What is a Digital Experience Platform? CMS vs WEM vs DXP
The term DXP, or Digital Experience Platform, has gained traction over the last few years. The rise of the DXP comes from the rise of needs that digital must fulfil for customers, and for the enterprises that cater to these customers. Gartner recently released the very first Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms1 that included players traditionally from the Portal, CMS, and Marketing Suite spaces. I think that alone shows just how many pies the DXP has its finger in.
So what actually is a DXP?
“Gartner defines a digital experience platform as an integrated software framework for engaging a broad array of audiences across a broad array of digital touchpoints. Organizations use DXPs to build, deploy and continually improve websites, portals, mobile apps and other digital experiences.”2
So everything is immediately clear now, right? Of course not, because it’s impossible to sum up everything a brand needs its digital experience to be in 2 sentences. However, the two core principles that I feel stand out in this definition is that it takes multiple integrated technologies to control a wide span of touchpoints, and the need for one central platform to be the control center for this expanded experience.
As with all new things, the standardization of the particulars takes time and there’s a natural selection of which standard features end up sticking. The following is how the DXP evolved, how BloomReach defines the DXP, and what we think is critical for such a platform to drive value.
The road to DXP
The principles and technology behind the DXP have evolved with the demands of the digital consumer and digital worker. I recently wrote a more in-depth look at this evolution, but at the core it boils down to 3 stages:
Content Management System (CMS): The basic system to help enterprises organize written content, images, data, and other collateral needed for their online presence. A CMS provides version management and authoring workflow to keep large, global sites consistent. Web Content Management (WCM) is more or less another name for CMS, because we are an industry that loves acronyms.
Web Experience Management (WEM): As digital became a major facet of brands, new customer channels popped up, and cross-departmental collaboration began to rely on sharing digital information, WEM emerged. These systems introduced rule-based personalization to the online experience, and gave the ability to collect user behavior, define personas, and create and provide unique content to the targeted audience. Most importantly, WEMs allow companies to share content, data, logic, and other elements across channels consistently.
Digital Experience Platform (DXP): The experience quickly moved beyond just content, and just the web - businesses want to share any type of asset, or group of assets, across any digital touchpoint - online, in-store, billboard, kiosks, customer portals, ecommerce systems, and more. It also become clear that the digital experience was no longer just a way to get people in the door, but critical to growing customer satisfaction and loyalty post-acquisition. The digital journey has expanded, more back end applications are being used by different departments to handle their piece of that journey. For the customer experience to remain consistent from acquisition to advocate, these back end systems need to integrate. Digital is no longer just in Marketing’s hands, the entire business is responsible for it.
This need for a connected, consistent experience - both internal and customer facing - led to the rise of the agile DXP. At their core, all DXP vendors are trying to supercharge the way the digital experience is delivered. All of these systems - CMS, WEM, and DXP - are still after the same thing - making the interaction between customer and brand meet both parties needs - but the way they enable this has evolved.
A DXP is OPEN
Having every tool you use to control your digital experience come from one company, all in one large suite, simply isn’t practical. Every company should have the freedom to innovate with the fast growing Martech space, by being able to add or replace solutions, and connect the data they offer, with minimal disruption to the experience as a whole. I have yet to meet a company that hasn’t already made technology investments and, more importantly, already have best-of-breed tools in place that they really enjoy working with. Flexible, and frictionless connectivity is why BloomReach believes an open, API-first approach is a key part of a modern DXP.
The number of interaction points you need to manage has rapidly grown, and will continue to do so. Not only do you have to jump on each touchpoint as quickly as your customers expect them, you have to keep it all consistent in content, feel, and logic.
This is where API-first design shines. APIs hand out the raw information in a pre-defined way, and every touchpoint can present that raw information in their own structured way. This means you write that FAQ document once and it can be used across web, mobile, customer portals, kiosks, chatbots, voice assistants, and any other digital touchpoints you choose. Update that FAQ document once, and it’s updated everywhere.
APIs sharing isn’t limited to simple content and data, but can provide entire elements as a service. Define pricing logic once and share it with apps, 3rd party retailers, “buy me” buttons on social, and wherever else you’d like consistent information to be available.
Connects the business
We know that a DXP is not the only tool you need in your kit. You need a marketing platform to bring customers in the door, a commerce platform to handle inventory and transaction, a support environment to work with existing customers, and the freedom to choose other point solutions that fit your unique needs.The DXP sits at the center of these, using APIs to aggregate and orchestrate data to determine and show customers the right experience every time they walk through the door.
An open DXP can bring every best-of-breed tool that impacts the experience together with minimal interruption. If a department has a prefered tool in place, they can simply connect it to the DXP with APIs, and can add and remove tools with ease - making experimentation much less daunting.
