Consistency in multichannel digital experiences – Part 2: Technology considerations
This article is part two of a three-article series about consistency in multichannel digital experiences. In part one, we focused on the reasons for needing to ensure consistency and highlighted five best practices for creating consistent experiences.
In the current article, we’ll continue with considerations for deciding on the best architecture and technologies, and we’ll round things off in part three with a breakdown of what to keep top of mind to ensure customers’ experience remains consistent as they interact with your brand on different channels.
A design system is one of the most reliable resources for ensuring consistency in digital experiences. It allows you to define design standardizations for different channels, functioning as a kind of library of reusable elements which you can pick and choose from depending on your specific need.
We would recommend using a design system alongside other approaches, especially if your brand consists of multiple domains or sub-brands, and thus involves/requires efficient collaboration between several different stakeholders and teams.
Content management system / digital experience platform
More often than not, your website and/or your entire digital infrastructure will be powered by a content management system – or, to use a modern but more or less synonymous term – a digital experience platform. There are two main categories here:
a) Proprietary CMS / Software as a Service
Platforms such as Adobe Experience Manager, Optimizely and Salesforce are all significantly streamlined, both for the web and as well as the broader digital ecosystem, and they function perfectly as closed systems with a wide range of capabilities.
When it gets tricky, though, is when the SaaS platform lacks a specific piece of functionality that’s of vital strategic importance for your brand, and you aren’t able to develop your own solution or comb through the community for potential existing solutions due to the closed-source nature of the code.
Migrating off of a closed system, however, will require a lot of time, effort and resources, and may even result in losing users and/or pieces of content, which is why it poses quite a significant risk in the fast-evolving landscape that we’re in.
What this means is that you’ll likely decide to stay on the already chosen platform and forswear the new desired functionality. If you were able to already identify this as a major potential future setback in the platform evaluation process, it’s most likely best to go with a more open platform instead, where you’ll have more flexibility and thus guarantee greater future-readiness.
b) Open-source CMS / open DXP
As opposed to a SaaS solution for managing your digital experiences, an open-source platform will give you greater flexibility and longevity, at the cost of a bigger initial investment.
Traditional CMS platforms such as WordPress and Drupal have come a long way since the monolithic web content management and are now optimized to power multichannel experiences on a high level.
A middle ground option could be using an open DXP such as the Drupal-based Acquia, which will give you the best of both worlds – quick and pain-free startup without sacrificing customization capabilities in the long run.
APIs and headless / decoupled setups
APIs are the glue that holds together and enables the multiplicity of digital experiences. As just mentioned, traditional content management platforms are now able to power more than just monolithic web experiences through streamlined API initiatives such as Drupal’s JSON:API.
This allows a traditional CMS to be used as a decoupled / headless CMS, with the front end separated from the database and as such the perfect fit for consistent multichannel experiences, where a robust database functions as a content repository which is able to serve content to multiple front ends.
You can also opt for a headless-first CMS such as Contentful if you’re already starting out with a need for multiple diverse channels, which sacrifices coupled functionality for more streamlined and efficient decoupled capabilities.
Despite how streamlined CMS and DX platforms have become, there will come scenarios where you’ll need to make use of custom code, either for a new feature or to compensate for some technical debt and/or infrastructure limitations. Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios of using custom development.
a) Completely custom-code
Custom development for the main content platform and each specific channel will almost by necessity be both costly and time-consuming, both of which are a poor fit for the current fast-moving landscape. This is precisely why frameworks and libraries exist.
On the other hand, developing certain features or pieces of functionality you need for your platform, but then releasing them publicly as open source is one of the best things you can do, especially if you rely heavily on the open-source technology that it’s a part of. Again – this is why frameworks and libraries exist; because of the drive to empower others as much as oneself.
b) Custom close-source framework(s)
Similarly, creating a full-fledged close-source framework for your business would most likely be overkill – if you’re not Google or Apple, that is. That would require an enormous amount of planning and resources with a meticulous strategy, all of which are unprecedentedly difficult to guarantee in such volatile times.
So, for the vast majority of companies which are not the likes of Google or Apple, creating an entire custom framework without any intention of releasing it publicly would make zero business sense, especially with the abundance of excellent open-source and proprietary options available.
c) Custom CMS
Depending on your specific needs and/or existing technology infrastructure, you may consider building a custom content management system that best suits either scenario rather than any of the options we outlined earlier.
What you’ll likely find, though, is that a lot of existing SaaS solutions will be able to satisfy those needs, and the top open-source options are so streamlined and flexible that they easily integrate with any kind of technology stack and enable almost unlimited customization.
So, unless none of the existing options caters to your specific needs, you should opt for an existing CMS / digital experience platform rather than expend a lot of resources on reinventing the wheel.
In the second article on consistent multichannel experiences, we looked at the main technology solutions for creating them. Don’t miss the third and final part early next week, in which we’ll conclude the series with a breakdown of the considerations that should guide you along the process of creating and implementing consistent customer experiences.