What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?

A digital experience platform (DXP) enables companies to build, manage and optimize digital journeys.

Article updated on 6/11/21.

Key takeaways:

  • Online strategies have evolved from content-centric to customer-centric
  • DXPs deliver a seamless and consistent system to bridge digital touchpoints
  • Reaching customers one-on-one increases conversions and revenue

Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok and iPhones. In 2005, none of these things existed. Gmail was in closed beta mode. Facebook was around, but it only had five million users. MySpace sold for $580 million dollars. In the grand scheme of things, 16 years isn’t that long. But in the digital world, it’s an eternity. Fast forward to 2021 and technology looks completely different. In fact, according to chiefmartec, there are more than 8,000 marketing technologies out there today, up 13.6%  since 2019.

The technology world is buzzing with acronyms like CRM, CMS, DAM, ERP and of course, DXP. We have at least one acronym for everything, and usually two or three. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that digital is no longer a business strategy. It’s typically the first, and sometimes the only mechanism for conducting business with your customers.

The evolution from CMS to WEM to DXP

Over the years, the role of content in the digital experience has changed, so it makes sense that the content systems have evolved to meet changing needs. We’ve gone from CMS to WEM and now, to DXP.

You can’t deliver a seamless and relevant experience across touchpoints without embedding an understanding of the customer into the heart of the DXP. That reorientation is the big shift from WEM to DXP.

It’s worth mentioning that some headless CMS vendors will tout that they support multi-channel delivery, just as a DXP does. However, headless content management systems have no understanding of the customer and are therefore unable to provide a contextually-relevant experience the way a DXP can.

The transition from CMS to DXP represents significant changes in channels (from one channel to multi-channel) and content management (from content-centric to customer-centric).

What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?

Gartner defines a digital experience platform (DXP) as an integrated set of core technologies that support the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences.

Forrester further explains that a digital experience platform provides the architectural foundation for flexible, agnostic core services to maximize scale, quality and insights across channels and systems.

This is all while delivering context-specific tooling for practitioners to build, manage and optimize digital journeys on “owned” channels (web, mobile, messaging) and orchestrate third-party experiences (e.g., social, retail marketplaces).

A DXP is an open, extensible platform providing one consistent system and foundation behind every digital touchpoint, enabling you to create and optimize a seamless digital journey for your customers.

Every time your customer digitally interacts with your company, it should be a better experience than their last interaction. A DXP enables organizations to listen and learn while providing the agility to intelligently serve their customers. 

At the core of a DXP, you have workflows for content, data and transactions. From there you extract the experience management to unify experiences across content, data and transactions to create a consistent experience. Experiences are surrounded by a cloud infrastructure, enabling you to securely and easily scale. Insights and analytics help inform the organizational strategy and processes. Automation makes it easier to deliver a faster, better, more scalable digital experience.

An API-first architecture allows a DXP to integrate into services that provide infrastructure, data, systems of record, channel and touchpoint management tools. Gartner and Forrester highlight the importance of open API-first capabilities in DXPs. Open API-first capabilities enable you to integrate your DXP with all your crucial backend business systems like your PIM, ERP and third-party tools. This gives you the ability to further manage things like email, advertising and chat.

Common DXP service components:

  • Content management
  • Insights, analytics and intelligence
  • Digital commerce
  • Personalization and automation
  • API integrations
  • Cloud infrastructure 
  • Omnichannel delivery

What makes up a digital experience?

A digital experience is not just about content or marketing. The best digital experiences remove silos between content, commerce and marketing to unify the process. Experiences should be orchestrated and personalized at each touchpoint, driven by built-in processes and supported by content, data and transaction services.

Data: Stitch together content, customer and transaction data into a single unified understanding of your digital experience.

  • Customer data enables you to engage contextually by unifying behavioral, demographic and preference information about your customers. The most accurate customer data requires a unified, single view of the customer across all digital touchpoints, including from data outside the DXP that might be found in a CRM or ERP. Customer data is essential in creating a unified language between the understanding of the customer and the content.
  • Content data enables you to better understand, reuse and map your content easily. Note that many CMS providers don’t have an actual understanding of the content within the system, in a common language with our understanding of the customer. Optimizely delivers a deep understanding of the content and the customer.
  • Transaction data serves as a path to conversion, enabling upsell, cross-sell and maximizing customer lifetime value.

