From CMS to WEM to DXP: What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?

A digital experience platform (DXP) enables companies to build, manage and optimize digital journeys. In this guide, we describe its evolution from CMS and WEM, and what benefits a DXP holds for you.

Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok and iPhones. In 2005, none of these things existed. Gmail was in closed beta mode. Facebook existed, but it only had 5 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.

If that number wasn’t daunting enough, 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. Most of the time, people don’t even agree about what the acronyms mean. It can be a bit confusing and complex, right?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that digital is no longer a business strategy. Digital IS your business. It’s typically the first, and sometimes the only mechanism for conducting business with your customers. Understanding the technologies available to you and the means to managing the overall digital experience is paramount. Especially when you consider statistics like these:

  • eMarketer reported an 18%  rise in U.S. ecommerce spending in 2020
  • British Retail Consortium reported an over 50% increase in retail sales online in June 2020
  • From 2019 to 2020, Optimizely customers have seen a 70% increase in online engagement and a 43% increase in conversion

So, while you don’t have to understand every technology acronym floating around, let’s start with unpacking the DXP.

So, 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 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).

There’s a lot packed into the definitions from Gartner and Forrester, so here’s our own interpretation:

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.

A DXP provides a centralized way to help build, manage and optimize digital journeys. A powerful DXP should provide your customers the best-next experience with your brand. In other words, 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. Your DXP is constantly collecting more customer data to deliver a better, personalized experience to each and every customer, upon every interaction.

At the core of a DXP, you have workflows for content, data and transactions. From there, you extract the experience management, unifying experiences across content, data and transactions to create one, 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.

Lastly, both Gartner and Forrester have highlighted the importance of open API-first capabilities in DXPs. An API-first architecture will allow the DXP to integrate into services that provide infrastructure, data, systems of record, channel and touchpoint management tools. Open API-first capabilities enable you to integrate your DXP with all your crucial backend business systems like your PIM, ERP and others, and third-party tools, giving you the ability to further manage things like your email, advertising, chat and so forth.

Common services covered in DXP often include:

  • Content management
  • Insights, analytics and intelligence
  • Digital commerce
  • Personalization and automation
  • APIs to allow integrations
  • Cloud infrastructure for security and scalability
  • Omnichannel delivery

The evolution from CMS to WEM to DXP

As we already know, the digital world moves extraordinarily fast. From managing a simple brand website, to orchestrating a personalized, cross-channel digital journey, technologies have evolved in response to the changing needs of the industry.

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, of course, to DXP. That’s right, more acronyms! Don’t worry – we’ll unpack each of these in the next sections.

Content Management System (CMS)

A CMS, or a Content Management System, is a core platform for controlling the content creation and management process.

When the CMS first emerged, it was built to help organizations create, manage and publish content like text, images, data and other information to one channel – a website. The CMS was all about controlling and managing this process, but it failed to put the customer at the center, or even really attempt to understand the customer.

Unfortunately, as many companies began implementing a CMS, they also introduced data silos into their organizations because they were built and introduced separately from the rest of their technology ecosystem.

Web Experience Management (WEM)

A WEM, or Web Experience Management, expanded the delivery of content to multiple channels.

As digital became more important, connected devices expanded and multiple people began to play a role in the digital journey, a new acronym emerged: WEM. The web experience management era was really indicative of digital becoming more integral to the customer journey.

A WEM gave companies the ability to collaborate across departments to share content, data and other information across any channel, not just a website. Companies leveraging a WEM were focused on maintaining consistency and control of the experience.

WEMs also brought forth a buzz about personalization. With these systems, users could collect user information, create segments and provide unique content to targeted audiences.

Digital Experience Platform (DXP)

A DXP, or Digital Experience Platform, allows you to orchestrate an integrated, seamless customer experience across digital channels.

Today’s digital experience does not stop at content on a website. Instead, businesses need to share digital assets on a website, in a store, on mobile, on an ecommerce site, in customer portals or elsewhere. It’s no longer about getting traffic to your site – it’s also about optimizing the experience once they are there.

With a DXP, the focus is not on consistency and control of the experience, but rather on orchestrating an integrated, seamless and relevant digital journey across channels. The shift from WEM to DXP is about the shift from content-centric experiences to customer-centric experiences. The goal is to understand how people are interacting with content in one channel, in order to deliver a better experience for the next interaction, on the next channel.

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 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. There are four key layers of a digital experience. Experiences should be orchestrated and personalized at each touchpoint, driven by built-in processes and supported by content, data and transaction services.

Layer 1: Data

This layer stitches 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.

Layer 2: Workflow

This layer unifies 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.

Layer 3: Orchestration

This layer allows you to 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.

The next-best experience refers to the next interaction that a user has with your brand. As you collect information about your users, you should be able to deliver more personalized, contextualized experiences every time your users interact with your digital channels.

Layer 4: Delivery

Finally, this layer allows you to 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.

These four layers are the building blocks that help you create a contextualized, relevant digital experience.

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.

The benefits of a DXP

It’s 2021. Regardless of your industry, you’ve undoubtedly invested in a few of the 8,000 different marketing tools and technologies fighting for your business. At this point, you probably have multiple different technology vendors helping to power the experience you are currently delivering to your customers.