For the above connections to work, the underlying structure of the DXP has to be flexible. For the BloomReach DXP we turn to a microservice architecture to do this. What does this mean?
This means that back-end logic is decoupled from front-end presentation, so developers and marketers can make changes to both quickly and independently of each-other. It also means that improvements to the platform can be made modularly, making and deploying changes in one area without disruption the rest. This is especially important when building and deploying custom components or integrations with other best-of-breed systems.
This flexibility also allows businesses to use the DXP in the most valuable for them. They can use “content-as-a-service” (aka headless) to store and dish out content in a structured API, or as “experience-as-a-service” to edit WYSIWYG style and serve whole elements out to front-end applications, use it for full site delivery where marketers edit and publish the content and presentation directly from the platform.
A DXP is INTELLIGENT
Your experience spans across a growing number of touchpoints, you have data flowing in from multiple sources, and you brand is continuing to grow in customer base and in products and services offered - how do you continue to maintain and improve it? Even more importantly, how do you find time to innovate?
Artificial Intelligence is the key here. It can assist you all across the experience, from doing the grunt work that powers personalization to discovering hidden insights within your data. Having intelligence intrinsically in the DXP, where it has access to data from every tool and touchpoint, is the ultimate seat for AI to understand and improve the experience - from acquisition to loyalty.
We once asked 500 people to describe a red dress. They came up with 129 words for “red”, 275 descriptions of the belt, 105 descriptions of the length and 216 words to name the occasion at which one would wear the dress. That’s over 80M combinations of search terms. For one item. Humans just simply can’t keep up. Site search needs the help of artificial intelligence to deliver the most relevant results, at scale, for any search query. Keeping your visitors finding the information they want, and keeping them on your site.
Contextual personalization at the core
For many companies, personalization is something that is both rule-based and left on the fringes of the experience. Stand alone elements like product grids, store location maps, and regional contact numbers were personalized based on hand written rules.
Of course manual rules can only go so far. The same person visiting his insurance website on a weeknight via a desktop at home is going to have completely different needs visiting the same site at 2am on a mobile phone while abroad. Writing a rule for every one of these micro-journeys a visitor might have would take eternity - and you’d probably still miss some.
This level of contextual personalization requires a deeper level of personalization, one that takes into account every piece of content, device use, customer behaviour, and successful conversion paths to learn, deliver, and learn again which patterns lead to better outcomes for which people at which times. This type of personalization needs to happen at the core of the experience, not the fringes. The DXP platform, sitting at the connected heart of the experience, should be the place where this intelligence is housed and can talk to your entire solutions toolkit to keep learning about your visitors and continuously, automatically, improve their experience.
Before: Personalization on the fringes
After: Personalization at the core
Man + Machine
Having AI sitting at the heart of your experience not only means it can use the connected data to give your customers what they are looking for, it can use that data to show you insights you didn’t even know were there to look for.
How did you choose the metrics to measure your experience? A gut feeling or following best practices perhaps? AI can open new doors to business insights by gleaning through your data, identify which patterns and trends are actually making an impact, and give you insights on what you can do to boost or change those patterns.
With all the rage of AI scalability and insights it can seem like computers won’t need us at all to create exceptional experiences. I can’t say what will happen 300 years from now, but in today’s digital age humans are still very much needed.
There is a quote I like, with an attribution that remains a mystery, that hits it right on the nose, “Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.” Let AI fine tune your search, evolve the web of data and logic that powers personalization, and show you all the hidden gems and insights, and let the real people behind your brand to focus their efforts on the creativity, ethics, and truly original ideas that are what really gives your digital experience that unique competitive advantage.
Do you need a DXP?
Not every CMS company has evolved their platform toward a DXP, nor does every one of them need to. The core principles of CMS, version management, workflow, authorization and content organization, are still fundamental to creating a digital experience. For companies that don’t currently use digital as a main driver of business, these features meet their current needs.
DXP platforms should be considered by companies at the stage in digital where they would benefit from a fully connected experience. Brands with a multiple touchpoints, a diverse audience, a business stake in digital, or all of the above are ready for this type of platform. The businesses urgently in need of a DXP are those with multiple back-end systems and front in tools currently in silos along the experience, and have marketers and developers hungry to innovate with highly differentiated customer experiences.
Deciding if you need a DXP, or are satisfied with a CMS, requires a critical look at where your digital experience is today and, even more importantly, at what level you want it to perform in the next 5 years. Ultimately, the right platform is the one that efficiently supports your needs at the right level.
Gartner research. Forecast Snapshot: Digital Experience Platforms, Worldwide, 2017. Bianca Francesca Granetto, Yanna Dharmasthira, Fabrizio Biscotti. [6 November 2017]
Gartner MQ for Digital Experience Platforms