Discussion Point Can One Firm Provide Complete Digital Experience

Discussion Point: Can One Firm Provide Complete Digital Experience?

9 minute read
Dom Nicastro avatar

The complete digital experience from one digital provider. Ah, sounds refreshing, doesn't it?

Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe being locked into one vendor sounds scary.

The truth is -- most experts think the industry is far from having an all-in-one.

Forrester Research reported this in its first Wave for Digital Experience Delivery Platforms last month. It determined no vendor offers a truly "end-to-end solution."

Heck, when even vendors admit they don't offer the complete digital package, you know it's the truth.

"Our end goal is a common user interface for everything end-to-end," one software company product manager told Forrester researchers. "Currently we only have that for the first third of the journey."

We asked three professionals in the digital industry to weigh in on this question of "all-one-in."

The Question

Forrester claims no digital experience platforms offer end-to-end solutions. Do you agree with that generally? If so, what factors stop vendors from being the be-all, end-all digital experience provider? Will they ever break through these barriers? And do customers even want one, end-to-end provider? 

Tony Byrne, Founder, The Real Story Group

customer experience, Discussion Point: Can One Provider Ace Digital Experience?
In 2001, Byrne founded CMS Watch as a vendor-independent analyst firm to evaluate content technologies. Over time, CMS Watch evolved into the multi-channel research and advisory organization known today as The Real Story Group

Byrne, the original author of The Real Story Group's Web CMS research, a former journalist and a 20-year technology industry veteran, oversees all of The Real Story Group's technology streams.

Before 2001, he managed an engineering team at a systems integration firm. He now focuses his own research on enterprise community and collaboration software, SharePoint and web content management. Tweet to Tony Byrne.

First, there’s really no such thing as a Digital Experience Platform.  

Today customers depend on a wide variety of tools to support all their customer touch points. These systems can range from various flavors of CRM, to Salesforce automation, email marketing, social engagement, web content and experience management, transactional portals and many specialized mobile delivery platforms, to name just a few. The variety of these customer touch points is broadening each year.

Now there are vendors that will claim to offer many of these solutions. But their platforms are invariably cobbled together from acquisitions rather than a single organic whole, and therefore likely no better integrated than if you had licensed reasonably open systems from multiple providers. 

The term “Marketing Cloud” sounds enticing, but is largely mythical and will remain so for some time. For marketers and other customer-facing managers, this means that you need to live in a multi-system world (even if you obtain many of those systems from the same vendor), and bring resources to bear accordingly.  

Remember that since there’s no magic bullet, all your competitors face the same challenge. A savvy enterprise, then, will build strong bridges between marketing and IT (ideally co-locating marketing-oriented technologists with business partners) and invest in comprehensive digital education and training for marketing staff, who no longer have the luxury of assuming that marketing tech is a black box that falls under someone else’s domain. 

We’ve been working with some of our subscribers on how to build solid enterprise architectures around data and process flows. Much the same way there is no one uber experience platform, you will need to build logical data warehouses and processes that can flex to accommodate new systems. In short, a “digital experience platform” is the overall architecture that you create. Once you have that, you can successfully evaluate individual solutions as your needs arise.  

R. Shay Miles, Digital and Mobile Experience Lead, The North Face

customer experience, Discussion Point: Can One Provider Ace Digital Experience?

In her current role at The North Face (a division of VF Corp – Outdoor Coalition), Miles leads digital innovation including user experience and design, “mobile-always” strategy, strategic partnerships and strives to enhance the multichannel business model. 

She has more than 10 years of experience driving growth and profitability, championing the need for digital investments and developing and executing strategies. She is on the executive board of Oakland Digital Arts & Literacy and is a member of Women in Wireless -- San Francisco Chapter. Tweet to R. Shay Miles


Indeed, there are limitations amongst our current options of digital experience delivery platform providers. Today, companies rely on a variety of platforms to address all phases of the customer experience journey -- not just for digital customers, not brick-and-mortar customers, not omnichannel customers -- but “customers” (and audiences) period, who expect to get what they want, seamlessly, in their immediate context. 

Learning Opportunities

Certainly, there are areas for improvement that would be effective for ambitious online retailers, multichannel marketplaces and financial/commercial/entertainment service providers. To start, vendors need to unlock/build on the software to make sure companies have the opportunity to drive customer engagement through emotional connections as well as commerce.  

