Meeting the escalating demands from customers for personalized digital experiences is the key for corporate growth, but producing those experiences is often easier said than done. Today, brands require unprecedented levels of data, technology, and expertise in order to support Marketing and IT teams as they continuously build out new digital experiences.     

Across the spectrum, businesses are feeling the pressure while weighing the opportunities associated with this new business reality. The upside for success here is significant. According to the Temkin Group, companies that earn $1 billion annually can expect to earn, on average, an additional $700 million within 3 years of investing in customer experience.

Yet, the requirements to reach this potential can be daunting. Virtually every aspect of the physical economy begs for a digital equivalent, all while ensuring privacy needs are met on the customer’s preferred digital channel. 

Customer experience upgrades also need to be done quickly, safely, and without any hiccups for the customer. Not to mention, high-quality digital experiences may require a significant investment across multiple departments and stakeholders. Turning digital experience requirements into a scalable future-proof reality requires strategic consideration, the right in-house expertise, and of course, effective technology. 

Here’s how it all comes together.

Invest in technologies to grease the wheel of experience

Systems and data are not just responsible for experience delivery basics, they must support experiences that scale seamlessly with personalization across channels. As IT and Marketing teams come together to design, deploy, and optimize these experiences, the technology layer defines, or potentially constrains, the ability to meet virtually every internal team and external customer experience goal.

Whether you’re building a best-of-breed ecosystem or relying on one suite of solutions, to future-proof your technology layer it needs to be easily integrated and extendable. Key to this future-proofing is building a foundation that includes a flexible toolset for developers, and one with minimal limits to Marketing in its ability to test and deliver experiences. This ability to  continuously test experiences and update where and how experiences are delivered is how they reach a level of excellence. The renowned book, “The Lean Startup”, authored by Eric Ries, sets forth the Build-Measure-Learn loop business-building strategy that encapsulates this need to learn and iterate constantly. While building and maintaining a customer experience isn’t exactly like building a business, the Build-Measure-Learn loop’s principles are highly relevant.

Diagram adapted from Ries, E. (2011) 'The Lean Startup,' New York: Crown Business.

Once you have the right technologies to support developers, marketers, and those in-between, at every stage of that loop, your next concern should be your team. 

Building experiences takes a village

While technology facilitates the Build-Measure-Learn loop, technology alone won’t suffice. Along with the right technology, you need the right people, with the right expertise, working in the right areas.

All roles are equally important for creating an impactful experience, with developers and marketers working on their own building blocks, which come together to become an experience. Take the LEGO® Star Wars™ Millennium Falcon as an example. The three-dimensional puzzle resembles a digital experience in the sense that it is complex and made up of many different building blocks — 7,541 to be precise. However, without the manufacturer’s instruction manual, along with correctly built blocks, you’re highly unlikely to ever build the Millennium Falcon correctly.

Unlike a LEGO model, however, a digital experience is never actually complete. Building it is one thing, but experiences need constant maintenance, updates, tweaks, personalization, and delivery across multiple time zones and channels 24/7. Neither marketers nor consumers will want iterations and improvements to cease. It’s an ongoing project with sub-projects that need to be fast to market and have an even quicker time to value.

With all this iteration and optimization in mind, it’s also fair to say that, while it still takes a village to build a digital experience, that village is becoming more and more technical by the day.

The emergence of the marketing technologist

The line between IT and Marketing has become blurred. New roles, including data scientists and marketing technologists, have changed the IT/Marketing relationship.

This particular shift was also no accident. According to research from PWC, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for great customer experiences. Companies investing in the omnichannel experience have also jumped from 20% to over 80%, according to another report. 

To get the most out of that investment, the teams traditionally involved in building and deploying those experiences needed to evolve. Yes, technical tasks are still left to IT, but marketers now have to measure and analyze more customer data to feed the ideas and campaigns that go into the Build-Measure-Learn loop.

An effective digital experience platform should allow marketers to execute and implement marketing campaigns without the need for developers. If the marketing team itself has technical capabilities, this idea of autonomy becomes more realistic. Thus, we have seen the emergence of marketing technologists, data scientists, and the like -- those who possess marketing skills, as well as the technical knowledge needed to select the most befitting technologies for each project, decipher large swathes of data, and so forth.

Keeping the digital experience cycle rolling

Once you’ve implemented the Build-Measure-Learn loop, along with the right technologies and expertise to support it, it’s time to focus on the remaining key factors in delivering a successful digital experience: security and speed.

For starters, housing your customer experience in a reliable cloud hosting environment can enable your team to manage and scale experiences quickly — and without worrying about downtime. This is one way to get the security and speed you need without putting that responsibility on your team’s shoulders. This frees up your budget and team to focus on adding business value. Developers and marketing technologists will have more time to implement new business requirements, while marketers can focus on lead generation activities. It’s ideal to deploy technology stacks built to support a continuous delivery model. This will help your team use their skills to make changes at the speed the marketing team desires.

Also, evaluate marketing technologies to see if they will support your need for continuous iteration to keep the Build-Measure-Learn loop spinning. If a platform doesn’t give your team the ability to experiment and adapt, it will be much more challenging to deliver on your customer experience promise.

If your team needs to deliver and maintain omnichannel experiences, look for ways to reduce friction between Marketing and IT teams. Ideally, you want a way to have a shared content infrastructure that makes it easier to build and maintain omnichannel experiences without creating content silos, duplicating content, or relying on multiple tools that can conflict with each other.  This is especially critical today with remote teams becoming the new normal.  Digital workflow must rise to the occasion and  keep everybody working efficiently to reduce the challenges in communication that can result from virtual teamwork.

For the members of your team that are analyzing and acting on data, they need to spend less time looking at spreadsheets, and more time with insights and strategy. This is another building block of your digital experience. One where a technology solution, perhaps with machine learning (ML) or artificial intelligence (AI), can do some of the heavy lifting on the data to assist in serving up insights that the team can then carry out.

For instance, advanced AI and ML algorithms help marketing teams work more efficiently by providing automatic personalization and supplying insights on the impact, both negative and positive, of the personalization. Furthermore, AI-powered personalization technology can optimize personalization over time, providing insights to marketing teams along the way.

The workload of your non-technical marketers should also be considered. They should be provided with a technology that streamlines and simplifies the personalization aspect of the customer experience, where 1:1 relationships can be automated rather than built manually.

With all these complementary elements working together, there should be no obstacles between your brand and cutting-edge customer experience.

Sitecore is a digital experience platform leader offering technology that supports the Build-Measure-Learn strategy.  For more information see Sitecore Experience Platform.

Pieter Brinkman is Senior Director of Technical Marketing at Sitecore, overseeing global strategy for its developer ecosystem, technical enablement of partners and technical employees, GTM strategies and Sitecore’s sales demos.