So what is a digital experience platform? The textbook definition from Gartner refers to it as “a well-integrated and cohesive set of technologies designed to enable the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualised digital experiences across multiexperience customer journeys.” which is a good place to start, but to truly understand DXP we need to go a bit further.
To put it in a nutshell, a DXP platform is just a collection of various technologies that unify ecommerce, content management, personalization services, etc. This latest a company deliver omnichannel digital experiences to their consumers. While there certainly are solutions that try to deliver all of this in one massive, cohesive bit of software, this way of doing it is rapidly becoming outdated in favour of an integrated set of tools that plays well together.
Sounds simple in theory, but in practice it never is. Keep in mind that digital experiences need to be put in a global context. You’ve got to create them in such a way that ensures all of it is on brand, all of it is flexible enough to be fine tuned by each country in which you operate and all of it works seamlessly. And if that wasn’t enough, you need to make sure it works through every digital channel such as websites, emails, apps, customer portals, social media platforms and many more. All of this means that while DXP is an evolution of older systems, it too must keep evolving to keep pace with growing digital experience management needs.
To further understand the trends governing today’s more flexible DXP platforms, we need to understand how the field has gotten to where we are today.
While it may be a bit of an over-simplification, the digital asset management field has gone through three major phases: Content Management Systems (CMS), Web Experience Management (WEM) and now Digital Experience Platforms (DXP).
Fairly basic systems to help an organisation bring order to the chaos of their copywriting, images, data, etc. as they work to manage their digital footprint. Great for the basic work needed to keep massive global sites organised and up to date, but limited beyond that.
A major limitation to CMS was that it tended to become massively siloed, which led to the emergence of WEM. As projects became larger and digital became a major focus for most brands, new digital channels kept cropping up one after another - being siloed in this environment just isn’t agile enough. WEMs combine the ability to use collected data to deliver unique and personalised content to consumers while also allowing the company to share content and data across channels much more quickly and efficiently than you could with a CMS.
With the incredibly fast-paced growth of digital, being only able to do content management just isn’t enough. Businesses now need the ability to share assets across any digital touchpoint, any e-commerce system, through any portal - essentially, anytime, anywhere and with anyone both internal and external. This means a digital transformation-led proliferation of back-end applications that are crucial to managing these processes - the birth of the agile DXP.
CMS and WEM have their place in the evolution of the DXP, but that’s not to say there aren’t some major differences in paths that evolution has taken.
Finding your DXP platform strategy is not, as you might imagine, a simple process. Defining the digital experience platform that’s right for your organisation is an exercise in defining your activities and work style to find the right fit. Digital experience architecture currently comes in three main flavours.
The first to be implemented and by far the most common DXP solution on the market is the monolithic DXP. These are essentially massive single unified systems that offer customers everything they need all in one, but because of this they tend to be a bit inflexible and do not scale well. They’re not complicated - a tiered architecture that includes a database, web interface and a business logic layer - and tend to include very large codebases changing which means recompiling and testing the whole system. A web app for web presentation of content rounds out an architecture archetype that’s a bit clunky, but tends to do the job well enough to earn its popularity.
A headless CMS is the developer-heavy response to the inflexibility of the monolithic DXPs. How does a DXP impact developers, you might ask? Well, headless architecture came about from the need that businesses have to allow their consumers to access their content on their channels of choice - developers needed to connect various back-end systems via APIs to make this happen. “Headless” refers to the fact that this architecture system removes the presentation layer (so think website templates, pages - all of the front-end stuff) and focuses almost entirely on the back-end API tech stack. Not all headless CMS can deserve to be called a DXP, however, which is where composable DXP solutions come in.
Composable DXPs typically will have a headless CMS at their heart, using the extremely flexible approach that focuses on API, cloud and IT capabilities. Composable DXP architecture takes the main idea from headless architecture and takes it a step further. Whereas headless CMS typically focuses on the backend, composable DXP allows businesses to more easily connect best-of-breed tools to provide greater capabilities than just content management.
If composable DXP technology sounds like a lot of work, a hybrid DXP might be the way to go. It does essentially everything that composable dxp does, but goes a bit further by providing pre-built integrations. You’ll still be dealing with a headless CMS at the core of your hybrid DXP, but you’ll also have a more user-friendly interface emblematic of traditional CMS - essentially combining the best of both worlds with this flexible DXP architecture format. Less flexible than putting the tech stack together yourself, but much easier with a catalogue of pre-approved integrations that can still give you a great deal of options.
Now that we’ve established some of the underlying architectural principles of digital customer experience platforms, let’s take a look at what this means for the market at large. Digital experience platform trends tend to mirror digital experience trends as a whole, but some of the more important ones for the next few years include the following.
With the rising importance of data to omnichannel marketing, digital experience platforms are showing a significantly heavier emphasis on privacy, data control and data protection policies for both back end users and customers.
Multi-cloud environments essentially distribute your assets and tools across multiple cloud environments, which prevents many errors and can significantly reduce downtime if there are any issues. DXPs in particular can benefit from this because of the increased flexibility and ability to keep the customer experience seamless in the event of an unexpected problem.
Analytics is king for marketing and digital experience, so it is no surprise that analytical tools are an extremely important part of any solid DXP enterprise offering. Being able to gather data, analyse channel performance and put all of that into easily parsable and usable dashboards to ensure a consistent customer journey across devices is an absolute necessity.
