“Okay, we’re going live. It’s done! Now nobody touch it… ever.”
These words provide a pretty accurate view of the long accepted model of website and digital experience creation. It’s a paradigm that follows the workflow of the classic TV ad. First the creatives come up with the idea (the really valuable bit), then it goes into “production”. In digital terms, we first design the experience, then we build it. It’s such a firmly established archetype that there’s a whole category of “design and build” agencies out there, created entirely to deliver on this approach. Or, just as frequently, different agencies are hired, one to do the design work and another to build the site or app.
It’s a logical way of looking at things. We’re all out there to create the best experience possible for our customers, right? So what’s the most valuable thing? The experience, of course! So where should you start? Well, with the design. But this workflow is optimised to create a single static experience. Once it’s live, it’s done and everyone gets a pat on the back.
However, unlike a TV ad, digital experiences need to be constantly updated once they are live, but that’s really something of an afterthought in this model. Training the people who will create these updates only comes after the design and build.
Experience —> Technology —> People
When it was just a question of keeping a site “up to date”, this probably used to work. Organisations could carry on with business as usual and hire an agency or a few people to make those updates. However, two major factors make this unsuitable for today’s world, let alone the rapidly approaching future.
Reality check #1 - Experiences are dynamic, not static
For any large organisation, and even many smaller ones, modern websites are increasingly just parts of complex and dynamic networks of functionality and content meshed together into user experiences that span channels, devices and technologies, on and offline, paid, social, owned and earned. Consumers expect just-in-time relevance and personalisation, they refuse to jump through hoops imposed by corporate silos and they judge each experience by the best in the world, not just the category.
The days of updating the website news section just won’t cut it anymore. We’ve all seen the jarring hand-off between our bank’s marketing website and their online banking - and that’s just the tip of the iceberg - it's getting worst. While it’s perfectly possible to update both the marketing website and an online banking interface to create a seamless experience, the Design->Build->Train paradigm fails completely to account for how these experiences evolve over time. And evolve they must. Rapidly.
Reality Check #2 - All this capability is expensive
Even for a single coherent brand with very little market segmentation, developing the capability to evolve experiences over time takes significant investment in technology and services. From data to analytics, targeting and personalisation, web, mobile, email, social and more; the tooling required to allow multi-channel experiences to be effectively orchestrated and optimised over time to keep up with rapidly changing market pressures is complex and expensive.
Add to that the reality that, for any large organisation, you’re really dealing with several brands. For the global FMCGs that could be hundreds of brands. Even fairly focused companies will have significantly different customer segments that may require even more variation in experience than you see between FMCG categories. Take automotive for example, where a single car company may have to deal with fleet management, dealership portals, consumer car configurators and credit and financial services. These segmented offers are so wildly different that they act as different brands in their own right.
Developing core digital experience management capability in each of those brands to cope with all of this dynamic change is simply unsustainable. You either do it and spend so much money you’re eating into margins, or you fail and generally fall behind. So the market has shifted over the last decade or so towards a model that looks more like this:
Technology —> Experience —> People
While the talk is all about the customer experience, the reality is that clients are shifting their perception of value from the design of the experience to the capability that makes it possible. Rather than starting with design and build, clients are looking to big software vendors to help them implement the technology that will let them activate and evolve experiences over time. With the right technology platform, companies can both centralise investment in capability (freeing up cash for brands to focus on experiences) and achieve the agility to stay ahead of the game.
However, even with the technology in place, hugely important questions remain. Who is actually going to operate this technical solution? How are they going to maintain standards? Do they have the right skills? How are different parts of the organisation going to work together to deliver a common experience? To answer these questions, we really need to turn to a model that looks more like this:
People —> Technology —> Experience
How about we turn all of this on its head and take a people first view in managing digital experiences. The dreams of the software vendors are spot on in terms of ambition, and their tools are certainly part of the solution, but transformation of a business starts with its people. Skills, processes, culture, alignment, funding, organisational structures; at its most basic level, if you’re going to do all of this stuff, who’s going to do what and why?
Once you’ve got the core of these elements worked out (and let’s be realistic - it’s step one on an iterative journey), then you can look at how the technology can be put in place to support a new operating model to underpin customer experiences. You ensure all of the services that will be required to evolve the experience are in place, both internal and external. In other words, it’s not the MVP you need to focus on, but if the goal is transformation, what’s the MVS (Minimal Viable Service) that will enable the new mode of operation? Delivering the experience is then a question of using these services to put sites and apps in customers’ hands. And then iterate. And evolve.
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