Digital Experience and Commerce Strategy from Episerver
One of the things I always look forward to when attending an event in this industry is the keynote that kicks off the event, usually on the morning of that first day and, Episerver Ascend 2018 did not disappoint in its exciting announcements and strong theme of innovation to follow in the next couple of days.
Where they differed in my eyes, is the update on the business where for me, they touched upon their goals as stated 12 months prior, and then showed the tangible results of that in action, which echoed the transparency many value about the organization. This was felt within the community as well, in one interview on site with Jake Dimare of Luminos Labs, an exclusive Episerver Partner, he shared “what’s exciting is you really see Episerver making good on the promises as far as their roadmap is concerned.”
Further to that, a common conversation beginning in the keynote and continued throughout the event was the nod to the dynamics of the market and the heavy weights whose presence is, and should be, trickling down to inspire change across many facets of how online business is done today. To gain exclusive perspective from those behind the innovation of Episerver and its product offering, I got the chance to speak with three members of their executive team.
James Norwood, EVP of Strategy and CMO
During his keynote, James brought up the relationship between digital transformation and digital maturity and how Episerver’s understanding of how one can be realized the best in the presence of the other drives their overall strategy as an organization. As he explains in the interview, how that looks from his perspective is understanding it’s not just about technology, but rather the “people factor”, meaning the various teams of people using the system, the nurturing of innovation, the execution of ideas and supporting businesses in “skilling up internally” to elevate the level of customer experience they offer. This premise was best echoed when James simply stated in his keynote, Episerver is focused on empowering businesses in “instantly realizing your brilliant ideas”.
From a consumer standpoint, James showcased some very interesting statistics they discovered in a recent report they published, Reimagining Commerce, where they surveyed over 1,000 consumers to understand the "what, where, when and how" they are buying online, the main mistakes brands are making in regards to the experience they offer and insight on how consumers feel about content and personalization.
One of the most interesting findings, perhaps because it is contrary to popular belief, is that consumers are in fact quite game for personalization with 87% in the study stating they’re “okay with companies knowing more about them”. In short as James explains in the video, consumers feel “we’ll give you that information, but only if you use it to effectively engage and elevate that customer experience.” Brands are being rewarded for that effective personalization as well, with more than a quarter of the respondents in the study saying with it they feel a higher degree of loyalty and trust in the brand. It is for this reason, James explains a prerogative for Episerver is to make those technologies brands use to personalize easier and more effortless for marketers and merchandisers to utilize in creating what he calls “irresistible experiences”.
Ed Kennedy, Senior Director of Commerce
To continue the commerce conversation, Ed went deeper into how brands can ensure they have an effective overall commerce strategy and to start, he recommends organizations make sure they’re executing the basics very well, and not let what are "table-stakes for selling online" fall into the shadow of the big picture. Similar to what James brought up, it comes down the digital maturity of the team which is the platform to bolster the digital transformation allowing it to really shine. One area he says this is most evident in is how businesses are handling content marketing.
He is absolutely correct in saying that content marketing can be hard for businesses to execute well at scale since it can be a huge drain on resources to get it done, especially with the “editorial mindset” he suggests brands take on. Pairing that with the technology element, even outsourcing to a content agency doesn’t absolve an organization of the need for an effective infrastructure to support their content strategy.
When I asked if there were any Episerver customers really impressing him with how they’re advancing their business, he brought up Eason, a book retailer in Ireland who stand out partially because they were an excellent example of how incumbent brands can still innovate to challenge relatively newer entrants into their market casting a shadow on their business: “Very historical company, 200 years in business, a lot of rich history but hadn’t yet made that digital investment and they did, and they did it very fast. Implementing the entire Microsoft suite for Dynamics AX, for their retail point-of-sale, Episerver Commerce to sell online and launching that in just a few months is very impressive. To really know that a change needs to happen and to execute it is impressive just from a business standpoint, to get everyone moving in the same direction but how they adopted everything Episerver provides like web content management, commerce, search, email marketing, personalization, they took the whole suite in our cloud service and turned it on very quickly.”
Justin Anovick, VP of Product
Ascend 2018 was many great things but it was also the time for the anticipated release of Episerver’s content recommendation engine, Episerver Advance, which was preceded by Episerver Insight, their visitor intelligence hub offering analytics and a visual representation of customer journeys and along with a few other releases, for Justin it marks “the culmination of what we’ve been working on for a few years and it really helps to round out the personalization and analytics to provide the most value to our customers.”
As with many platforms like Episerver, full-scale utilization can be a struggle for their customers and knowing the deep-rooted investment Episerver has in not only ensuring their features are highly adoptable for their users but in the information and education they provide on strategy, sharing of success stories and more, I was curious to hear Justin’s thoughts on the way in which digital experience teams can best advance their own strategies. Similar to his fellow team members, digital maturity was the measure he advised their customers and partners use to determine what feature to implement when and also, how to execute innovation in an almost tiered process, for example mastering basic personalization before taking on advanced personalization etc.
In addition to new product releases, Episerver did a bit of a unique thing in how they allowed their partner community early access to these new features and what came back was an incredible amount of innovation in how they could use them. To that end, Episerver offered up a challenge for them to essentially ignite their creative prowess and in turn, as Justin said, they were able to really bring the product to life allowing for that innovative insight to be mirrored in Episerver’s continued strategy of technology advancement.
Accommodating the ideas and statistics brought forth on stage and within the Reimagining Commerce report into my understanding of commerce strategy has been eye-opening and exciting. For one, the value of content is already secure in my world but it was no less shocking to see that "95% of the respondents in the study could be dissuaded from a purchase solely due to bad content" and for Ed to bring up that content is something brands struggle with to complete effectively at scale showed the need for 'content awareness' you could say.
That all reaffirms my belief that content is everything simply by understanding content is every thing. A product or service is just that until it is paired with the content to influence purchase and within online shopping that content comes in many forms, product information, retail commentary, reviews, recommendations, and so much more. Remember if a consumer is buying a product merely from a screen, no matter the size of that screen they need all the relevant supporting content in place, especially considering many consumers by the time they get to the point of purchase, have utilized sometimes dozens of content sources and touchpoints in their research phase.
These and many other reasons are why Episerver having not only a focus on offering exceptional commerce and experience capabilities but also in making those accessible and easy to use for their customers come together to make a very powerful strategy. If you’re interested to hear the thoughts of some of those Episerver customers doing amazing things with their platform, be sure to circle back as I will be sharing those interviews next on CMS-Connected.