Innovation. It’s what every company wants to be known for, yet rarely prioritizes.

A panel discussion on this very topic took place at Sitecore Experience Europe 2020 in London the first week of March. Moderated by Desta Price, Sitecore’s Executive VP of Product Management, the panel explored the latest advancements that are helping brands stay ahead of the curve when trying to meet the demands of the modern, digitally savvy consumer.

“We wanted to bring innovation to life for all of you,” Price told attendees before introducing the four panelists:

  • Tom De Ridder, Chief Technology Officer, Sitecore
  • Vijay Gupta, VP of Product and Industry Marketing, Sitecore
  • Ben Morgan, Director of Digital Marketing, Avanade
  • Asha Juttla, Digital Solutions Architect, Bupa

The conversation darted from headless content management to AI to digital strategy. Here are the highlights.

The role of headless

To kick off the discussion, Price asked Morgan about the state of the headless movement in 2020.

“I think we're all in the room today because we want to create amazing omnichannel experiences. The great thing that I see with headless is clients using [Sitecore’s] headless technology to leverage content not just from a CRM but from multiple data sources,” Morgan said.

“With the clients we’re working with, there seems to be two competing views. The first side is looking to leverage microservices, Angular, and React to empower creativity. But you've also got the other side, which is the marketers and content authors who want to prioritize brand consistency and deliver content to every single endpoint,” Morgan continued.

Perhaps the biggest win for brands, Morgan continued, is the flexibility headless technology affords them.

“Companies can now choose their agencies more freely, as headless CMSs enable you to work with different backends and frameworks,” Morgan explained.

The continued evolution of digital experiences

Desta moved the conversation on to digital experiences, and specifically, Smart Edge technology. De Ridder referred to it as a step above traditional CDNs (Cloud Delivery Networks).

Smart Edge technology, Intel’s multi-access edge computing platform, “will enable personalization, cropping images on the fly, resizing images on the fly, much closer to where customers are,” he said.

Price then brought up the topic of artificial intelligence around personalization. Gupta explained the role of Sitecore AI and how it will enable auto-personalization.

“The world that we see today has rules, and personalization exists through them,” Gupta said. “Where problems can arise is when you have so many rules, that managing the rules themselves becomes an issue. We’re not looking for AI personalization to replace rules-based personalization, but to help us (humans) with the management and scaling of those rules.”

Price went on to quote Microsoft, reading a statement from the company, which is currently using Sitecore AI to personalize content on the Microsoft Partner Network and has been a strategic partner is the development of the technology.

“Auto-personalization has enabled Microsoft to create personalized experiences for a broad audience, which we were not able to do in the past,” the statement read.

Price mentioned that Microsoft has been leveraging Sitecore AI, in tandem with rules, to target different audience segments across five different places on the MPN website.

Juttla also confirmed that Bupa was augmenting their rules-based personalization strategy with AI, rather than replacing it.

Marketers are data laggards (but machine learning will help)

After affirming that personalization and reporting was increasing across enterprise brands, Morgan steered the conversation slightly toward the state of marketers in the data-rich environment that they’re now working in.

“Marketers are lagging behind, which is bizarre because there is a deluge of data that can enable brands to engage with customers on a one-to-one level,” Morgan said.“I think we’ll see an uptick of data scientists and behavioral scientists joining marketing teams.”

One of the problems marketers face, Price highlighted, is the need for content to make AI-enabled personalization count.

“At Sitecore, we’re investigating Content AI to detect things like the emotional state of readers and consumers,” De Ridder said.

He went on to explain how Sitecore is seeking to build AI that can understand the structure of content, how it has been written, and which words have been used in order to better understand what types of content are best suited for different personas at different points along their customer journey.

Price built upon De Ridder’s sentiment, explaining how Sitecore AI will be able to understand the gaps in content that marketers need to focus on. “So, it could make suggestions on different phrases that can be used for different segments,” she said.

With machine learning evolving, Price continued, marketers could look forward to being more empowered to make data-based decisions.

How to go the extra mile with customer experience

When it comes to figuring out what a great digital experience feels like, Gupta shared something poignant. “Personally, when I have a good experience that I’ll remember, or a bad experience that I want to forget, I ask myself, ‘Why did that happen?’”

Morgan mentioned that talking to analysts, customers, and vendors helps him understand the ingredients of a cutting-edge customer experience. De Ridder and Juttla agreed with Morgan, with the latter adding that “events like this one” also help her understand the nuances around great digital experiences.

When Price brought up the topic of common digital experience roadblocks, Morgan pinpointed a myriad of issues from data silos to MarTech bloat.

“The biggest issue is organizational change. It always comes back to having the right team, a single champion who is constantly pushing it. Without that, it’s hard to progress (a digital experience) in a positive manner,” he said.

Gupta mentioned that one of the biggest challenges he sees brands facing in this regard, is “brand relevance as the consumer behavior changes.”

“Keeping that final prize in your mind, day-to-day (during a digital transformation), can be difficult,” Gupta said. “Consumers are not shy to make their opinions known about what they like and dislike. So keeping the brand relevant during a transformation is hard. Launching a new website can be hard.”

His advice: Brands need to remember that they’re going through a digital transformation to re-engage with consumers.

Let the digital revolution continue

From headless to AI to edge computing, consumers can certainly expect the innovation around digital experiences and personalization to continue.

But as Morgan highlighted, organizational change is often the biggest roadblock to innovation. With that in mind, if innovative technology is what you’re looking for, then a good old-fashioned internal dialogue may be the best first step you can take.

Zarnaz Arlia is the Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Sitecore. Find her on LinkedIn.