Workflow: Unify content, marketing and commerce processes to improve, simplify and scale practitioner workflows. The workflow layer makes the DXP easy to use and provides contextual analytics to enable any practitioner to make data-driven decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides automation that enables scalability.

Orchestration: Deliver contextualized experiences with targeting rules, real-time triggers and predictive recommendations. Testing and optimization enables you to deliver the “next-best experience” in the journey across channels.

Delivery: Leverage an API-first approach so that you can deliver the next-best-experience across any touchpoint, whether the DXP powers it directly or it’s delivered via a third-party system.

Do I need a digital experience platform?

When you focus on digital experience, you win. This is especially true in uncertain times. Take the last recession, for example. McKinsey & Company and Forrester conducted research about companies that focused on digital experiences from 2007-2009. They found that those who invested in customer experiences outperformed the laggards by three times.

Optimizely examined cloud consumption between March and May 2019 compared to the same timeframe in 2020. Customers using our cloud infrastructure, who have been with Optimizely for more than one year, have seen the positive impact from investing in digital. From 2019 to 2020, average engagement was up by 70% and average conversions were up by 43%.

It’s clear that focusing on customer experience is a winning strategy in times of uncertainty. Investing in digital is absolutely crucial. It’s not even a question anymore. How and where you invest, though, is definitely up for discussion. Not every company necessarily needs a DXP. For some, building a simple ecommerce store or a catalog site is enough of a feat.

Remember, you don’t have to invest in everything right away. For example, if you’re entirely new to the digital experience space, start with what’s easy and fast to implement – like a homepage, product pages, search and perhaps even a checkout experience. You can build on features as you go. 

But if you want a way to connect the entire digital journey, personalize experiences and ultimately leverage digital as the main arm of your business, you may be ready for a DXP. 

Five days tips for choosing a DXP

1. Map your requirements to your goals
It’s easy to get caught up in all the bells and whistles and the flashiest new features. But your company’s requirements are unique. Ensure that the features and functionality you have on your wish-list haven’t landed on the list because they are the hottest new trend or buzzword. Instead, set realistic goals and understand how certain technology requirements will help you achieve those.
It’s helpful to separate your requirements out in phases as well. What capabilities are immediately needed, and what are nice-to-have down the line?

2. Validate with the experts
There are organizations that take it upon themselves to analyze leading technology vendors, so you don’t have to. Analysts like Gartner and Forrester, for example, consistently release rankings that include top players in digital experience, commerce, CMS and other areas. All of which you should consider while doing your research.
If you have a seat with any of the analysts, you can ask them how Optimizely might suit your needs:

  • Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms 2020 – Optimizely named a Leader with advanced capabilities for content management, personalization and analytics.
  • Forrester Total Economic Impact™ of Optimizely 2020 – Forrester concludes that Optimizely can provide customers a 299% return on investment over three years with a break-even point of less than six months.

3. Ask for plenty of references
It’s obvious that you’ll want to see examples of success. But you can get extremely granular when you ask for references and case studies. Go beyond a simple example of success and ask your chosen vendors for a look-a-like case study. Ask them to show you a company that has seen success in your industry, with your use case, or serving a similar kind of customer. Your chosen technology provider should be able to speak your language and share cases that are relevant to you.

4. Evaluate vendor ecosystems
It is absolutely essential to keep vendors’ partner ecosystems and integration capabilities top of mind when evaluating options. The reality is that software needs to be able to speak to other software – it should not operate in silos.
As you approach your technology decision, be sure to understand the community, documentation and integration partners that exist around a particular software. Optimizely, for example, has a robust app marketplace offering integrations, applications and pre-built connectors.

5. Don’t compromise
In personal relationships, you should never compromise. The same is true for choosing a technology vendor. When you start feeling like you will have to compromise in areas of speed, quality, cost or support, consider going in a different direction. For example, instead of choosing between speed and quality, choose a vendor that gives you the best of both worlds.