Paige O’Neill is Chief Marketing Officer at Sitecore, a web content management and digital experience platform.
With COVID-19, what challenges do you see for marketers in the near future?
Most urgently, marketers today are faced with unprecedented challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between being able to do their jobs remotely and handling spikes in demand for digital capabilities to support customers, most organizations are being hit hard from different angles. Currently, we’re seeing more requests regarding digital commerce solutions to offset the impact of brick-and-mortar closures. Additionally, having stronger digital experience capabilities to communicate effectively with customers and even augment the shopper experience through apps and online ordering have been invaluable for essential businesses still open during this difficult period.
At the same time, organizations are looking to trim budgets and stay more conservative on spending while finding ways to maximize use of existing investments. Canceled events and reduced travel offer some savings on marketing but digital solutions that streamline processes, reduce costs and deliver better marketing ROI will stand out to help businesses recover sooner. Many organizations already have technology with robust capabilities or may be balancing a martech stack that has redundant features (multiple systems with lead scoring or marketing automation) and so they are looking to see where they can consolidate tools and use more features and functionality across fewer platforms.
More broadly, marketers have been in the midst of a growing content crunch, dealing with how to effectively create and manage content while engaging consumers across disparate channels. All this while having to balance a demand for even more content with growing expectations from consumers for brand engagements that cater to their interests. In the current climate, retailers that have invested in digital for more robust omnichannel capabilities have been able to adjust more easily to changing shopping behaviors.
Digital experience solutions are leveraging technology like AI and headless CMS to streamline processes and optimize content use while enabling personalization across channels. For us, this is a major focus because the cost and time involved in managing this all manually is already past the tipping point for many organizations, and it will only grow as digital’s reach continues to expand beyond the computer screen. Moving to a digital experience platform (DXP) requires a realignment and focus on customer-centricity. This will lead to a shift in culture and buy-in from all leadership is critical to leveraging a DXP effectively. Business will have to evolve to a point where they are continuously measuring their experience against business goals as well as consumer expectations—and this will be top of mind for many organizations going forward.
What is a Digital Experience Platform, and why is it a critical component of marketing effectiveness?
At its heart, a DXP enables organizations to both proactively engage customers through personalization and respond to behavioral and data cues, opening the door for interactions that can foster a more human connection and leave a stronger, lasting and positive impact on the individual. Ranging from personalized content on a website or in an app based on your interests and location to integrated AI or AR capabilities to enhance the virtual shopping experience, DXPs augment traditional commerce capabilities for a better customer experience. The true power of a DXP for enhancing the customer experience comes from its ability to leverage customer data so marketers can work smarter, measuring engagement and impact across touchpoints in the customer journey.
Since making digital interactions feel easy and intuitive is no simple task, a good DXP streamlines the work by removing redundancies from manual implementations so marketers can focus on the quality and strategy behind content, rather than customizing separate pieces of content for every possible channel.
The content crunch will only escalate as digital continues to converge with consumer-facing technologies, platforms and commerce. Brands today can already gain value from DXPs but, because the complexity is hidden behind the curtain for the consumer and the engagements feel more organic, the capabilities these solutions enable will rapidly become the norm. With heavy demand for digital solutions to support commerce especially right now, businesses’ needs are magnified and will likely only accelerate their adoption of the technology and, in turn, consumer demand for greater digital experiences.
How does the CMO demonstrate the value of an experience platform to the Board?
The CMO demonstrates the value of an experience platform to the board by clearly illustrating both the impact that smart marketing enabled by a DXP can have (e.g. making data-informed decisions, being able to personalize, being able to quickly make changes based on how customers are responding) as well as showing the impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. The goal of using a DXP isn’t just to get someone to transact but to build trust and loyalty that takes a one-time customer and turns them into a lifetime customer. The more a company remains top of mind to customers, the more value the company will see overtime—and that stability is something that helps demonstrate the value of a DXP to the board as well.
