November 15, 2018

Optimizing Quality, Speed and Cost Via a Platform Approach to Digital Marketing Capability

Steve Chitwood

Steve Chitwood
General Manager, Digital Consulting - Digital Marketing and Customer Experience Transformation/Mindtree

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Brands of all sizes struggle with managing the complexities of digital marketing and customer engagement. Customer journeys increasingly traverse channels, are behaviorally dependent and are influenced by a multitude of factors – everything from social comments to weather to pop culture.

For the brand marketer, there is a constant battle to deepen the understanding of the customer and craft a relevant engagement strategy to evoke a progressively productive response. Within larger enterprises that manage significant brand portfolios across global regions, the complexities multiply.

For the enterprise digital marketing IT team, the challenge is similarly acute. Pressure to deliver, maintain, evolve and support an increasingly diverse catalog of interconnected tools and capabilities drives up delivery times and costs while decreasing quality and introducing increased risk. The focus for many IT organizations is dominated by managing operational challenges, triaging conflicting priorities, and reacting to escalations and fluctuating demand from business partners.

As enterprises search for the most effective operating model for digital IT operations, the front-runners are finding that speed of execution, quality of service and deliverables, risk mitigation as well as cost management can be achieved through a platform approach to the digital marketing technology ecosystem. This approach, focused on standardized technologies and reusable componentry, also creates a strategic foundation to continuously expand and optimize the toolset and introduce truly differentiating capabilities such as omni-channel personalization, advanced analytics, and comprehensive customer data assets.

In many enterprises today, the digital marketing technology ecosystems suffer from duplicated capabilities between business units, an inability to pool resources to drive efficiencies, a lack of true innovation given the constant focus on maintaining a fragile steady state, and an increasingly difficult to manage and growing network of service providers, agencies and vendors. Due to resource constraints at all levels, larger brands and business units get attention and smaller ones are left to fend for themselves at the bottom of the ever-shifting priority queue. These overly complex ecosystems are increasingly difficult to manage and are hampering the ability to compete against more mature market players.

Collectively, a new digital marketing operating model is needed. CMOs need fast time to market and innovative capabilities; CIOs need demand predictability, stability, and manageable performance. When combined with the necessary expertise and processes, the Customer Engagement Platform will form the technology core of a dramatic transformation.

 

THE CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT PLATFORM

 

With a Content Management System (e.g. Sitecore, AEM, etc.) at its core, the Customer Engagement Platform(CEP) is composed of a set of standardized components, templates, integration points and services needed to execute effective customer engagement strategies. From building effective experience assets such as websites and mobile apps, to launching email, social, loyalty, CRM and other marketing and advertising activities the CEP starts as a standardized and integrated technology stack and evolves into a platform with a product-centric approach to exposing features and capabilities to business end users.

  • An architectural approach focused on reusability, configurability, localizability, per-site isolation, ease of use, compliance management and performance. ease of use for all constituents
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  • Separation of platform development and site development. The platform team focuses on a platform level release cadence, the technical roadmap and collaboration with major tool vendors and business leadership. The site development teams build and launch sites using platform resources, ensure SEO, security and accessibility compliance, collaborate with brands/business units, creative agencies and 3rd party vendors
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  • Dedicated support teams and processes. Though a L1 SPOC helpdesk provides clear support process and trafficking, L2 and L3 responsibilities should again be split between site operations and platform operations. The former focusing on application updates and changes; the later on code fixes and solution architecture
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  • Shared monitoring, administration, infrastructure management, and technology-specific expertise
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  • An end-to-end services anchor partner to provide program governance, execution structure, innovation, partner management

Standardized integrations, such as with CRM, DAM, Marketing Automation, and PIM tools simplify the ecosystem, accelerate development and provide cost predictability. Proven workflows across teams bring transparency while enabling effective governance. Advanced capabilities such as customer data hubs, advanced analytics, segmentation and personalization functions, which previously may have been out of reach for individual brands or less effective when siloed by business unit, can now provide deep insight and differentiation.

For example, designing new or refreshing existing websites on the platform leverages a library of customized assets such as responsive page templates, content layouts and functional components.  Creative partners and marketers can dramatically accelerate the design process. In many cases, a new brand or business unit website should require minimal (if any) original development. Though, the constant focus on reusability ensures that new feature development and innovation, often driven by larger and priority brands and initiatives, are driven back into the core platform for all to share.

Preconfigured integrations such as data collection forms, ratings and reviews, site search, tag management, ecommerce, EDW and other enterprise integrations, etc., provide enhanced functionality in an out-of-box manner. Supporting capabilities such as web analytics, personalization triggers, authentication, digital asset management, etc., leverage enterprise-wide tools across business units and enable operational costs and process optimization.

