What is a Headless Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?

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In this article we explore the evolution from a headless CMS to a modern and sophisticated Headless Digital Experience Platform (DXP).
8 mins reading time
Adam Sturrock | September 3, 2020

What is a headless CMS?

Before we dive into describing a headless DXP, it's important to understand a basic definition of a headless CMS. A headless CMS is a back-end only content management system (CMS) typically built as an API-first content repository. The term “headless” comes from the concept of chopping off the “head”, or in this case the presentation layer (typically the frontend website templates, pages, and views) from the body (the body being the backend content repository). A headless CMS will still provide an administration interface to allow content creators, marketers, and non-technical business users to create and manage content. In short, a headless CMS is focused on storing and delivering structured content.

The term headless may be slightly contradictory to what happens in reality as a headless CMS is designed to support multiple different types of heads, such as multiple websites, mobile applications, IoT devices, and more. You could perhaps think of this as a hydra. For a headless CMS to be useful your organization will likely implement at least one head, typically this is a website powered by JAMstack technologies. Headless CMS APIs are split into content delivery (read APIs) and Management APIs for CRUD actions (Create, Read, Update, and Delete).

What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?

A Digital Experience Platform, or DXP for short, is an emerging type of software that is designed to enable businesses to rapidly deploy and control their digital presence and ultimately provide richer, more dynamic, interactive, contextual, and personalized customer touch points.

DXPs come in two flavors:

The first type of DXP is a full-stack, monolithic suite of solutions from a single provider, such as Salesforce Cloud, Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), or SAP CX.

The second type of DXP adopts MACH based principles and streamlines best-in-class microservice components, products, and vendor services together to create a solution that is greater than the sum of its parts. Common example components include CMS, DAM (Digital Asset Management), commerce, search, and analytics tooling. MACH stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless, you can learn more about MACH here. Amplience provides feature-rich, enterprise-grade DXP, CMS, and DAM capabilities out of the box.

In either architecture, a DXP aims to solve complex operational problems for customer-centric businesses that an organization may struggle to execute with simpler solutions like a CMS alone.

The benefits of a DXP

There are several benefits that an organization can benefit from by implementing a DXP as a full-suite or as a collection of best-of-breed components. A DXP centralizes data from multiple systems to empower teams to create, organize, control, and orchestrate richer customer-experiences (or CX).

1. Enhanced customer-centric experiences

DXPs combine multiple best-in-class services together to enable businesses to dynamically create and enhance consistent, lightning-fast experiences enabling customers to interact across multiple digital touch points. Deploying and leveraging a DXP strategy enables your business to be present wherever your customers are.

2. Contextual Personalization

Experiences can also be made contextual and personalized based on demographic or specific user data that is typically held within a single, inaccessible silo. More sophisticated DXPs implement rule engines, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) to dynamically generate unique customer experiences.

3. Robust architecture

A MACH DXPs have a great advantage over a traditional CMS or monolithic DXP. Microservices can be independently scaled depending on demand which can reduce cost. This architectural pattern also aims to reduce vendor lock-in as it becomes easier to swap components out over time as your architecture evolves to keep pace with your proactive digital strategy.

4. Insights and analytics

By connecting multiple systems together your business can effectively build a centralized data lake that your data scientists and the wider organization can leverage. Data can be interrogated, questions can be asked, tailor-made reports can be generated and this ultimately enables you and your team/s to make accurate, real-time data-driven decisions.

5. Business orchestration

A DXP is designed around how your business as a whole and the individual teams it comprises executes and functions on a daily basis. They are typically designed to optimize for jobs to be done, whether at the strategic or tactical level.

Components of a MACH DXP

In this section, we’ll briefly touch on and highlight a number of best-of-breed components that can be orchestrated together with Amplience to deliver a robust DXP and MACH architecture for your business.

1. CMS

As mentioned earlier; a CMS acts as your content repository and through content modeling is designed to absorb data from other components in your technology stack to feed into your frontend customer-experiences. Amplience provides a robust CMS through our Dynamic Content product and UI-extensions, advanced scheduling functionality, preview capabilities, and integrations enable your team with unparalleled control over your digital frontend experiences.

2. DAM

A DAM stands for Digital Asset Management. A DAM stores rich media files such as images, documents, audio, and video files that can then be queried, shared with other services, and injected into customer experiences when required. Amplience also provides Dynamic Media and our Content Hub, which is our fully integrated enterprise-grade DAM.