Understandably, a complete end-to-end digital experience delivery platform is a lofty challenge for vendors -- considering the Internet of Things, competitive landscape, and business models as they pertain to points of difference, sales growth goals, psychographics, personalization, global territories, brand affinity and so on.

To remain successful during the absence of a complete end-to-end digital experience delivery platform, The North Face finds significant value in using a hybrid of solutions, as do many brands. To meet most of the digital experience expectations, The North Face utilizes a collection of delivery platforms and ancillaries to support our tablet optimized site, mobile site, dematerialized hang tags (responsive site activated via QR Code), mobile-for-mortar traffic driving and other retail technologies. 

For a company to have a digital experience strategy without factoring in mobile-always unfortunately means they are stuck in 2009. On the flip side, the evolution of the digital experience to be “mobile-always” also offers complexity to the existing hybrid approach and can be an inconsistent mix with different levels of sophistication; so content delivery, operational efficiency and sales suffer. 

#NeverStopExploring is not limited to a tagline and a blog, it is a mantra that drives The North Face’s talent, customers, athletes, partners, product technology and innovation, and social responsibility. So naturally, the goal for the digital marketing team is to help create a great digital experience during this age of the customer, by avoiding a “me too” strategy and invest in more unified and responsive platforms and adopt agile and hybrid methodologies.  

As a content and commerce marketer, The North Face has a strategic imperative to stimulate emotional connections and maximize customer value. Until we’re blessed with a complete end-to-end digital experience delivery platform, we have become deliberate with assessing solutions that address the importance of the customer experience journey and bring content and commerce together.

Justin Talerico, Co-Founder and CEO, ion interactive

customer experience, Discussion Point: Can One Provider Ace Digital Experience?

Talerico, a marketing technology entrepreneur, believes that the digital experience is the customer experience and that expectations are king. His company, ion interactive, provides hundreds of customers like Dell, DHL Express, Genworth, Iron Mountain and Kabam with digital experience creation and testing.Tweet to Justin Talerico.

Why doesn’t JetBlue rent cars? I mean, here I am, a captive traveler on an airline I feel good about. Why not just give me a JetBlue subcompact and call it a day? Planes and cars are both vehicles. In both cases, I’m buying transportation. Seems to make perfect sense.

Yes, I agree with Forrester. Digital experience is a far-ranging term that includes many different types of interactions and touch points. The digital experience that an individual has with your brand is likely the sum of many, very different interactions -- some major, some minor, but all important to their perception of your brand. And all driven by their expectations.

Perhaps they were first introduced to you in social. Then maybe they wandered into your public website. Or they clicked on your retargeted banner and landed on a campaign-specific destination. It’s likely they did all these things ping-ponging between a computer, tablet and phone -- maybe even a wearable. And it’s likely you began targeting and personalizing to them the better you got to know them. It’s possible they interacted with a web app, game or native mobile app and that in the course of that discovery they gave you a bunch of submitted and behavioral data. With every touch point building on the last, their digital experience became more and more relevant as your picture of their needs became more and more clear.

That short sampling of a digital experience is just the tip of the iceberg. Increasingly, customers will only engage with brands that live up to a lofty standard -- one set and reset by an accelerating on-demand everywhere digital lifestyle. They expect and demand usefulness, convenience and entertainment, avoiding and even berating friction. The depth of knowledge and capability required to satisfy those lofty expectations is incredibly high and only getting higher.

Best-of-breed point solutions focus on one aspect within the digital experience. That focus might be the website, native apps, social, data append, gamification, marketing apps and so on. To expect one platform to innovate fast enough to solve one of those needs is asking a lot. To ask one platform to solve all those needs is a recipe for mediocrity. There are "checkbox" solutions that do just that, check the box, on a vast array of disparate capabilities. But which of those capabilities will they deliver at a level that keeps pace with the market? And which ones are your customers -- not you -- willing to compromise on?

Truly best-of-breed point solutions share everything important with other point solutions, making the chief argument of the "integrated" solution irrelevant. That leaves marketer convenience as the only viable reason for customer compromise. 

JetBlue knows how to fly planes. Hertz knows how to rent cars. Although they are both in the transportation end of the hospitality business selling to the same buyer, neither would be very good at what the other does. So sure, they’ll partner and share, but ultimately they’ll stay focused on making their piece of the puzzle extraordinary.