What is a Digital Experience Platform?

Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is an emerging category of enterprise software seeking to meet the needs of companies undergoing digital transformation, with the ultimate goal of providing better customer experiences. DXPs can be a single product, but are often a suite of products that work together. DXPs provide an architecture for companies to digitize business operations, deliver connected customer experiences, and gather actionable customer insight.

DXPs Try to Solve a Big Problem: Customer Obsession

A confluence of factors has led many companies to start radically reengineering their business practices to be extremely customer-oriented:

  • Digital channels (web, mobile, and social media) have become the dominant ways customers interact with companies.
  • Those customers expect great experiences like Google, Apple, and Facebook.
  • Social media in particular provides unstructured ways for customers to engage with and influence public sentiment for companies.
  • Mobile devices provide location and immediacy, giving companies more ways to keep in touch with customers.
  • Data insight is making it possible to target an audience segment of one person with a highly personalized experience.
  • Digital technology makes it possible for upstarts to disrupt traditional industries: WealthFront for wealth management, LendingClub for financial products, and the oft-cited Uber and Airbnb in transportation and lodging—and all deliver a much better customer experience.

As you can see, digital technologies contribute both to the risk (e.g. upstarts) and the opportunity (digital transformation) companies are facing.

Understand the Market: DXPs Come From Heritage Categories

Most products being positioned as DXPs have their roots in one of three categories: Content Management Systems, Portal Servers, and Commerce Servers. These roots give each set of offerings a particular orientation:

  • CMS-heritage DXPs focus on the needs of marketing departments and creative agencies. Customer data they collect tend to be anonymous and generalized into audience segments. Most business problems solved by these products are related to the acquisition of customers: generating awareness and interest, targeting offers, and accelerating purchases. They do particularly well in B2C (retail, fashion) scenarios where the sales cycle is short and transactional, and audiences are large.

    The leading CMS-heritage DXPs have strong offerings for web-based analytics, user segmentation, advertising campaigns, and email campaigns. These are often provided by products in the platform suite, but because they are separate (and likely acquired from other vendors) they may be less or more well integrated with each other.

    Some CMS-heritage DXPs have tried to add portal-like features like logged-in experiences, and some include commerce capabilities; the latter are often the result of an acquisition or partnership.

  • Portal-heritage DXPs, given their background in providing customer portals, are particularly suited for nurturing long-term customer relationships after the sale. Customer data is specific to each individual and is handled securely. These DXPs help companies understand the factors that lead to customer loyalty, retention and renewal. They may help calculate well-known metrics like Net Promoter Score. They can often help you provide customer service, including both self-service and representative-assisted issue resolution.

    Portal-heritage DXPs also support digital workplace scenarios (traditionally intranets, though digital workplace solutions must be much more dynamic and engaging) and scenarios for engaging supporting audiences such as partners, suppliers, and franchisees. A full digital transformation strategy can potentially encompass all of these groups, which play important roles in supporting strong customer experiences.

    Good portal-heritage DXPs should also have a strong story around integration, which is essential to deep digital transformation of business operations, according to Forrester. Management of reusable services and modules is helpful when strategy is evolving quickly.

    Some portal-heritage DXPs include a broad feature set, including content management, targeting, mobile support, workflow, and forms; others concentrate mainly on the presentation layer.

  • Commerce-heritage DXPs are used in online shopping scenarios by companies in retail and related industries. In addition to product-related content delivery to e-commerce-style web interfaces, these products usually also provide capabilities around inventory management, shopping cart, payment integration, check-out and fulfillment. Though these features aren’t strictly related to digital experience management, it’s clear that a great digital retail experience requires seamless integration to these functions, which come naturally to commerce-heritage DXPs.

    Naturally, commerce-heritage DXPs are also adding adjacent capabilities, though in a commerce-centric way. For example, many commerce products have needed to add content management capability to support the promotion of products in the catalog.

  CMS-heritage Portal-heritage Commerce-heritage
Sample Vendors

Adobe Experience Manager (formerly Day CQ5; part of Adobe Marketing Cloud)

Sitecore Experience Platform (formerly Sitecore CMS)

Backbase Customer Experience Platform

Liferay Digital Experience Platform (includes the former Liferay Portal product and additional supporting products)

Hybris (acquired by SAP)

