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What is a digital experience platform?

Exploring the rise and role of digital experience platforms (DXPs) in today’s customer-driven market

Chapter 1

Defining a digital experience platform

Gartner defines a digital experience platform (DXP) as “an integrated and cohesive piece of technology designed to enable the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences across multiexperience customer journeys.” 

It’s a good definition. But grasping its significance requires moving a step back. 

In today’s digital world, organizations stay competitive by building relationships through communication, which requires speaking and listening. 

Organizations use content to speak and data to listen. 

Digital experience platforms offer organizations an integrated suite of tools to foster meaningful relationships by speaking and listening to customers, prospects, partners, employees, and other audiences. 

Chapter 2

The evolution of digital experience platforms

Having conversations might sound easy. But in today’s complex world, it’s anything but. It requires not only delivering content to websites, email, mobile apps, customer portals, social platforms, IoT devices, virtual and augmented reality devices, in-store kiosks, digital signage, POS systems, and more; but also connecting the experiences on them.

There are 6.5 connected devices per person today, and most people use multiple devices on their path to purchase. It’s not enough to simply deliver content to each channel – they must coalesce into a consistent, connected, and continuous experience that nurtures people toward a clear outcome. 

For example, no one wants to get an email advertising a product they just purchased on Instagram. Or to click a link in a promotional email, only to be taken to the company’s homepage instead of the page for the product they’re considering. 

Digital experience platforms evolved to meet the challenges of today. 


The first content management systems (CMSs) appeared in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. These monolithic CMSs enabled brochure-like static content. By the late ‘90s, organizations were beginning to serve up the dynamic content that would give rise to the social web. 

As the social web expanded with user-generated content and the rise of mobile, the need for more personalized engagement and deeper business integration led to web experience management (WEM) solutions. With WEM, organizations began gathering engagement data, building out personas, and using both to serve up more personalized experiences. 

The problem with WEM systems, however, was that they were designed solely for marketing departments — and thus were hard to connect to the rest of the organization’s technology stack, such as their CRM or ERP. 

Take an insurance company, for example. After being marketed to, some targeted prospects would come to the company’s website and apply for a quote. But because the site was on a WEM, there was no easy way to pass on these leads and their information to a salesperson. Closing the sales loop was neither efficient nor fluid, which meant a lot of leads were lost. 

As digital experiences became more and more important to organizations of all types and sizes and technology solutions proliferated, the need for deeper integrations grew, leading to the rise of headless, microservices architecture. 

This architectural innovation offered two things:

First, it enabled integrations with other systems — such as CRMs, commerce systems, and call centers — to better connect the experiences on each. Finally, the insurance company above could track leads, get them to sales, and close the sales loop with ease.

Second, it empowered developers to experiment with new touchpoints

Together, these two capabilities paved the way for digital experience platforms (DXPs) to provide a fully integrated customer experience flowing seamlessly across channels and devices, throughout the entire journey.

Platform   Use case
CMS Create and manage text and image content across traditional desktop  and mobile websites
WEM Expands CMS: Deliver content to digital marketing and commerce channels. Includes analytics to understand customer behavior and better serve their needs
DXP Expands WEM: Provide a fully integrated and seamless digital experience across channels and devices and throughout the entire customer journey

Consumers take the reins

During this time, another phenomenon was developing: the age of the consumer

With each Google search, consumers’ knowledge grew. With each new option to buy online, their power increased. With each transaction on Amazon, their expectations expanded. 

And they brought their expectations to every interaction — whether purchasing products for their business, shopping for themselves, or communicating with the company they work for. 

As early as 2016, McKinsey highlighted that, according to research, three-fourths of customers “expect ‘now’ service within five minutes of making contact online.” In 2018, Salesforce research found that 76% of customers today expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. It’s often neither the product nor the price that’s the main competitive advantage today but the customer experience.

On top of heightened expectations, consumers’ behavior changed as they took the reins digital provided. Instead of a linear flow from search to website to transaction, consumers now step in and out of their journeys, often using different devices for different phases. 

To meet the heightened expectations and divergent behavior of audiences today, organizations need a way to provide the right content, at the right time — no matter the device or reason for engagement. To do this, they need to align teams, streamline processes, connect systems, and often transform workflows to provide the customer experiences we have all come to expect. 

