“The digital execution gap is bigger than ever and getting bigger by the day,” Opticon CMO Kirsten Allegri Williams told media and analysts at Opticon’s Optimizely conference in San Diego this week.
The gap exists between the experiences that customers are increasingly expecting and demanding from brands, and the struggle most brands face to even come close to meeting those needs. In his Mainstage keynote, CEO Alex Atzberger categorized the main elements of the fight as uncertainty, complexity and inertia.
Uncertainty is caused by a volatile environment where any marketing plan can be thwarted by everything from a virus to climate change, and from a disrupted supply chain to runaway inflation. Complexity refers to the non-linear customer journey created by the ongoing explosion of channels and content types. Inertia? Mainly caused by too much data, little of it actionable.
The challenges are clear – how to tackle them, less so.
Marketing without borders
Optimizely’s approach can be viewed as a two-tiered approach. Highest Level: Proselytizing for “Boundless Digital Inventions” based on scientific knowledge gleaned from experiments. Second Level: An environment where teams can work together to achieve the top-level vision. Let’s break this down; but first a brief look at recent history.
Episerver, as most marketers know or knew, emerged from the 2015 merger of Stockholm-based Episerver and New Hampshire-based Ektron to create a new trading and CMS offering called Episerver. Episerver was already positioned in the Digital Experience Platforms category in 2015.
Against the backdrop of COVID, when many brands were forced to step up their digital game, Episerver embarked on an acquisition spree, with the most significant acquisition being that of Optimizely, an experimentation platform that enables rapid, multiple testing of digital design decisions and features – and even allows testing different options for different audience segments.
Episerver was rebranded to Optimizely in 2021, and its web experimentation and feature experimentation capabilities (formerly known as Full Stack) have become increasingly central to the vendor’s vision.
In the case of Boundless Digital Invention, a culture of continuously testing multiple elements of digital strategy should increase trust, reduce risk, and produce measurable – albeit incremental – performance improvements in key KPIs (higher conversions, fewer cart abandonments, more clicks), etc.
This culture of experimentation encourages teams to fail quickly, learn on the fly, and constantly iterate. But it appears to require the involvement of multiple teams and a degree of orchestration between their efforts.
Orchestration of the entire content lifecycle
That’s where Tier 2 comes in – a new Orchestrate solution announced at Opticon this week. This offering builds on another acquisition, that of Welcome, the collaboration and orchestration platform purpose-built for marketing teams, acquired by Optimizely in December 2021.
Simply put, Optimizely brings together content marketing (Welcome), its long-established CMS, and its digital asset management tool in an environment that can be used by business teams, not just developers. The dashboard provides visibility into the full lifecycle of projects and campaigns and allows co-creation of marketing content outside of the CMS, reducing the risks of CMS usage by non-experts.
The environment can be used to plan, preview, publish and manage content across channels – and of course test different versions in selected audience segments. Mainstage demos contrasted the offering with collaborative content creation approaches based on email chains, text messages, spreadsheets, and phone calls—a contrast that resonated audibly with audiences.
But that collaboration, Atzberger stressed, needs to go beyond marketing to include product and engineering (because some of the experiments are likely to indicate changes that require developer skills). “First of all, we have to realize that marketing is no longer alone,” he said.
Dig deeper: Optimizely works with Google Cloud
The reality check
Optimizely executives openly acknowledged that the perspective they offer cannot be realized through technology alone. Significant changes are required on the customer side. For example:
The digital maturity curve
Many companies, particularly in some of the non-digital B2B industries that have had to reassess their commerce strategies amid COVID, are simply not ready for the unlimited digital invention envisioned here. A medium-sized or large but digitally immature brand may simply not have the teams or talent to continuously experiment and execute the results. A real challenge for Optimizely, as it has explicitly targeted traditional B2B companies and not just established e-commerce brands.
Optimizely recognizes this. It’s about building a bridge, said CCO Chad Wolf: “How do we get them there?” Part of the answer lies in a pre- and post-sales consultative relationship, and again, Optimizely’s extensive ecosystem of implementation partners plays a part.
Full platform versus à la carte
The Orchestrate approach, and more generally Optimizely’s holistic solution to uncertainty, complexity and inertia, seems to assume that teams will come together at a digital experience center (certainly with some integrated point solutions as well). And yet, like Episerver, it continues to allow customers to select and adopt individual products rather than the entire digital experience platform.
This is the second real challenge for Optimizely, not least because Optimizely’s pre-acquisition has built a strong portfolio of large enterprise customers who came to them for testing and experimentation, but not for a CMS or DAM. Chief Product Officer Justin Anovick acknowledged that this requires “threading the needle.” On the one hand, it was important to offer customers what they want and need; At the same time, there was a belief in the value of the products on the platform, all working together.
A third challenge faces not so much Optimizely as some of their customers. If it’s the case that marketers need to strategize and execute alongside other teams like product and tech, it’s not like every customer is ready for it. There are many brands with siled teams; Many don’t have a culture of cross-team collaboration.
That’s something Optimizely can’t fix via fiat. Here, too, the consultation, also with the implementation partners, can only show the most fruitful paths.
Dig deeper: Enterprise Digital Experience Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide
The promise of simplicity
Ultimately, Optimizely is betting that the promise of simplicity – in data-driven decision making, in workflows, in trading guesswork for experimental understanding – will compel brands to the type of solution offered here.
“The age of digital transformation brought with it the promise of limitless innovation. But as more
Technologies were adopted and data became mostly unstructured and isolated, the
opposite effect – marketers are forced to lower their expectations as they have been pressured to deliver
results within constrained workflows,” Atzberger said in a press release. “The future of
Marketing depends on breaking those boundaries.”
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