Giving customers or prospects the best experience possible is an age-old business goal. By facilitating more relevant, personalized direct marketing and customer interaction, advances in technology are allowing us to get closer to realizing that ambition than ever before.
Indeed, consumers’ expectations for relevant experiences are having a very important impact on long-term marketing strategy–more so than any other trend, according to Accenture’s 2012 CMO Insights survey (PDF).
Yet despite its importance, CMOs report they are lagging in execution. While 68 percent of CMOs say it’s important to create value from digital channels, only 13 percent of CMOs say their organizations’ performance is leading-edge. Additionally, digital orientation–which Accenture defines as working across the organization to infuse a digital focus in all business processes and functions–has the largest “performance gap,” which is the spread between performance and importance, among the five major marketing capabilities queried: digital orientation, marketing operations, custerom analytics, customer engagement, and innovation (click here for chart).
There are four stages to producing the best possible customer experience: absorb available data, predict what the best experience could be, assemble that experience from possible options, and deliver it into the context the customer is in at that moment, be it mobile, tablet, in-store, or other.
And one imperative is also clear: All four stages have to be executed in milliseconds. In real time, companies must capture the right data and provide the best content in the right context to optimize the consumer experience. Then they must remember previous interactions and learn from them to improve the experience of that individual, or others who display similar intentions, over time. So how do companies implement that capability efficiently and effectively?
Contemporary digital marketing platforms can facilitate a seamless and relevant end-to-end customer experience across digital channels. Yet for many companies, establishing and executing the platform to create personalized experiences is perceived to be a huge undertaking and significant investment.
It’s no wonder that this perception exists. Not too long ago, content creation and management required teams of developers on hand at each production hub to create new pages (from scratch or available templates), add items to navigation elements, optimize images and transcode video, make style-related changes, and then test and publish the updates. Further complicating this was the series of staging and live environments that had to be managed from development to test to user acceptance. The process was cumbersome and lengthy, adversely affecting business agility, introducing risk and bottlenecks, and stifling innovation.
Modern Web content management systems transcend these constraints. By allowing the distribution of content authoring to regions and business units, companies are able to reduce the dependence on IT involvement in content creation and publication. This means that organizations can effectively create a shared service environment for Web content management that spans geographies and languages. Best-of-breed Web content management systems allow marketers to become more independent in the authoring and updating processes. This provides greater flexibility and agility when crafting personalized experiences and individually tailored messages.
The Personalization Challenge
As CMOs consider their personalization journey, it is critical that the technology they choose is able to support the company’s vision. A Web content management system should address three important considerations: connection to business goals, scale, and speed of execution.
1. Connection To Business Goals: Where personalization often breaks down is between the intent of the business person responsible for the user experience and the result being delivered to the customer (in other words, the gap between the business intent and the technology execution). For example, there is an optimal experience one would expect a customer or prospect to have in response to a retail sales campaign. If you ask the business person what the response to this specific scenario would be, and then ask the person assigning the rules to the technology what the response would be, you often get different answers. A simulation will often produce yet a third response. If there is no transparency as to how the rules have been set, and the business person has little or no means to test or simulate it, the likelihood that the correct response is being executed for each interaction is greatly diminished.
To ensure a direct connection to business goals, the solution should include a rich set of capabilities to simulate and impact experiences in a flexible, user-friendly way. If the Web content management system is designed at the component level rather than at a page or template level, and its interface is intuitive and responsive, the technology is flexible enough to support evolving business goals. The shift toward personalization provides an optimal experience for authors and administrators without a lot of training required. This translates into an optimal experience for consumers or users of the published experience as well.
2. Scale: The ability to scale is critical and can be viewed from a number of dimensions. Many requirements, such as managing high volumes of traffic and data, are a function of the system architecture and hosting.
But the key for large, multinational companies is whether the Web content management system can support the complexity challenges of the business. Typically this includes multiple business units, geographies, languages, market segments, and campaigns, not to mention different regulatory environments–all managed by a complex Web of workflows and processes.
The ability to design the authoring, publishing, and interaction with individual components at the most atomic level is what defines a Web content management system’s real scalability and flexibility. In fact, it is fundamental to companies’ ability to control yet distribute content management out to business users. It is also central to creating the distributed business processes to manage content such that it supports high levels of personalization at scale.
3. Speed Of Execution: At any one touch point, 30 to 300 milliseconds may be all the time there is to make a connection and secure customers’ intent to purchase before they click away. The Web platform must be able to determine a personalized experience based on known content and context in near real time and deliver it equally quickly to the mobile channel or to a Web-enabled device or PC.
Characteristics important to assure response time include high availability of the Web content management system, a low latency “audience data cloud” that can be drawn on for profile information for known customers and added to for segmentation of anonymous users, optimized security schemas, and, as discussed, an optimized authoring process.
The implementation and rollout of an entirely new platform in a large organization often starts slowly and takes considerable time and effort. Three fundamental steps will help demonstrate success early on and build momentum:
1. Test And Learn With A Pilot Program: Teams typically pick a pilot in an area of the business where the ramifications are less critical or impacted by implementation issues. However, a good pilot needs to be complex enough to demonstrate its success and applicability for other areas of the business. If the enterprise is organized by geography or business unit, it is best to pilot with an area of the business that can be isolated easily (such as a country or product line,) but has sufficient complexity (such as executing in multiple languages).
2. Address The Culture Change: Great technology in and of itself will not move the organization to real business transformation through digital initiatives. Getting the business to operate in this new world of personalized experiences is a significant cultural change: a change of both how the business operates and remunerates, and how quickly it must respond to change. Without a clear vision that is adopted and communicated from the top down, it is hard for businesses to define the metrics and measures of success required to justify this level of change. It is also hard for the benefits of the program to be realized without key performance indicators being aligned directly to individual goals and targets. Getting the strategy right before beginning implementation is critical–everything from ensuring leadership is aligned behind the change, to organizational change management, to architecting the technology solution.
3. Restructure Business Operations And Governance: Few organizations are prepared for how they need to align the business if they adopt this new technology. The Web content management platform changes the speed with which businesses operate. But managing at speed requires the redesign of processes and work streams, and realignment of roles, resources, assets, and teams to produce value from this new capability. Organizations should act in a more entrepreneurial way, empowering teams to test new approaches and quickly assess their results to meet the changing demands of consumers. Governance is a critical but often neglected component of implementing federated authoring and experience optimization. To reap full benefits, organizations should be prepared with the knowledge of industry and technology best practices, as well as program management capabilities to execute complex, global transformation.
CMOs know that delivering relevant and personalized experiences to individual customers or groups of similar customers will build their enterprises’ brands, extend their market reach, and stimulate demand. Two areas of improvement are quickly measureable: customer acquisition and customer satisfaction. Personalization has a tremendous impact on customer acquisition by improving customer conversion ratios. It also improves customer satisfaction across the entire customer relationship lifecycle.
Driving a more personalized experience through Web content management requires a good source of customer data, relevant content, and the ability to adapt to the context being presented. It also requires automating the processes as much as possible to be able to respond in milliseconds and cost efficiently execute at scale. When accompanied by a thoughtful strategy and robust business transformation management, modern Web content management technologies can support this vision–enabling enterprises to bring together the content and context that optimizes the customer experience.