So now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let's look at the real reason you should care about DXPs - the digital experience platform benefits and how they’ll help you better manage your business.
One of the key benefits of a DXP is being able to make changes globally that can then be applied at the local level, all in one place. Where without a DXP your central marketing team would create a new set of materials and then have to ensure that it goes out to each localization for adjustment, now this can be centralised within the DXP which makes localization that much easier and more consistent. Operating on a global level while ensuring local consistency is the word to live by when using a DXP to its fullest.
The number of connected devices per person is growing every day, which means that the number of interaction points you need to manage are also quickly getting out of hand if you want to maintain consistent content, logic and look and feel. This is where the API-focused design principles behind many of the best DXP products really come in handy. APIs are great at disseminating raw info in a structured and pre-defined configuration, which means that you can create or update something once and it can then zoom across the various areas where it will be viewed, such as web, mobile, customer portals, voice assistants, etc. It can even make it relatively easy to define entire service elements that can then be shared with various apps and even third party retailers with which your products/services engage.
As powerful as many modern hybrid DXPs can be, they can’t do everything alone. To make the most of it, you need to integrate it with a marketing platform for customer acquisition, a commerce platform to handle any inventory and transaction management, a support system for existing customers and the ability to add on any additional solutions to make your business work. A good DXP sits at the centre of all of these tools, using APIs to aggregate and collate data to enable the perfect customer experience. As we mentioned earlier, proper composable DXP architecture can bring best-in-breed tools together with little to no interruption in service making experimentation until you get the perfect fit for your business a breeze.
Connecting the business together means a flexible underlying DXP infrastructure. In practice, this usually means that the back-end logic is separated from the front-end presentation so that devs and marketers can work independently of each other to make updates and changes quickly, without having to get into some of the more esoteric bits of each other’s work streams. This, in essence, means that any updates or improvements to the platform itself can be made modularly. You avoid disrupting the rest of the environment when you make a change in one area, something that is extremely important when building and launching custom components or integrations.
In more practical terms, this means that a business can use headless architecture principles to store and send out content via structured API or edit WYSIWYG style to serve elements out to front-end apps.
Making the choice to adopt a DXP means that you’re already well on the way to digital transformation of your business practices. Embracing microservices, the architecture style behind the deployment of many large and complex applications and integrations, gives your business the opportunity to evolve not just your core skills but how you approach most aspects of your business from a digital perspective.
Now that we’ve got some of the broader organisational benefits covered, let's have a look at some specific use cases for DXP technology.
These days it isn’t rare for even a relatively small organisation to have a web presence in a wide variety of geographies that targets consumers in regions with numerous languages. This makes management of content across the business a significant challenge. Most digital experience platforms specifically look at multi-site management to ensure you are able to manage these multiple sites and microsites. Building a microsite framework with your DXP is one of the core functions of a good DXP, which will allow you to manage this content from a single platform to more easily keep your brand identity and customer experience consistent from case to case.
Proper DXP integration can make your enrolment process paperless, much more secure and compliant with security regulations and can automatically convert your old PDF forms to adaptive digital forms that are responsive in both desktop and mobile interfaces. This can help save a great deal of time and money while ensuring that your customers get an enrolment experience that is both seamless and secure that they can start from any device and finish on any other device across all of your channels.
Creative and marketing needs are becoming increasingly complex with greater demands for personalization and unique digital experiences. This means that being able to manage a huge quantity of creative assets while allowing every stakeholder to find what they need to create consistent experiences across all channels is now a necessity. A DXP helps to connect these workflows, allowing a team of marketers, creatives and outside consultants to more easily create, manage and deliver channel optimised content.
Most brands are now realising that content is the very heart of the digital experience, rather than just something for managing their marketing or websites. Content drives the digital experience across the rapidly increasing number of channels on a customer journey, all of which requires significantly more time and manpower to manage in a traditional marketing environment.
A DXP enables brands to deliver quality digital experiences faster and at higher quality, which in turn drives greater revenue, avoids digital abandonment and increases customer loyalty. By integrating the content from your other core technologies to deliver personalised, localised and interactive digital experiences, you significantly impact the customer lifecycle. Being able to build digital experiences that scale due to the API-centric nature of underlying DXP architecture allows you to operate at a much higher level without relying on the heroic efforts of a few teams in creative and marketing to keep your digital experiences relevant to the modern consumer.
Ultimately, if you plan to operate at any sort of scale and with any sort of complexity you are going to need at least a basic DXP if you want to offer a consistent and streamlined digital experience to your customers.
A way to combine different capabilities across your enterprise from different domains to create a dynamic and personalised customer digital experience.
Most DXPs work by uncoupling the back-end API layer from the front end development layer, allowing developers to put together a customised tech stack without impacting the work done by creatives and marketing on the front end.
Do you need to operate at scale, with multiple geographies and multiple languages and want to keep your customer digital experience consistent and easy to manage? If so, then yes you could most likely benefit from at least a basic DXP solution - especially if you’re looking to expand in the future.
Any good DXP will have a headless CMS at its core to help manage the various bits of content that will be generated and utilised by its users. DXP is essentially a next step up from the relatively more simple CMS tool, integrating much more functionality and giving many more options to provide strong digital experiences to consumers across a wide variety of channels.
If you would like to find out more about Content Management Systems have a look at our article CMS for Enterprise: the ultimate guide for your business. You will find all the information on what is CMS platform, its benefits, and features along with examples of leading CMS platforms.