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What is a Digital Experience Platform? Everything you need to know

Siavash Moazzami-Vahid

In the past, customers and eCommerce companies primarily interacted on one digital channel — the website. And eCommerce businesses relied on traditional content management systems (CMS) for content delivery.

However, the digital landscape has changed. Customers now interact with your eCommerce store via social media platforms, messaging apps, IoT devices, and in-store kiosks. They expect the same experience throughout these different channels. eCommerce businesses need a system that allows them to create one seamless connected experience across all digital channels.

A traditional content management system doesn't cut it anymore. eCommerce businesses looking to deliver personalized customer experiences at scale must invest in digital experience platforms. This article covers all you need to know about digital experience platforms, plus the tell-tale signs that it's time to make the switch to one.

Digital Experience Platforms explained

Gartner, a leading technology research company, coined the term “digital experience platform.”

A digital experience platform (DXP) creates, delivers, and optimizes connected digital experiences across multiple interaction channels, including websites, voice assistants, and mobile applications. Examples of digital experience platforms include Salesforce DXP, SAP, and Oracle.

A diagram showing how a DXP functions by including multiple capabilities, and communicating with the presentation layer via APIs.

DXPs are built according to API-first principles.

What's the difference between a CMS and a DXP?

The difference between a CMS and a DXP comes down to two things — architecture and function.

1. A CMS has a simpler architecture than a DXP

A CMS has a backend that acts as the content repository and a frontend, which is detached or fixed, depending on whether the CMS is headless, traditional, or hybrid.

On the flip side, a DXP’s architecture is an interconnection of systems with different technological capabilities. It consists of a CMS, customer relationship management software (CRM), Portals, Digital Assets Manager, Commerce, and third-party integrations to social apps, product engagement software, analytics, and marketing automation tools.

Two diagrams showing how DXP and CMS work, and how does a CMS fit into the DXP setup.


2. A CMS is primarily used for managing content entries

In a content management system, you can create new content entries and publish them to your website and other channels (if you're using a headless CMS). You can also update and delete these entries as required.

A DXP does a lot more than content management; it allows you to manage your entire digital experience across multiple channels. Beyond content management, a DXP has analytical tools for tracking customers’ behaviors on the different digital channels and gathering real-time insights to improve personalization across multiple interaction channels.

The core features of a Digital Experience Platform

A DXP has the following features:

1. Analytics

94% of business leaders believe that data and analytics are key to their business growth. A digital experience platform has native or integrated analytics tools for multivariate testing, cross-platform reporting, and business intelligence.

  • Multivariate Testing means creating and testing multiple variations of content entries to discover which one performs better.
  • Cross-platform Reporting means tracking and reporting on users’ behaviors as they interact with your digital interaction channels in real time, including your website, social media platforms, and mobile applications.
  • Business Intelligence means extracting valuable business insights from data analysis.

2. Architecture

A digital experience platform is built on a MACH architecture. MACH stands for:

  • Microservices: a DXP has several independent technological capabilities that are loosely connected on a single platform. For example, it has a content management system, analytics tools, and a client relationship management system.
  • API-first: the DXP uses an application programming interface (https://www.ibm.com/cloud/learn/api) to simultaneously transmit and receive data from different digital channels. For example, when you visit a restaurant, you relay your order to a waiter, who takes it to the chef. The waiter, in this sense, is an API — facilitating communication between you (DXP) and the chef (digital channels).
  • Cloud-native: a DXP is run from and hosted in the cloud; that is, the internet.
  • Headless: a DXP is front-end agnostic. In other words, it only has a backend (content repository) and uses APIs to deliver content from the backend to different presentation layers (frontends).
A simple graphic representation of the MACH architecture, showing all the key aspects mentioned in the text.

MACH architecture

MACH architecture enables you to scale your DXP’s capabilities with best-of-breed technologies. You can combine the best technologies in different niches to create a customized digital experience platform — one DXP vendor manages content, and another handles analytics, commerce, and any other capabilities your business requires. For example, you can use Storyblok as your CMS and HubSpot as your CRM software to power your digital experiences from a single platform.

3. Collaboration

A digital experience platform processes lots of data, which means things can easily get lost in the sauce. To streamline data and improve collaboration, a DXP has intranets or portals — an internal network of communication.

An intranet serves as a centralized knowledge base of all the data and applications in the digital experience platform. Besides centralizing information, an intranet also allows team members to request and share data seamlessly.

