By Walt Rolle, Global Head of Sitecore Competency, EPAM Systems, Inc.

Partner Perspectives

In 2018, I created my first reference digital marketing architecture, leveraging prior experience from all types of projects, such as website builds, commerce migrations, CRM implementations, IT transformations, and data warehousing. Every year since, I have updated my models with the latest digital marketing trends and the lessons that I learned from workshops I facilitated.

Looking back, it is stunning to see how quickly the landscape has changed from getting something online to full-service commerce to blazing-fast headless applications powered by a myriad of marketing tools. Reflecting on the dozens of functional architecture diagrams that I wrote on a white board during this time, I realized in 2022 that marketers have been using composable elements all along without using the term.

The main differences between each organization’s current state diagram had common themes: differing back-office systems according to vertical, varying levels of fidelity of integrations, and a varying platform mix that ultimately made up a similar common core of functions. With this backdrop in mind, the following 6 steps address each of these variables to help produce an output that digital transformation engineers can implement.

1. Conduct a survey

A survey is an excellent tool for extracting specific data from a target audience before facilitating workshops. Data extracted from a survey helps validate a workshop agenda and can highlight focus areas to ensure the discussion is hitting the right notes.

For example, if a survey collects information from a sophisticated audience that has been tuning its transformation strategy for years, then you can adjust the complexity of the content accordingly. Here is a summary of topics to help generate five to 10 questions to gain a high-level view of an audience’s current state and thinking:

  • Executive sponsorship, overall team structure, and competitive landscape
  • Content management processes, people roles, level of automation, channel exposure, and measurement
  • Personalization assets, such as personas, journeys, tools, tests, and implementation operations
  • Marketing automation rules, tools, outcomes, and campaign taxonomy
  • Ability to provide search services to customers, understand the size and type of content, and identify your current usage of business tools
  • Customer feedback systems, profiles, and preferences
  • State of self-service commerce, business model, and gaps
  • Engagement analytics tooling, KPIs, and how this information is actioned

2. Determine what’s possible

A key element of devising the future state is to bring the audience to an agreement on what topics hold the most value. An efficient way to accomplish this is to present your audience with a mockup of a specific department within the context of digital marketing and read their reactions. You will be able to quickly determine their pain points and priorities by responses, such as:

  • “We already do this today.”
  • “If we could do that, it would have a huge impact.”
  • “That looks nice, but we have too many internal things to fix first.”
  • “This is not relevant to our business.”

The specific departments that are universal in almost every situation and industry vertical are:

  • Content management
  • Personalization
  • Marketing automation
  • Delivery automation (typically email)
  • 360-degree customer view
  • Content search
  • Commerce (or a self-service transaction)
  • Marketing ROI measurement

3. Assess digital maturity

The benefit of a digital maturity model is that it gives the team a baseline to compare objectives. Utilizing a model from an authority can help anchor the team’s confidence so the focus can remain on current state analysis. Typically, a maturity model includes the extreme levels of development for comparing an organization.

Most audiences will fall somewhere between the extremes – leaving room for improvement but still giving credit for some accomplishments. One caution to note when applying a maturity model in conjunction with a composable mindset is to ensure you represent all functional areas. For example, if you only evaluate maturity against content, and a key strategy for the organization is commerce, then several opportunities will be overlooked.

Consider scoring each of the mentioned topics separately in the “Conduct a survey” and “Determine what’s possible” sections. Sample some topics with the goal of increasing an organization’s maturity level:

  • Personalization: One content for all, segmented content (no rules), rules for high-priority segments
  • Content lifecycle: Content crisis, content duplicated across channels, centralized content, modularized content, AI-generated content
  • Customer 360: Disparate data sources, centralized data source, integrated with decision systems
  • Measurement: Basic metrics (clicks, time, sessions), engagement behavior, experimentation, KPI-driven metrics with actions

4. Channel and platform inventory

All digital marketing activities result in a message being delivered to a channel, so it would make sense to catalog current and future-state desires to create a good view of scope and priority. This information will also be helpful when evaluating platforms because not all tools are omnichannel.

Capturing all existing platforms helps the team understand what investments can be leveraged on Day 1 for quick wins and what platforms are deprecating. This exercise can be facilitated with a reference architecture diagram to help the team visualize the different moving parts of the entire digital marketing function. You may choose one of the many diagrams authored by various authorities or create your own.

Here is a brief example of inventory, but you will likely need to add more for your organization:

Channel
Details
Web
Service details and qualifications posted to a corporate website.
Email
Transactional emails to acknowledge Contact Us submissions.
Segmented email sends for the “Get to Know an Expert” campaign.
Social
Event reminders are pushed to LinkedIn and Twitter weekly.

 

Platform
Details
Web delivery
We currently have two web platforms, and each requires collaboration with a development team to make content updates.
Customer 360
We have a CRM that contains only a subset of our contact population. Due to a lack of integration with other systems, there is one business unit that leverages it for lead conversion tracking.
ERP
The ERP contains all order and payment history at an account level, where each account has one or more contacts based on procurement rules; the order history would be helpful to inform marketing activities.

 

Reference Architecture

5. Current state/future state

Visualizing current and future states side by side in diagram format can be an efficient way to point out gaps between where the organization is and where it wants to go. Utilizing inputs from the prior exercises helps to surface the gaps and determine what is most important. This step is where you summarize those findings. There are many variations to create this diagram, but rather than focusing on the best format, I recommend:

  • Focusing on function over technical details
  • Name workloads over platforms
  • Focus on key directionality as opposed to capturing all edge cases

6. Define the roadmap

The purpose of the roadmap is to sequence your future-state desires over the next 12 to 24 months. The driving force of sequencing can be a mix of business priority, technical prerequisite, and team capacity. It’s critical to consider each to produce a realistic plan.

For consistent taxonomy, the roadmap should leverage the functional workload names specified throughout this process. In addition to the workload releases, the roadmap can show stakeholder groups to bring clarity to how the core platform capabilities are supporting business needs.

 
Q1
Q2
Q3
Q4
Web deliv­ery
Initial site build with anony­mous focus
Registration, gated access to high-value content
Event tagging, increased measurement
Per­son­al­ized expe­rien­ces
Cont­ent Lifecy­cle
Modular refactoring, delivered to web
Delivered to email
Improved campaign taxonomy,
delivered to social
Per­sonali­zation
Visitor tracking
Pers­onas, event taxo­nomy, visit sco­ring
Personali­zation rules & A/B tests
Business Unit 1
First rel­ease (no re­gistr­ation)
Second release (with registration)
Business Unit 2
Migrate to core platform
Add three pers­ona­l­ized expe­rien­­ces

Next steps

Marketing leaders can use this 6-step process to evaluate the current state of their digital marketing capabilities to help them present their future-state desires to engineers in such a way that it can be mapped to composable architecture. The process helps bring alignment between teams by asking targeted survey questions, demonstrating what’s possible and leveraging reference architectures to set standard baselines with confidence.

One logical next step would be to establish a set of decision criteria against high-priority workloads as described by the roadmap. Then, with this decision criteria and a short list of applicable platforms, a selection can be performed. Following selection, the team is ready to plan the first release and begin executing.

Walt Rolle, Global Head of Sitecore Competency at EPAM Systems, Inc., is a three-time Sitecore Strategy MVP with more than 20 years technology consulting experience. He specializes in digital transformation involving content, commerce, and experience. Connect with Walt at LinkedIn or Twitter.