeys; scalability in authoring, site operations, and data security; and intelligence in automated, actionable insights, empowering users to become active in defining experiences.
To learn how Acquia can help you deliver on the omnichannel expectations of today and tomorrow, request a demo.