By implementing a governance structure across business and IT to own the platform roadmap and functional priorities, centralized program management to own the execution process, program-level technical leadership across the full product suite, a more coordinated and strategic approach can be achieved. Operational separation between site operations (site assembly, fixes and updates, etc.), and platform operations (monitoring, admin, capability support, enhancements, upgrades) makes possible more effective support, optimization, risk mitigation and new feature development.

Optimizing the functional capabilities and the enabling technologies available within the enterprise through a platform approach is one piece of a complex transformation. Creating an operational model that aligns to business priorities and defines individual roles and responsibilities – internal and external, specifies the workflows and processes that drive operations and accountability and leverages the technology assets addressed in the customer engagement platform deserves similar focus.

 

THE PATH TO THE PLATFORM

 

For enterprises that have made this journey, the path to creating the target-state platform is a progressive process. Few organizations have the luxury of building and deploying such an integrated approach in isolation given both time and cost constraints. Rather, the path to the platform is an evolution born of necessity. Based on our experience working with a number of global, multi-brand/BU and multi-geo organizations (250+ website environments) who have undertaken this process, some commonality approach is clear. It’s also worth noting that while the process shows an evolution of maturity to the aforementioned target state, certain factors lead some organizations to focus on target state short of the platform as a product. Nonetheless, by achieving a more mature state, incremental benefits can still be substantial.

Separate Options Approach. The starting point for many organizations is the Separate Options stage. This stage is characterized by brands or business units defining their own technology stacks and support models. Based on an older agency-driven model where digital marketing activities were isolated at the brand level and leveraged few enterprise-level resources, business unit marketer relied on creative agencies for technology strategy and support. While this approach is still seen given the flexibility it affords marketers, enterprise resource needs for expanded functionality, governance, security and performance issues necessitate IT involvement and an ecosystem of duplicate and often unfamiliar technologies are increasingly difficult to manage.

Loosely Coupled Approach. By standardizing on a common technology toolset, a certain degree of efficiency can be gained. IT-centric processes like infrastructure and technical operations can be harmonized and internal expertise around a smaller catalog of capabilities yields faster support times and structured approach to performance and security needs, to name a few.

Additionally, standardizing the toolsets also introduces the early opportunities to build reusable and shareable components, such as CRM integrations which should lead to increased development times and fewer support issues. While this loosely coupled approach to technology selection still gives brands/BUs and their respective creative agencies unconstrained flexibility on building experiences, it does little to leverage the capability maturity across the ecosystem. Many enterprises will initially see this stage as the goal state – though it really should be seen more as an interim stage as the benefits and restrictions are roughly equal. Taking the next step into the common platform accelerates the benefits in nearly every way.

Common Platform. A few fortunate enterprises with distinct complexities achieve a state of a mature common platform. Rather than a suite of centrally managed and supported tools, the common platform is managed as a product, complete with a defined feature roadmap, product ownership, governance structure, release cycle, etc. Sites are assembled from common components rather than developed from scratch. Library-based templates, layouts, functional elements are easily configured. Creative assets are designed based on pre-defined wireframes. We have seen new-site development times for moderate complexity sites drop from many months to weeks or even days. Platform components and tools are designed and evolve to meet the majority of business capability needs. New features are prioritized into the product roadmap and released on a defined schedule.

While focused on reusable tools and components, the structure also accommodates the inevitable need for customization driven by specific business, brand, market need. These individual enhancements are accommodated and subsequently rolled into the common toolset and made available to all platform participants, providing an important path to bring more mature capabilities to brands and business units that otherwise would miss out.

 

PROVEN RESULTS

 

The target state of the customer-centered digital enterprise should have the objective of creating differentiation and competitive advantage – with the additional benefit of optimizing operations and costs. Our experience shows that dramatic results are possible. One global CPG realized a 40% decrease in TCO and 50% decrease in time-to-market while achieving 100% adoption by business units and 100% compliance to privacy, security and legal standards while delivering best-in-class digital experiences to consumers. Another has achieved a 30% cost and time-to-market savings across more than 200 brands in 50 countries. Quality improvements for one global retailer decreased open incidents by 33% and brought ticket turnaround times down from 10 days to 3.

Success comes when business, agency and technology teams work collectively. Website releases and mobile apps need to have timelines estimated in weeks, not months. Capabilities must evolve; there will be new tools, new integrations, new priorities. A culture of innovation must exist and a governance process for introducing change must be established. At the same time, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure both cost predictability as well as measuring effectiveness. A shared vision, a clear roadmap, experience and a collaborative spirit are pre-requisites.

Standardizing digital marketing technologies across the enterprise along with a component-driven architecture approach that focuses on reusability and shared assets will drive speed, quality and cost savings—and is a necessary initial step in the transformation. With a constant focus on reusability, new feature development and innovation, often driven by larger and priority brands and initiatives, ensures creative flexibility and extends the core platform for all. To reap the benefits of the platform, especially at scale, approaching the management and support of the platform as a product vs a collection of tools is necessary to drive substantive value into the future.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my ExecRanks profile.

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