Friday, November 6, 2015

Experience driven content approaches

There is a large gap between understanding customer needs and satisfying these needs. In the context of software development, the same can be said of maintaining healthy and bidirectional relationships with partners. Of course the purposes of an agencies and software vendors are the same: the overall satisfaction of the customer.
A certain synergy needs to exist between the two in order to be able satisfy the customer. Customers expect maturity, confidence and a healthy dose of logic combined with creativity from their implementation partner/agency. And with regards to the software vendor they tend to look for the same maturity combined with stability and consistency fused with a good amount of innovation. Innovation that creates that competitive edge every business is looking for.

It is however the implementation partner that is closest to the customer. Normally, agencies understand the business of their customers. They know of the intricacies, challenges, internal structure and market competitors our customers are facing. But they are also tasked with constantly closing the gap between what the customer needs and what the software vendor’s product offers. It is up to that partner to look into the numerous features that the product has to offer and be able to liaise with business, technical and other solution architects. 


Lately, there has been a significant increase in the number of companies looking to provide a distinctive web experience to their visitors. Brands no longer want to be perceived solely as corporations that sell or advertise specific products. They want to take on a role of solution provider. Through means of interaction, both via online and offline channels, companies want to offer products and services that match their specific customer needs. They seek to become a source of inspiration and knowledge instead of a closed-off institution where all information is kept inside.

The fact that a company is willing to share knowledge, product information combined with future vision and all other aspects of the innovation that is driving them, comes across as exactly that mature attitude they were looking for. Applying a thorough and well thought out customer engagement plan allows for plain web content to be perceived as tailored information. Information that matches a visitor’s corporate identity or personal profile (depending on B2B or B2C).

The underlying idea is to engage your visitors on every aspect of their interaction with your brand. But before you can begin to understand what your visitors are all about you need to be well versed in your own business or more specifically on the digital content that describes your business.

Just a quick listing of possible questions:
  •     What types of content do you have?
  •     What types of visitors are relevant for your business?
  •     How can you increase on the value of a website visit?
  •     What goals should be set throughout your website?
  •     Is there external data that can be used?
  •     Can you combine the online with the offline?
  •     What should be tested and measured?
  •     Are all aspects of your business represented on your website?


The above list can become quite extensive. This can be seen as an indication on how intricate the concept of personalisation and engagement actually is. Because deciding on the what and how of personalisation is one thing. Maintaining it, and interpreting the initial results is quite a different thing altogether.


Sitecore as a platform stems from a pure CMS solution and has re-positioned itself through the implementation of quite an extensive list of engagement tools. They have actively converted their CMS into a full-fledged experience platform throughout their latest releases. This Experience Platform provides a vast toolset for content managers to tag content to specific profile patterns, identify visitors across sessions, prefill content and use a rules editor to personalize sections of your website as well as its overall look and feel.


This experience platform comes with a large set of reporting dashboards, insights, engagement plans, user profile overviews and so on. The sheer volume of features and tools can make Sitecore come across as very bulky and heavy. Since a new Sitecore customer will most likely not be using the entire set of available tools in Sitecore from day 1, it is hard to comprehend and master all the tools contained within. Sitecore should be perceived as an enablement tool towards engagement, it is therefore best to approach personalization on a step by step basis.

The best advice is to start off small and with minor iterations. In doing so you, as a web manager, will be able to get acquainted with the use of personalization and the fine-tuning this process often requires. It will also allow you to keep a good overview of where and what personalization was used throughout your content.

By creating a low entry version of their platform, Sitecore has catered to the customer need of being able to start small and not be overwhelmed by the many possibilities. This low-entry version mainly functions as a CMS only version, but it still allows for some forms of personalization and has the same look and feel as the full Sitecore platform. No profile or historical information is stored however, as the required experience database (based on MongoDB technology) is not attached.


This CMS only version, named Experience Management, comes at a specific pricing that allows for smooth migration into the full-fledged Experience Platform. The full version of Sitecore gives access to personalization based on historical data, the experience optimization tool, Path Analyser, Federated Experience Manager as well as the Email Experience Manager.


Feel free to post any questions or remarks with regards to starting and adapting an experience driven web approach. I will gladly help you walk through the different steps of aligning your business needs with the toolset offered by an Enterprise scale CMS solution such as Sitecore.