3. eCommerce

Companies that offer a transactional element embedded directly into a customer-experience will likely include a platform-centric suite of eCommerce APIs such as CommerceTools. These suites can be further broken down or enhanced with smaller components and functional best-of-breed commodities such as a PIM to operate your catalog, tax calculators, shipping rate calculators, payment gateways, promotion engines, cart services, and more.

4. Search Engines

Search experiences are typically embedded into customer-experiences enabling the customer to easily search and navigate content and products that are relevant to their needs in the moment. Amplience provides a fully integrated search API but if your business is looking to leverage a best-of-breed component Constructor.io or Algolia would make a great starting point in your evaluation process.

5. CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

A CRM is the source of truth for all past and present customer interactions across all digital touch points and enables you to map customer journeys. A CRM provides data and actionable insights for your team based on this interaction and engagement data. A CRM should be integrated with your DXP to enrich information within the customer journey and experience itself. CRMs you might consider include Pipedrive and Zoho.

6. CDP (Customer Data Platform)

A Customer Data Platform acts as the central warehouse that stores all customer data. This is similar to a CRM in some regards but focuses on being a data lake of events, attributes, preferences, and more. A CDP typically receives large volumes of data from multiple systems, stores it for later use, and dispatches data out to enrich other systems and experiences. An industry-leading CDP is Segment.

7. BI (Business Intelligence, Analytics & Reporting)

Business Intelligence tools typically sit within or on top of multiple best-of-breed components, data sources, and the CDP. These tools enable your team to query data, generate reports, and make data-driven decisions. If you’re evaluating BI solutions we highly recommend evaluating tools such as Looker or Chartio which integrate seamlessly with CDPs.

8. CEM (Customer Experience Management)

CEMs are relatively new but form another component of a DXP, these include chatbots, communication automation tools, and NPS tools to enhance support, customer engagement, and feedback services. Drift and Intercom provide robust chatbots and communication automation tooling.

9. CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation)

Conversion rate optimization products focus on improving conversion rates by compelling visitors to your site to take specific actions like buying a product, downloading a PDF, or subscribing to a newsletter.

Although CRO is often used to make small, incremental improvements, its broader purpose is to optimize your entire marketing process. The more optimized your marketing machine, the higher your conversion rate. CRO can include broad A/B testing solutions such as Optimizely or focus on specific aspects of the customer journey such as checkout optimization tools like Bolt or Fast.

10. AI (Artificial Intelligence)

More technical sophisticated and advanced organizations look to leverage AI tools to enhance their DXP’s existing capabilities and teams. Some components mentioned above leverage AI as part of their offering, such as Constructor.io and stand-alone offerings with niche purposes also exist.

Should your business implement a DXP?

Businesses that need a DXP have or are looking to deploy multiple customer touch points, a diverse audience, or multiple customer segments, are undergoing digital transformation focused on the customer experience, and use technology as a main competitive weapon for their business. By implementing a DXP a business would see immediate benefits from delivering a fully connected experience to their customers.

Following are some questions to ask if you’re wondering about incorporating a digital experience platform:

How many touch points and customer experiences do you have or are you looking to deliver?

If you have several digital and in-store touch points, a DXP can save your brand a lot of time, effort, and energy.

Are you a digital native or digitally driven retailer or brand?

DXPs work for online businesses regardless of whether or not they have physical retail stores.

Do you reach a diverse audience or engage with multiple customer segments?

With multiple, disparate touch points, it may be smart to use a DXP to manage multiple touch points, segment your audience, and reach customers on their own terms in the moment.

What does your current architecture look like?

The first indication that a DXP may be right for you is if you have multiple back-end systems that are siloed and not integrated with each other or you’re transitioning to or have implemented a MACH based architecture that requires control and orchestration. If you have implemented several of the systems and components mentioned above you will likely benefit greatly from implementing a MACH based DXP.

Does your marketing team and business leaders wish they could deliver highly differentiated customer-centric experiences?

If the answer is yes, then a DXP is probably a good fit.

Content production workflows are the central pillar of DXP

Digital experiences are powered primarily by rich content and commerce data. At the heart of this lies the content production workflow and management of the digital experience itself. Headless CMS platforms typically fall short of becoming a full DXP as they only provide simple admin tools that do not have full control over the frontend experience/s they are connected to. A MACH based DXP like Amplience provides additional functionality to manage and control these customer experiences through our advanced scheduling and preview functionality, UI extensions, integrations, and more.

“DXPs are the logical next step in your digital transformation strategy” - James Brooke, CEO & Founder of Amplience

If you would like to learn more about Amplience, our approach to delivering a world-class DXP, our features, and functions, or anything else, please schedule some time to speak to one of our experts who would be happy to assist you in your journey to becoming a customer-centric, data-driven organization.