Broadleaf Commerce


Business type B2C, especially transactional purchases B2B, or B2C with complex sales cycles and repeat business B2C, especially retail
Industries Retail, fashion, advertising, media and broadcasting, entertainment, journalism Insurance, government, retail banking, manufacturing Retail, fashion, food, music/entertainment, electronics, travel, hospitality, telecommunications
Customer Relationship Stage Pre-purchase Lead nurturing and qualification, on-boarding, customer service Pre-purchase, order fulfillment, returns
Strengths Some of the leaders in this segment have mature email marketing, analytics, and ad spending tracking. Deep systems integration for improved customer experience comes naturally to portal-heritage DXPs, which also store data for individuals, not just segment data. Retail transactions in e-commerce scenarios are a natural fit for commerce-heritage DXPs.
Weaknesses CMS-heritage DXPs are less likely to have individual customer data and profiles, and are less suited for customer service scenarios. Some older portal-heritage DXPs may have the negative aspects of traditional portals, such as poor user experience and poor support for mobile. Some vendors in the segment have difficult-to-use content management systems with poor targeting capabilities. These are also not designed for deeper integration per se. These vendors also tend to be most relevant (limited) to retail scenarios, with functionality lacking in supporting more of the customer life cycle.

Technology Evolves: How are DXPs different?

It may seem that DXPs are just re-branded versions of CMS, portal, and commerce products, but DXP vendors take a different approach to the traditional features of those products, to meet new customer expectations and take advantage of new technologies.

Concept Old Way New Way with DXPs
Personalization and context

Personalize based on rules. (traditional CMSes)

Personalize based on role or static attributes. (portals)

Personalize based on behavior and context.
Digitization of business processes An existing process is put online (e.g., schedule a taxi through an online form). A new digital business model or process is created from digital technology (e.g., location services).

User segmentation and targeted content

Basic segmenting and targeting capabilities, or reliance on external systems for these capabilities. Sophisticated targeting of content or entire experiences regardless of channel. Advanced segmentation, sometimes automatically based on behavioral patterns. 
Omnichannel & continuity Multichannel approach: be able to push content to users on siloed and independent web, mobile and other channels.  Omnichannel approach: the platform connects user interactions from channel to channel. A flight change process started on a mobile device can be finished on the website or by picking up the phone. Additionally, a user’s expressed needs, preferences or sentiments in one channel affect another. 
Deep integration with systems of record

Traditional integration means:

1) Information is available to authorized users through a secure interface. (portals)

2) Information is usually limited to portal-based interfaces. (portals)

3) Integration with other systems, but with a bias toward making itself the main system of record.  (CMSes)

Integration with DXP means:

1) Customers can interact with every aspect of the company’s business processes.

2) Information is released to any channel including websites, mobile apps, digital kiosks or even ephemeral interactions like SMS messages and mobile notifications. 

3) Across-the-board integration of not only back-end systems, but also SaaS and web-based systems like Salesforce. 

Quick creation of interfaces A siloed approach to interface creation. The web channel is primary, with mobile being a second priority and digital-physical hybrid experiences not being in the picture. A comprehensive approach to interface creation spanning web, mobile and hybrid experiences. DXPs also consider the need to connect multiple interfaces together with consistency and continuity across interactions.
Digital marketing capabilities Focused on meeting marketing and sales needs. The goal of most activity is to encourage transactions (i.e., creating leads or converting sales).  Focused on the needs of the customer. Digital marketing is just one avenue to meet the customer’s needs. Marketing should be nuanced and sensitive to the sentiment of the customer. Savvy companies are as likely to engage a prospect with their service personnel to provide helpful answers to questions, as they are to market to existing customers in order to make them aware of new products or engage them as potential advocates for the brand.


Digital Transformation or Digital “Experience”?

When selecting a DXP, companies should decide whether they are ready for deep transformation of their business operations, or are focused primarily on marketing and brand awareness, as these priorities tend to reflect the different strengths among the DXP vendors.

Having an attractive website or mobile app is good, but more substantial gains in customer experience require processes to be re-optimized with the customer in mind.

In a Forrester presentation titled, “More Than Meets the Eye: Partnering Strategies for Real Digital Transformation,” analyst Liz Herbert notes that “Real digital transformation spans both the experience layer and the operations core.” Having an attractive website or mobile app is good, but more substantial gains in customer experience require processes to be re-optimized with the customer in mind. This responsiveness to customer needs can be achieved in a number of ways, from basic personalization of experience, to more advanced configurable workflows, to full modularization of business services that can be quickly re-assembled in new ways.

However, not all companies are prepared for that level of change, and may in the meantime want to start segmenting audiences in order to target personalized offers. Some vendors, particularly those that have had content management systems, can do this well.

Ideally, your platform will have both operational and marketing capabilities, so that even if you start with digital marketing, you won’t have to go through a second vendor selection process when you are ready for operational transformation.

Also, there isn’t just one way to achieve these goals. Using any category heritage of DXP in combination with an overall architecture for integration and modular services can get you there.