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PHOTO: satyrenko

Creating the right Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is a complicated process. From modular platforms to suite DXPs, independent vendors to giant corporate monoliths, selecting the right option for your brand can be a real challenge.

To overcome this confusion, many businesses inform their decision by seeing these products in action through the use of a live demo. But what you see isn’t always what you get.

Beware the Lure of Demoware

We’ve all been there. You’re at a tradeshow or a meeting and someone tries to sell you the very latest ‘must have’ digital experience technology. They promise you the world — seamless user experiences, omnichannel marketing, and a single killer platform that can finally bring together customers, marketers and IT.

You’re skeptical at first, as it all seems a little too good to be true. Slowly, however, they win you over with rich demos of the platform in action.

Everything works as it should, and you get to test out a whole host of fantastic features which your current martech stack doesn’t include. Sold on this demo experience, you end up signing up.

There’s only one problem. Months later, when your DXP is installed, half of the promised features don’t seem to be there. The software doesn’t fit quite as neatly into your marketing ecosystem as you’d planned, and IT and marketing are still arguing over which parts of the platform they need to control.

If this story sounds familiar, then you’ve been sold on demoware.

Related Article: What Should Your Digital Experience Stack Look Like? It Depends

What You See Is Not Always What You Get

Put simply, demoware is software designed almost entirely for demonstration purposes. Rather than showing the real-life platform as it stands, many big software vendors will demo a streamlined version, with all the latest updates and none of the backend clutter. Sadly, what you see in the demo is rarely what you get.

Demoware in its worst form is unethical, misleading and, unfortunately, all too common in the digital experience space. Too many of the largest players in the market showcase products which are fundamentally in beta, showing off features that won’t actually be ready for release for months — or even years — to come. Don’t get me wrong, beta versions are fine. They can be used to gauge early interest and allow vendors to tweak things for better product/market fit. But oftentimes, beta-stage demoware isn't labeled as beta, it's sold as a final product.

And it’s not just misleading features which are a problem during demos. Pre-recorded instruction videos and glossy marketing materials often show off examples that don’t reflect real-world use cases. Sped up tutorials and installation videos make things look easy, when in reality building an operational, customized martech stack is a significant undertaking. Systems must be unified, teams informed and non-compatible technologies brought together with minimum disruption to your brand. All of this is typically glossed over during demos, positioning platforms as virtually ‘plug and play.’

This has been a particular risk within the emerging digital experience space, where many marketers still aren’t 100% sure what it is that they need from their digital experience platforms as it’s such a complex and interconnected range of applications working together. Faced with the confusion surrounding DXPs, marketing leaders are likely to sign up to one of the single monolithic platforms which promises to do everything for them, 'all in one.' All too often, however, the reality of these platforms is that they add layers of complexity rather than removing them, having been developed through acquisitions and the merging of other platforms, rather than by building a truly seamless solution from the ground up.

Having been lured in by demoware and flashy presentations, marketers looking for a one-size solution for digital experience can find themselves locked into some extremely expensive — and long-lasting — contracts.

Related Article: 9 Tips to Consider When Selecting a Digital Experience Platform

How to Avoid Demoware

So how can marketers avoid the dangers of demoware, and what can you do to ensure the DXP being demoed will match the day-to-day reality. Here are three steps to take before you sign up:

  1. Ask directly: It may sound obvious, but the best way to find out if you’re looking at a real product or just demoware is simply to ask the question directly during the demo. This doesn’t necessarily mean asking 'are you trying to rip me off,' but it does mean asking how much of the content being demoed is available in the platform right now and when it was released for general availability. If the person giving the demo can’t answer that question — or tells you that the version being displayed will be “rolled out shortly” — then it’s probably time to proceed with caution.
  2. Ask about existing clients: If you’re still not convinced, then the next best thing to do is to ask the person demoing the software about their current clients. Who is using this version of the software and can they share any case studies, contacts or testimonials from existing customers that are using the features being showcased in the demo? Again, if the sales rep can’t name any other brands using those features, there’s a very good chance they’re either not publicly available, not quite ready or simply too difficult for businesses to adopt in the real world.
  3. Ask an ex-partner: Most martech vendors have partners. An easy way to get a more nuanced view on what’s real and what’s not, is to find a former partner to the vendor you’re speaking to. Through these partners you can gain a more balanced, realistic perspective of the DXP options you’re considering. Often, ex-partners will be more open about what’s real and what’s demoware because there’s no incentive for them to sell it anymore.

With DXPs being such exciting new technologies, it can be easy for marketers to get swept up in the rush to adopt — signing up for the first shiny, one-size-fits-all platform that they find. More often than not however, this is a big mistake.

Demos can be misleading, and the biggest platforms aren’t necessarily always the best. For many brands, the process of establishing the right DXP solution comes down to understanding your own business, and finding a solution that is right for your digital marketing needs and will work within your specific technology ecosystem. Taking a modular approach to digital experience is often better than investing in a monolith, while supposed ‘plug and play’ solutions are rarely ever that at all.

Most important of all: When it comes to viewing demoware — if something looks too good to be true, then it almost certainly is.