4. Content Management System

A content management system manages your entire digital content lifecycle — creating, delivering, updating, and deleting content entries — from one place. A CMS can be monolithic, headless, or hybrid. In a monolithic CMS, the backend and frontend are fully attached, while a headless CMS is frontend-agnostic, meaning it only has a backend or content repository. A hybrid CMS has an attached frontend (like a website), and it also uses APIs to deliver content to external presentation layers like mobile apps.

A headless CMS is the best content management system for a DXP because it’s API-first. APIs are integral to the MACH architecture that powers DXPs. The headless CMS delivers content to multiple digital platforms using APIs.

Storyblok, as a headless CMS, can be used at the heart of a DXP architecture. This headless architecture is the foundation for a DXP, facilitating much of the DXP’s functionalities, including content management, collaboration and personalization, and best-of-breed integrations.

5. Security

The average cost of data breaches in the United States is $9.05 million, according to IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report. To minimize data breaches, a DXP has security features like access control, single sign-on, and two-factor authentication.

  • Access control restricts access to sensitive data.
  • Single sign-on allows authorized parties to log in to multiple systems in the digital experience platform with a single set of recognized credentials, like a username and password.
  • Two-factor authentication means that users have to fill in two sets of login credentials — like a password and security token — to access the DXP’s data.

6. Extensibility

Extensibility means you can expand the DXP’s features and functionalities as needed. A DXP supports extensibility through third-party integrations. Connect additional apps and services to your digital experience platform using REST APIs and GraphQL.

Why is a Digital Experience Platform important?

eCommerce businesses need digital experience platforms for personalization, delivering omnichannel experiences, and future-proof adaptability. These benefits are crucial to creating a modern eCommerce shopping experience for your customers.

1. Omnichannel experiences

Delivering omnichannel experiences can increase your customer retention rates by 90%. Omnichannel means your customers enjoy one seamless and continuous experience no matter how, when, or where they interact with your brand.

The DXP’s MACH architecture allows you to create once and distribute multiple times. This means you can deliver the same content simultaneously across all your digital channels — from websites and chat boxes to mobile apps and augmented reality platforms.

2. Personalization

A 2021 McKinsey report shows that “71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions.” You need data to do personalization right. Segment’s 2021 State of Personalization Report found that collecting accurate, real-time customer data is the biggest challenge 43% of organizations face.

A digital experience platform uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to gather customer behavioral data across all your digital channels automatically. These customer insights help the DXP to optimize digital experiences at every customer touchpoint. For example, if a website visitor frequently interacts with the wigs section of your hair products store, you can automatically deliver “wigs” content to them via newsletters or social media platforms.

3. Future-proof adaptability

Most businesses spend 20% of the total software development costs on updates every year. If you spent $100,000 on software development, you would need to budget for $20,000 on updates annually — this is huge, even for large eCommerce businesses.

A digital experience platform is future-proof, which means it is scalable and adapts to new technology fast. As digital innovations emerge, you can use APIs to add new apps and functions to your DXP rather than invest thousands of dollars in software updates.

What to consider when choosing a digital experience platform

Before investing in a digital experience platform, make sure it checks these three boxes.

1. Comprehensive customer journey support

To deliver a seamless omnichannel experience, your DXP should be equipped for all the customer journey stages — from the first point of interaction until they become paying customers and the post-purchase experience too.

Comprehensive customer journey support means you can collect well-rounded data about customers’ behaviors as they interact with different digital channels across the buyer journey, allowing you to deliver more personalized experiences. And you can use a single platform to manage your customers’ entire digital experiences, improving efficiency.

2. Third-party integrations

Third-party integrations expand the DXP’s capabilities, so you can execute more tasks from a single platform.

A digital experience should have APIs for connecting external systems and applications, like customer relationship management software, translation services, and enterprise resource planning software, to the platform’s technology stack.

3. Scalability

A good DXP can handle rapid changes to customer journey workflows and user demands without any negative impact on its overall performance. For example, when there's increased traffic to your eCommerce online store, the DXP should automatically scale up to handle this spike in real time.

Is it time to switch to a digital experience platform?

It's possible that a content management system is all your business needs right now. If you're considering moving to a DXP, these three questions will guide you:

  1. Does your business have more than one digital touchpoint?
  2. Are you targeting an audience with multiple demographics?
  3. Does your eCommerce architecture include a headless CMS?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you might consider moving to a digital experience platform. To dive deeper into this topic, read our article about frequently asked questions for DXPs.