The current crisis offers an opportunity to dialogue with the board sharing examples of where having a strong digital presence is critical for most businesses today. Companies that have set up DXPs and are supporting omnichannel strategies are more equipped to brace for economic impact from the pandemic. Retailers who’ve shuttered their doors during the crisis are better prepared to service customers through high-quality, personalized and responsive websites and apps for e-commerce. Meanwhile, stores like grocers that are still open and receiving heavier foot traffic see more customers ordering groceries for pickup or delivery online or via apps to avoid the crowds and support social distancing. Retailers that didn’t see a need for online presences last year, however, are getting hit hardest.
Beyond crisis situations, one of the biggest costs that marketers see for their content isn’t from their platforms of choice, but the human labor involved in using them. If you can accelerate time-to-market for a new campaign, drive greater conversions, grow brand loyalty and set your organization up to scale with tomorrow’s demands, it’s easy to see this as the inevitable move for most businesses. In light of our current market, the added safety investing in digital capabilities provides to diversify channels for commerce will also likely play a role in future decision-making on the subject.
Can you give us an example of a company that improved its performance and what they did?
Sitecore works with companies ranging from consumer brands to quick service restaurants and retailers to enterprise B2B companies because, at the end of the day, content is what makes up any organization’s digital footprint no matter what you’re selling or who you’re selling to.
One household name that stands out is L’Oréal. Leveraging Sitecore’s experience platform, the global beauty brand was able to deliver websites for more than 15 lines across 60 countries. L’Oréal was able to optimize the site in terms of performance—reducing page load times by more than half—and, by using the out-of-the-box personalization module, enabled customer product offerings based on consumer profiles. This cut costs and administration time by consolidating more than ten technologies into one.
With regard to leveraging digital experience and commerce solutions in the pandemic, we’ve seen our users like grocer Foodstuffs in New Zealand promoting online pickup and delivery capabilities to reduce store traffic and help get groceries safely to customers under quarantine, as well as sharing content regarding its participation with volunteer organizations offering contactless grocery deliveries for elderly and vulnerable shoppers.
How should a company begin this journey?
Many businesses have taken some steps in the process already. For example, most restaurants that traditionally didn’t have carryout, now offer deliveries and pickup capabilities either through their own sites or leveraging services like GrubHub, DoorDash or Uber Eats.
Especially for larger businesses with customers and locations across different markets and geographies, it’s important to identify your primary goals—whether it’s streamlined capabilities to maintain consistent global brand messaging and content across markets, increased localized or personalized content for visitors, enhanced mobile app and site capabilities and faster load times, or stronger content integrations for digital commerce, among many others. Once goals are identified, it is critical to develop a roadmap and plan for implementation that can start small and work iteratively as it grows. Many companies will also partner with digital experience agencies, which help identify the right solutions and develop their sites and apps to achieve their goals.
What are some of the obstacles that businesses face along the way?
Many larger sites are built on customized platforms, which can be difficult to migrate content over to new platforms and, in many cases, can be difficult to update without risking having your site break down. The underlying architecture may be locked from further updates, and customizations and content may be isolated across disparate locations with multiple integrated but separate platforms.
Pulling all the pieces of a company’s digital footprint together into one place and making that content useable via a headless CMS model can get complicated because of this. However, it’s a worthwhile undertaking that will cut time and costs in the long run while setting up an organization to scale easily with more content, new markets and greater personalization capabilities into the future. Providing support for stronger omnichannel capabilities will set up businesses to respond faster to unexpected market conditions like we find ourselves in today.
On a personal note, as a CMO what are some lessons you’d like to share?
First and foremost, I hire people that are experts in their particular areas – and probably a lot smarter in those areas than I am! Then, I get out of their way and trust them to do a great job. I think it is important to empower my managers. My job is to set the vision, provide clear direction and prioritization, help eliminate roadblocks, and be a sounding board. I also find that it’s always easier to find time for work that motivates and excites me, and at Sitecore, there’s no shortage of that.
Recently, I’ve also learned that while we always knew market conditions change quickly, just when we thought the pace couldn’t get any faster, it did. Almost overnight, marketing teams all over the world had to throw out significant portions of their marketing plans and pivot to 100% digital. Even in the most dynamic of market segments, this was a reminder that the pace can always speed up and we have to be ready for anything!
Thanks so much.
INTERVIEW by Christian Sarkar