The Evolution of Digital Engagement

Posted 12 December 2016 12:00 AM by Manoj Shah, Digital Technology Consultant @ ClearPeople

The marketing technology landscape has seen extensive growth over the past few years. The plethora of solutions available can create a lot of noise, driving organisations to adopt a range of technologies that may end up tangling their digital ecosystem. It’s not uncommon to see a labyrinth of tools across an organisation that perform a similar function. Chiefmartech have done a great job of illustrating the change in this landscape in just a few years from 947 companies in 2014 to 1,876 just a year later.

A key trend of software being provisioned as a service means that decisions can be taken to procure digital tools without much involvement from IT. This approach means no heavy infrastructure is required and tools can be provisioned quickly and effortlessly without fuss and avoiding a strain on the capex budget.

One area that I have been involved in is the provisioning of Content Management Systems (CMS) and Email Marketing tools. I have been pondering over various scenarios. For example, when would it make sense for an organisation to use a point solution for email marketing vs a content management system? It’s not uncommon to find organisations that use quite a few email marketing tools, whilst having a CRM/CMS system that duplicates similar functionality.

Clearly the market is evolving - at one end of the spectrum there is the move to micro-services architectures which favours the concept of independently deployable software that supports a key business goal. At the other end, we have the monolithic applications that tend to provide a diverse range of functionality. Recently Kentico announced the launch of Kentico Cloud that provides core content management functionality but does not have all the bells and whistles of their flagship enterprise marketing suite. Kentico Cloud could potentially fill the gap, where architecture is based on a micro-services model.

The main advantages of utilising a CMS with marketing automation capability, such as Sitecore or Kentico, over an email marketing tool is that you can easily utilise the data such as: user preference, purchase history and behaviour to personalise the experience for visitors to the website and potentially other digital touchpoints. Furthermore these integrated platforms are very good at joining up a journey of site visitors even when they use multiple devices. The visitors can be assigned to personas and a tailored engagement plan can be executed. These plans would just not be limited to only email, they could utilise other approaches such as tailoring content on mobile applications, push messaging, SMS text, online chat and offline activities such as personalised flyers through the post.

It was quite interesting to see the level of sophistication ClearPeople achieved when utilising Sitecore's Email Experience Manager for several clients. One that probably deserves a special mention is CMS Law-Now and Regzone, both utilising Sitecore's Email Experience Management platform to send highly relevant emails to their subscribers. CMS Law covers over 82 areas of law in 23 sectors and across 31 jurisdictions and now has over 28,000 engaged subscribers. The engagement model considers user preferences such as country time zones, areas of interest and behaviours across a variety of digital properties.

CMS Law-Now from ClearPeople on Vimeo.

The key advantage of a dedicated email marketing tool is mainly down to ease of use; they have more specialist interfaces as they are dedicated to one single function. This needs to be off-set against the fact that it’s yet another user interface that needs to be learnt, another system to update, particularly if data is being populated in an ad-hoc manner, and also whether related systems are being upgraded. The more sophisticated email marketing tools would generally provide a way to easily bring in data from established CRM/CMS systems. They would provide a means of tracking visitor activity to custom sites and allow this information to be passed to other systems. These dedicated tools are also very strong in handling large volumes of email as they are provisioned as Software-as-a-Service and can scale easily.

Both CMS and dedicated email marketing tools provide API’s that allow easy integration and extensibility. There is a cost to this flexibility, requirements need to be considered, and development needs to be planned and executed. This does have an impact on both cost and timescales and there are further considerations around maintenance and upgrades cycles.

For sure, there are some strong advantages in using some of the point solutions over a CMS system with marketing capability, but by utilising these are we compromising the bigger picture? A CMS is generally the key tool powering an organisation's web presence. By enriching the data the CXM has access to, an enhanced personalised experience can be provided to a user.

The choice of tools would generally depend on the dynamics of an organisation and what are the short term and long term objectives. Clearly an email marketing tool makes a lot of sense if a campaigns need to be setup and launched quickly. If a more strategic approach is required, it’s certainly worth considering a CMS with marketing automation capability (Customer Experience Management - CXM).

In my next blog I'll be discussing the challenges and opportunities of this approach, from implementing the technology to structuring the engagement model.

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