Chapter 3

Digital experience platforms and digital transformation

In addition to providing the integrated tools organizations need to speak and listen to their audience, digital experience platforms provide the technology that supports the organizational transformation needed to improve customer experiences. 

While a digital experience platform is necessary for most organizations’ digital transformation, it isn’t as simple as just purchasing a new solution. 

You can begin by tracking experiences across your site, for example, but true digital transformation requires an organizational shift in thinking and doing — connecting silos, building out teams, moving to agile workflows, creating feedback loops to continuously evaluate and respond to customer data cues, and more. 

By providing the architecture, digital experience platforms help with all of this. They offer a centralized location to collaborate on the development and delivery of experiences across the lifecycle. They provide the infrastructure for collecting and connecting data from every channel. And with intuitive dashboards and machine-learning driven insights and suggestions, they give everyone access to deep customer insight and KPIs to track the process and its results while staying aligned. 

Looking to learn more about the organizational dynamics of digital transformation? Our guide, “Digital experience management: Organization and governance,” is a great place to start.

Chapter 4

The benefits of digital experience platforms

DXPs provide Organizational benefits Audience benefits
Integrated control center A centralized location to discreetly manage packaged business capabilities, providing a single login point to execute CX tasks Connected, consistent journeys
Content flexibility Use hybrid-headless and microservices architecture to deliver the same content across all channels, freeing up teams to create more content for better experiences Better delivery of omnichannel experiences on preferred channels, as well as emerging endpoints
Better personalization Connecting with other systems — such as CRMs, contact centers, and social media — provides a 360-degree view of each customer; intuitive dashboards and machine learning power deep insights Consistent customer data means precise personalization across touchpoints that removes friction from the customer journey and keeps people on their path to conversion/engagement
Future-proof adaptability Ability to adapt to new technologies, and connect with audiences as digital maturity increases or new technologies emerge Connect how they want, when they want
Centralized data capabilities As a component within the DXP, Sitecore CDP eliminates data silos A complete 360-degree profile from various customer touchpoints to provide a unified view of customer behavior to drive hyper-personalized experiences that are consistent across channels of engagement
Marketing automation and personalized email campaigns Manage, scale, and automate your email campaigns with ease with Sitecore Send Highly relevant, timely campaigns build trust and foster long-term relationships
Hyper-relevant content through AI-powered search Understand and act upon individual visitors’ intent through AI and context-aware rules in real-time with Sitecore Search Individualized results and a personalized search experience that helps people find what they are looking for with ease
A better-connected tech stack With Sitecore Connect, all components in the tech stack play nice and organizations can leverage their full potential Seamless, omnichannel experiences

Chapter 5

When do I need a digital experience platform?

The simple answer: Now. 

The complete answer: It’s a journey. It will be unique depending on where your organization’s at, but you should begin it now. Even in 2018, 70% of organizations had a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one. As technology continues its rapid pace of change, organizations that aren’t looking ahead in preparation will be left behind.

Depending on your digital maturity, it’s possible a CMS might be all you need right now. But not all CMSs will give you a pathway to grow into a DXP. 

If your goal is true digital transformation for better customer engagement, you need a CMS that can scale easily, can be deployed on the cloud, and has a wide array of APIs for fluid integrations. As your organization, teams, and capabilities mature, you can increase functionality, eventually getting to a DXP. 

But for many organizations looking to embark on the next stage of growth, a digital experience platform is a necessary piece of the puzzle now. 

A DXP can be a way to consolidate and streamline a Frankenstein-ish martech stack, eliminate redundancy, and future-proof with the ability to integrate fluidly. The implementation process can also be a catalyst for organizing teams, streamlining processes, and breaking down silos.  

Digital experience platforms also provide a way for organizations to begin implementing artificial intelligence (AI), which is changing work quickly. Whether using natural language processing to tag content or automatically identifying visitor trends, creating customer segments, and modifying pages, machine learning and AI are increasing organizations’ productivity, customer insight, and ROI.

Many teams are also realizing that it’s not only downstream needs — such as experience delivery and data collection — that are needed but also upstream needs — such as digital asset management and collaborative content creation. Digital experience platforms should integrate fluidly with other systems to offer end-to-end content management

Digital has transformed everything today. It creates both risk (disruption) and opportunity (customer-obsessed engagement) for organizations across industries and sizes. Digital experience platforms are continually adapting solutions built to meet the constant evolution of our digital age.

Learn about Sitecore’s digital experience platform here


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