handwritten text: "dream big."
PHOTO: Randy Tarampi

2019 saw both Gartner and Forrester launching new reports for the still emerging "digital experience platform" (DXP) space.

Early on, the broad definitions surrounding DXPs led to some skepticism across the industry. As Tony Byrne, founder of the Real Story Group put it, “brands should be suspicious of any chart that has both Salesforce and Squiz, or Kentico and SAP together.” As the space has evolved however, both Gartner and Forrester have moved towards clearer categories for DXPs. In the case of Forrester, this has meant segmenting vendors into heavyweights, middleweights and featherweights, depending on the integrated capabilities of their DXP offering. For Gartner, it meant making clear distinctions between centralized platforms and "best of breed" integrators.

But one distinction is still in flux: The benefits of "suite DXP" vs. newer "modular DXPs."

First Generation: The Rise of the Suite Digital Experience Platform

The disjointed nature of bespoke marketing stacks has proved a major source of frustration for marketers. As the stack is built, different solutions from different suppliers are piled on top of each other. This can result in fragmented campaigns, disjointed experiences, and a siloed view of the end customer.

This has been the most commonly cited argument for adopting a suite DXP. Unlike more modular integrations, suite DXPs were the first-generation of software bundles trying to meet the demands of digital experience. This was achieved by integrating multiple pieces of software into a single platform, designed to analyze user behavior, orchestrate customer journeys, produce multi-channel content, and generally drive better experiences across the entire customer lifecycle.

While the logic behind such a move is sound, the reality is that most leading suite DXPs haven’t actually been developed as a single seamless platform. Rather than building from the ground up, the largest suite providers have, over time, acquired their technology from other, smaller players.

The result of this approach has been somewhat of a Frankenstein’s monster, stitching together existing platforms and overlaying a new, seemingly consistent, user interface.

While this approach does ensure that marketers are accessing all their tools within one platform, it does little to solve the original problems of a bespoke marketing stack. In some cases, it can even make these problems worse.

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

The Problem With Suite DXPs

The dream for suite DXPs was to reduce complexity, but the reality is these bundles grow more complex with every new acquisition. By melding together so many different products, rationalization is proving impossible. It’s one thing to watch a suite marketing video boast about how easy it is for a marketer to analyze analytics in one area of the platform and then bridge that to meaningful action in another corner of the suite DXP — but a very different thing to actually get all of that underlying complexity to line up behind the scenes.

This complexity is also slowing things down for businesses. With many tools in a suite DXP having been acquired rather than built from the ground up, IT teams and Systems Integrators can be left with a baffling array of different infrastructures to work with. Understanding how these slot together and operate can be a major challenge.

On top of this, the expanding nature of suite DXPs has led to spiraling costs. For marketers the need to be seen as going "all-in" can leave a major dent in marketing budgets — budgets that could be used more wisely elsewhere. By way of an analogy, shoppers who went in store to buy a bottle of wine, are finding themselves coming out with an entire case — half of which they didn’t want, half they won’t drink, and all of which they can’t really afford.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Create a Marketing Technology Frankenstein

Next Generation: The Need for Modular DXPs

To address the problems of a suite DXP, marketers need to move away from the all-in mentality offered by many of the biggest industry players. Rather than thinking purely in terms of DXPs as suites, we need to start examining the possibility of DXPs as a ‘modular’ architecture. Returning to our analogy, instead of seeing digital experience platforms as an expensive and cumbersome crate of wine, we should think of them as an empty wine rack. The rack provides structure and ease of access, but we can fill it with whichever wines we personally prefer.

By offering DXPs as a modular architecture, you provide the same benefits of a suite DXP, but at a far lower cost. At the same time, you reduce the complexity and provide marketers with the freedom to build their own marketing ecosystems.

Unlike an unwieldy marketing stack however, these ecosystems exist within a structured environment, building around a solid DXP architecture.

The additional benefit of this approach is that businesses don’t feel pressured to go all-in. They also don’t need to rip out and replace all of their existing tools. If one part of your marketing stack is working well (and fits with your culture, environment or business goals), then there’s no need to remove it. You simply need to find its place within the digital experience architecture.

By switching to a modular DXP — built by vendors who understand the need for frameworks and integrations — businesses can receive the same benefits offered by a suite. On top of these benefits however, they can also achieve lower costs, lower complexity, higher speeds and a better foundation for organizational ownership.

From a vendor perspective, this change also offers huge potential for the wider CMS market. Content management systems have long sat at the heart of most marketing stacks. As such, they are perfectly placed to incorporate greater customer-centric DX features. By putting experience at the heart of CMS design, content management systems can become the keystone for a reliable and highly modular digital experience approach.