At the top of Robert Fulghum’s list of lessons learned in his bestselling "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" is: “Share everything.”

Fulghum’s advice applies directly to customer experience (CX), and here’s why: According to findings from McKinsey & Company, your brand and your customer experience must be consistent across all channels and touchpoints. Unfortunately, McKinsey also found that few companies can actually deliver consistency across customer journeys.

As I see it, there are two large obstacles in the way of achieving a consistent customer experience, and they both relate to sharing.

Obstacle 1: Thinking Too DAM Small

John Horodyski, frequent CMSWire contributor and partner at Digital Asset Management (DAM) consultancy Optimity Advisors, wrote recently: “Content is king, but a holistic digital strategy brings content together in more meaningful relationships that strengthen the brand or message.” I agree with that statement, and I want to elaborate on “holistic” and “content.”

I believe that, out of habit or historical context, most people limit the scope of digital assets and content to:

  • Logos, images, movies and other graphic file formats
  • Text files, presentations, spreadsheets and other document types
  • Metadata about those files

CX professionals need to think bigger than that. A more holistic approach to digital assets would also include:

  • Bootstrap, Freemarker or other layout templates
  • XSL, CSS or other style sheets
  • Reusable content fragments — e.g., HTML DIV elements in Web pages or reusable HTML in SharePoint

Forrester analyst Tracy Stokes recommends viewing a brand and its experience through the eyes of a customer. I did just that in a recent webinar with Forrester analysts Ted Schadler and Craig Le Clair. I walked through the customer Web portal of a financial services firm just as a customer would, and found several inconsistencies in branding and user experience along a single customer journey.

Think about the last website you visited. You probably saw the same logo used in the same place across the entire site. But was the layout consistent from page to page, at least within the same section of the site? If it was, that’s because the site administrator used a template for creating similar types of content.

How about the experience across multiple sites hosted by the same organization (e.g., marketing website, customer portal, e-commerce site)? Did the content feel as if it came from the same company? Was the navigation consistent? How about the color scheme? Not likely. Different systems are producing those pages, and while they might have access to the same database of logos, images and other digital assets, chances are high that they’re not sharing templates, style sheets or reusable content.

According to Gartner analyst Jake Sorofman, this is a common phenomenon. Sorofman has found that “For many companies, consistency is lost in the gaps between organizations, systems and processes.”

Obstacle 2: Vendors in the DAM Way

The first obstacle to a consistent customer experience is broadening the scope of which digital assets to consider sharing. The second obstacle is how to share those assets.

There’s much ado these days about “personalization” and “contextualization,” and being able to present different content to different visitors based on personas or other criteria, such as the visitor’s current location or Web browsing history. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to present the same content formatted the same way to the same visitor across multiple Web properties? How about across multiple channels like your website, mobile app and printed customer communications? That would be awesome. But good luck making that happen using your current tools and technologies — they most likely weren’t built for that.

You see, despite “ease of integration with other software components” topping Forrester’s recent list of digital experience investment criteria, few digital experience delivery vendors support the concept of open integration, and no CXM vendor markets the ability to externally share layouts, styles and content. While some systems can import external style sheets and content, copies of those assets then reside inside the CXM repository, disconnected from the original source files and cut off from external systems.

It’s not just the CXM tools that don’t play well with others. The September 2014 Gartner “Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Content Management” lists 22 vendors and even more DAM solutions. Yet, as of the date of this article, few DAM solutions offer the APIs necessary to act as the single repository for all the digital experience delivery software under any one roof.

And even though Forrester believes “customer experience and marketing needs now drive the interest in DAM,” few DAM vendors appear to notice or care. Want to know which DAM vendors would be most open to the idea of sharing layouts, styles and reusable content? The OASIS CMIS and CMIS4DAM technical committee members are the most likely candidates.

Going Around the DAM Obstacles

There’s another option. Rather than waiting for the vendors to evolve, you could always build the sharing functionality yourself. In theory, at least, you could start with the digital experience delivery tools that support something like the JSR 170 and JSR 283 Java Content Repository (JCR) specifications, like Apache Jackrabbit. Adobe and Hippo come to mind, but there are others. It would then be possible — again, in theory — to use pointers to some digital asset types in a single JCR or, in some cases, to use the available APIs in order to get versioning, check in/out and other highly desirable functionality. If you’d like to test this theory, drop a line in the comments or let me know.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Hernan Piñera