The good news is that a Digital Experience Platform, like Optimizely, has open APIs enabling you to integrate to your stack. And that’s not all. Here are the benefits of leveraging a DXP:

Integrate, adapt and grow

Technology and channels are constantly evolving. With an open API-first architecture, DXPs are flexible enough to integrate with the latest technologies so you can serve your customers wherever they are and however they’re evolving. An API-first architecture is perhaps the most important feature a DXP can offer.

Optimizely’s DXP includes commerce, content and intelligence cloud with open APIs so you can tie in other solutions to meet your unique requirements. Our app marketplace offers integrations, applications and pre-built connectors that can extend your platform so you can effectively scale and grow. With Optimizely, you replace data silos with a fully integrated suite of solutions that ties your backend business systems together with your front-end tools.

Manage a multi-channel digital environment

A DXP can help you manage a digital environment across web, email, mobile, kiosk and in-store touchpoints. Across all these touchpoints, DXPs will gather insights about your customers’ behavior that you can use to improve the experience. Which brings us to our next point…

Get a 360-degree view of your customers

DXPs have built-in intelligence that gives you a look at customer behaviors, demographics and other information. Plus, you can integrate it with your back-office customer management tools to drive an even better experience.

Collaborate effectively

A DXP enables you to work on a strategy that requires close collaboration across many departments like marketing, IT and sales. The web team is empowered and business users are able to create new content, landing pages and other digital properties.

Personalize the experience

Leverage the latest AI technologies to help you better understand your customers’ changing behaviors and deliver personalized journeys and content for each prospect and customer.

Automate and engage

With a DXP, you can automate operational tasks and engagement decisions.

Five tips for choosing a DXP

Choosing a digital experience platform may seem daunting at first, but there are many resources that can help you along your path. No two businesses are alike, so your requirements will certainly vary from the next company. Here are a few considerations to get you started:

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:

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 vendors’ 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. 

You shouldn’t have to choose between your marketers or developers. Instead, choose a vendor with a single authoring system designed for both. Sophistication and simplicity may seem out of reach, but platforms like Optimizely will help you get there. Don’t compromise on results. Give yourself ample time to make this decision.

Where is Optimizely investing in DXP?

Optimizely is investing heavily in new capabilities, integrations and partnerships across our DXP. We are very invested in understanding the individual, and responding and engaging with that individual, not against a segment. We are committed to delivering powerful 1:1 digital experiences.

Here is a depiction of Optimizely’s DXP Architecture:

Optimizely’s DXP is a scalable, secure cloud infrastructure based on Microsoft Azure enabling our technologies. Optimizely’s Content Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Customer Data Platform rest on cloud technology. These platforms enable us to manage the internal creation and delivery process of content, data and transactions.

The experience management layer takes the core components of content, customers, products and transactions, and delivers the right content to the right person at the right time through artificial intelligence. And of course, optimizes and adapts from the insights gained about customer behavior. This layer allows users to personalize and optimize the experience through rules, triggers and algorithmic recommendations.

These core capabilities are paired with analytics and integration capabilities that bring together a holistic digital experience platform, which can enable every single digital touchpoint across the customer journey.

Optimizely’s DXP focuses on three areas of innovation, including speed, smart and scale.

  • Speed - Accelerating time to value through faster, tailored deployments
  • Smart - Empowering clients to make smarter decisions through enhanced analytics
  • Scale - Enabling clients to scale faster with fewer resources, through built-in AI and automation

Here are Optimizely’s five areas of focus for the near future:

Headless content and commerce

We are introducing new capabilities and expanding the coverage of our APIs to support continued headless content and commerce capabilities.

Integration platform and marketplace

We understand that we are not the only technology you will use. There are hundreds of technologies in our customers’ landscape. We are focused on building and improving our open, composable ecosystem of technology partners, backed by our contextually-aware headless APIs. This enables you to plug and play Optimizely DXP into your frontend digital experience touchpoints (i.e., the digital touchpoints your customers interact with) and backend systems of record (e.g., CMS, ERP, PIM, etc.).

Customer data platform

Next, we are continuously enhancing the core profile space, and with the recent acquisition of Zaius’ customer data platform (CDP), we can provide additional capabilities in segmentation, analytics and data integration capabilities. This will give marketers a friendlier, easier-to-use interface for managing their customer data, building segments and delivering a better experience.

Content and commerce analytics

Following the acquisition of Idio in 2019, Optimizely developed our Content Intelligence and Content Recommendations capabilities. We will be enhancing these capabilities alongside our commerce reporting capabilities and analytics dashboards for B2B and B2C. This will result in a comprehensive set of reporting, providing intelligent and actionable answers to critical business questions.

Unified personalization, targeting and testing

Finally, Optimizers give digital teams a whole new way of creating the best digital experiences. Now they can create and optimize every single digital touchpoint of their business. Businesses have the power to experiment, adapt and meet the ever-growing demands of their customers by predicting what those needs are in the first place. We are committed to developing integrated capabilities so you can test, target and deliver 1:1 personalized experiences all in one place.

Future-proof your business with Optimizely DXP

In a rapidly changing technology landscape, your business needs to remain at the forefront of emerging technologies in order to keep up with the competition. With a digital experience platform from Optimizely, you can execute the latest in personalization and seamless experiences that today’s customers demand – with an assurance that future technological developments will be incorporated into your systems as quickly as they evolve.

Contact us today to learn more about Optimizely DXP, or to get started on the next evolution for your business.