A maze conundrum
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When I heard that the CMSWire editorial topic for this month was “The Modern DX Stack: From Out-of-the-Box to Homegrown and Everything in Between,” the “everything in between” part grabbed my attention immediately. Why? Because the distinction between digital experience (DX) and customer experience (CX) is nebulous at best for me. Sure, I understand what constitutes a digital channel. But why do we distinguish DX technologies from CX technologies? Has CX gone analog? Can you provide a truly great customer experience without incorporating the digital aspects into the mix? And what about the digital companies that have been providing great customer experiences for years (e.g., Amazon, eBay and Travelocity)? Are they providing a DX, a CX, or both?

I’m posing these questions somewhat facetiously, of course, but in looking at how the marketplace views DX and CX technologies, I noticed something quite interesting: Two of the most prominent analyst firms, Forrester Research and Gartner, have published vendor evaluation reports for digital experience platforms (DXP) within the past year, and their viewpoints differ in terms of the scope and evolution of these platforms. Moreover, if you study Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic for 2018 (my personal go-to resource for all things martech), you will not find a unique category for digital experience platforms.

How the Analysts Differ Regarding DXPs

In its Q3 2017 Wave report (registration required), Forrester defines a DXP as “software to manage, deliver, and optimize digital experiences consistently across every phase of the customer lifecycle.” According to the report, the DXP platform category has evolved in several ways. For example, large vendors have acquired digital point solutions to expand their offerings across the entire customer journey (playing directly into my questions about whether there are differences between DX and CX), smaller digital-only vendors have extended their capabilities to span the digital “subjourney” (with the word subjourney implicitly acknowledging that digital is a part of a larger customer experience whole), and niche vendors have tried to solve specific digital challenges.

When it comes to what should be included in a DXP, Forrester’s criteria are fairly broad — encompassing content, marketing, commerce, service, analytics, customer data, personalization, and development and operations.

For its part, Gartner, in its Magic Quadrant for Q1 2018, defines a DXP as “an integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform, that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints.” In keeping with the “personalized access to information” component of that definition, Gartner highlights that many DXPs evolved from expansions of portal platforms and content management systems (CMS) — both web and enterprise.

Gartner’s view of the core DXP functionality also contains several content-specific categories, including content interaction, search, navigation and discovery (content and business applications), and content management, as well as other expanded functionalities, such as integration and aggregation (to third-party applications, APIs, etc.), personalization, analytics and optimization, and infrastructure and development capabilities (security, workflow, customer data management, etc.). Gartner specifically excludes commerce functionality (integration with commerce is a differentiator, according to the firm) and does not explicitly mention marketing functionality.

Related Article: Customer Experience Best Practices: A Framework for Designing Outstanding CX

Forrester, Gartner and the Martec 5000

Looking at these differing views against the backdrop of the 2018 version of the Martec 5000 allows broad latitude in deciding what might constitute DX technology, because DXPs do not appear as a unique entity. Instead, the supergraphic is divided into six distinct categories: advertising and promotion, content and experience, social and relationships, commerce and sales, data, and management. DX technology could arguably appear in most of those categories, particularly if you incorporate the designated core functionalities from both Gartner and Forrester.

At a minimum the following categories from the Martech 5000 include DX functionality:

  • Content and Experience - Digital technologies that could fall into this category include mobile apps, interactive content, video marketing, interactive marketing, content marketing, optimization, personalization and testing tools, digital asset management (DAM) and marketing resource management (MRM) systems, SEO tools, marketing automation and campaign/lead management systems, CMS platforms and web experience management systems.
  • Data -  This category could include audience and marketing data and data enhancement systems, marketing analytics performance and attribution tools, mobile and web analytics systems, dashboards and data visualization tools, business and customer intelligence and data science systems, platform-as-a-service and cloud data integration and tag management tools, data management platforms (DMP), compliance and privacy systems, and customer data platforms.
  • Social and Relationships - Digital technologies that may fall into this category include call analytics and management systems; account-based marketing (ABM) tools; social media marketing and monitoring systems; advocacy loyalty and referral tools; platforms for managing influencers, communities and reviews; bots and live chat systems; customer experience service and success tools; and customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

You could also throw in the Commerce and Sales category for its ecommerce marketing and ecommerce functions, as well as the Management category for the collaboration and workflow functions.

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

How to Navigate the Conundrum

I agree with both Forrester and Gartner that the market is evolving. I see this evolution as a merging of functions across both digital and more traditional channels into a cloud-first, insights-driven, loosely coupled technology stack with API integration to other technologies — a stack that incorporates everything needed to provide a holistic customer experience (across all channels) while also facilitating the end-to-end marketing life cycle from planning through personalization and extending to attribution. Much like the way the categories appear in the Martec 5000.

Here are some things to look for on the DX side:

  • Comprehensive customer information and strong data management capabilities - It is imperative for digital marketing tools to include the ability to link online and offline customer information and use this for all personalization and analytics activities. Identity management, data quality and the ability to link data from all digital properties under a single customer identifier are key. APIs that allow this information to be fed into other applications are also required.
  • Insights-driven functionality - Systems should include strong analytics and communication optimization capabilities to make it possible to personalize all aspects of the experience, including content, navigation, communication and more. This should include machine learning systems and algorithm-driven optimization and rules engines. The recommendations should take into account behavior across all channels, not just the digital ones.
  • Planning, budgeting and automation at scale - Just like traditional marketers, digital marketers need to plan, budget and attribute — and they need to drive campaigns at scale. Thus, the traditional marketing automation and resource management capabilities should be present on the digital side as well — preferably integrated with the non-digital counterparts.

Integrate the Customer Journey 

While there may be a platform to handle the specific challenges of the digital channels, customer experience as a whole should not be divided into CX and DX. Thus, the things to look for in a DX technology to some extent mirror those found in more traditional marketing environments — with the caveat that we should be working toward integration of these capabilities across the entire customer journey.