Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Versus Nirvana: How Your Digital Foundation Impacts Competitive Advantage

by Chris Nguyen

posted on 12-12-2016

Over the past decade, marketing channels and digital touchpoints have increased in number at breakneck speeds. Thus, brands must now find new technology architectures that allow them to understand the entire customer experience. In their most recent report, “The Forrester Wave™: Digital Experience Platforms, Q4 2015,” Forrester defines digital-experience platforms as “software to manage, deliver, and optimize customer experiences consistently across every digital touchpoint.”

This sounds like the perfect solution for which many brands have been seeking.

In fact, one large retailer explained to Forrester that, after three years of double-digit annual growth in mobile traffic, they took their customer’s lead and realigned their digital-experience technology to keep up with growing demand. Over the next 18 months, “this retailer is stitching together marketing, commerce, and customer service” to create a more positive, personalized, and consistent customer experience.

However, many brands struggle to determine how to build a digital foundation that is appropriate for that brand’s unique digital presence. For instance, not all brands use or need kiosks. So, why should every brand be forced to deal with that component in its digital-experience platform? As a result, many are left wondering whether it makes sense to build a proprietary — or, do-it-yourself (DIY) — digital foundation. While DIY foundations may sound appealing, it is critical to understand how building one may affect your organization.

What Does Your Digital Foundation Need?
It’s impossible to build a strong digital-experience platform on a shaky foundation. Oftentimes, it’s ambitious individuals — people who truly believe they can craft something different, something efficient, low-cost, and tailored to their unique business needs — who begin building DIY platforms. Unfortunately, in addition to often having very complicated back ends, this DIY strategy can expose an organization to risks. For example, when engineers who are responsible for building these tools leave the company, they often leave behind very little knowledge and documentation. Further, it can be extremely difficult to capture data consistently across disparate systems, meaning any insights you glean are more than likely inconsistent.

To determine whether a DIY foundation could actually save time and money for your organization, it’s important that you fully understand the three main things a strong digital foundation requires.

1. A Unified Platform
A digital foundation must be built from the ground up so that everything works together seamlessly. If your analytics function doesn’t work with your digital-experience platform, you don’t have a solid digital foundation. If you have to manually enable things to work together, you don’t have a unified platform. You gain many insights and efficiencies from having a unified platform that not only allows you to work quickly and efficiently to meet your customers’ needs, but also helps to streamline the content-creation process. Unified platforms allow you to gain the full view of a customer’s lifecycle through a single interface, acquiring greater insights with far less hassle.

2. A Complete Solution
All too often, brands are eager to build a mobile app and call it a digital foundation. Unfortunately, this isn’t anywhere near complete. A digital foundation must be able to support dotcom, mobile web, mobile apps, kiosks, screens, Google Glass, Apple Watch, and more. Your entire current — and, potentially, your future — digital platform needs to be considered, supported, and integrated. A truly strong digital foundation will also include internal employee-engagement tools to help employees understand the entire digital picture your brand is working with. It’s important to note that all these elements will need regular updates to stay in line with digital platforms that are constantly evolving.

3. Robust Security
Without strong security, a digital solution will not work for your organization. In addition to meeting basic security requirements, your digital foundation should follow and meet any specific security mandates for your industry — meaning, the more security requirements dictated by your industry, the more secure your digital foundation must be. What’s more, you need to be able to keep up with — and, sometimes, even get ahead of — those industry security mandates.

What Do DIY Systems Potentially Lack?
When you’re building something from scratch, it’s no surprise that more established digital-experience platforms may include features that yours does not. This may even be a conscious choice. However, if you’re considering building a DIY digital-experience platform, it’s important to understand what your system may lack and how this can affect your competitive advantage in the long run.

1. Scalability
Homegrown digital foundations and content management systems (CMSs) have real trouble scaling. System upgrades and new features can be difficult to implement. Ultimately, we find customers just want solutions that work — not ones with which they’re constantly struggling to keep their heads above water. Some brands — such as the Chelsea Football Club, which has a global fan base of over 500 million people — obviously need scalability to be their top priority. However, scale affects all brands, whether adding new products, services, customers, or functionality. If your system won’t scale to fit your growing needs, you will experience a serious competitive disadvantage because you will have to focus on managing your digital foundation rather than improving your customer lifecycle. Plus, while DIY models may initially appear less costly, the cost of maintaining a homegrown system can increase drastically year over year, as the system becomes more difficult to scale.

2. Mobile Incorporation
Plenty of digital foundations isolate mobile into its own silo, which keeps mobile apps independent of both the entire customer experience and the teams that are trying to understand what it is. Mobile apps must be truly incorporated into your digital-experience platform so you have a consolidated team effort delivering a consistent experience across all channels. Otherwise, customers can become confused and frustrated — especially if you’re offering different prices, promos, and more on mobile than you do on other channels. A unified customer experience is always better than a confusing customer experience. Telegraph Media Group recently initiated a new content-creation system that allows them not only to develop clean websites that are targeted to their core audiences, but also to go to market more quickly and efficiently. Most importantly, they can easily be developed to look great on both desktop and mobile.

3. Social-Media Capabilities
Social media is another marketing channel that is often siloed into its own corner of many DIY systems. However, just because your product reviews or user community live within your website, does not mean that customers don’t also interact — sharing and talking about your brand — on social media. Truthfully, to have strong brand-advocacy programs, brands need to capture and harness user-generated content (UGC) in all its many forms. The absolute best marketing tool you have is a genuinely engaged brand advocate; however, they are difficult to identify when you can’t view the customer as a whole and are, instead, only catching glimpses into their behaviors due to a siloed data structure.

4. Thorough Testing
It can be incredibly difficult to understand your customer’s needs and behaviors without doing some testing. However, if you don’t have complete pictures of your customers and their behaviors, testing can be very misleading. Running regression, multivariate, or various other types of testing on a system that is not centralized and doesn’t necessarily take all pertinent factors into consideration can be both time-consuming and unhelpful.

McDonald’s Digital Reformation Leads to Record Wins.
Even McDonald’s is focused on making incremental changes to improve customer experience in the digital space. By concentrating on day-to-day improvements in how they interface with customers at every level, they’re seeing some big changes as well as some big rewards. Developing a digital foundation allowed them to focus on customer experience in all they do and has been well received by customers. Their digital transformation has included some minor changes, but it has also led to major implementations — like all-day breakfast. This change began with their digital reformation and ended in their highest Q4 income ever. Focusing on customer experience through digital interactions has revolutionized how the fast-food giant does business. With a DIY system, they would likely have lacked the scalability — as well as the mobile, social, or testing capabilities — to support their transformation.

If you already have a proprietary digital foundation and are looking to move into a more robust solution, you want to begin by leveraging what you already have. Ultimately, you want to create an “experience layer” that allows you to leverage your existing architecture through a unified interface. From there, you can grow and scale your solution. Determine which features and functionalities you need right away and then plan for future integrations. Looking at this transition as a phased approach can help you to really determine your strategy — and, with the right strategy, you can build a truly strong digital foundation for your company.

Topics: Content Management