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We’ve entered a digital-first age, where traditional differentiators like better products, smart manufacturing and great customer service aren’t enough to acquire or retain customers. Now, digital experiences are the cornerstone of customer relationships, but while many factors make up great digital experiences, the key to delivering them effectively is speed, says James Murray.

Great digital experiences across multiple touchpoints drive awareness, traffic, sales and loyalty. Conversely, a poor digital experience (even if it’s just a site loading slightly too slowly) at just a single touchpoint is enough to switch off a customer, prevent a sale and harm loyalty. Customers have simply got better things to do these days than put up with something they don’t like.

While many factors make up great digital experiences, the key to delivering them effectively is speed. Speed to market, speed to build new digital properties, speed to deliver the right content to the right place at the right time, speed to take advantage of the latest digital trends — time is of the essence within every part of the digital offering.

However, Acquia’s research in its Beyond the Hype report shows that digital leaders believe their organisations aren’t moving fast enough — and are arguably overwhelmed by the spiralling complexity of delivering and governing multiple digital experiences on a global scale. 53% believe their organisation should be able to design, build and publish new sites more quickly.

But while speed is undoubtedly essential, so too is that of control and agility. Speed without control is dangerous — imagine you’re fishing on an oil tanker and you spot a fish on the port side. You need to turn quickly to be able to make a catch. But oil tankers, while they can travel at pretty quick speeds, lack agility and control, and cannot turn quickly enough, which means missing that opportunity. The same goes for digital experiences. While speed is important, you need to have the agility and control to take advantage of any new digital opportunities that come your way, whether it’s the next big technology trend or jumping on a social media opportunity.

Indeed, speed, control and agility are central to taking advantage of what many marketers are now calling ‘design thinking’. Instead of thinking about what customers actually want, too many businesses are focusing only on what they’re able to offer with their current infrastructure, which restricts options and severely limits innovation.

Therefore, never before has digital ‘fitness’ been so important. You wouldn’t run the 100 metres in a pair of jeans and cheap running shoes, yet many organisations have the digital fitness of a middle-aged man with a paunch. They’re in no shape to run anywhere quickly, and digital opportunities, therefore, remain elusive to them.

Your organisation’s lasting digital fitness depends on its preparation. To gain speed and control, and to enable ‘design thinking’, there are three important things to consider:

  1. Work on your digital fitness
Any good fitness regime starts with a plan — and the same goes for digital. The good news is that 83% of respondents in the Beyond the Hype report said that their digital strategy is fit for purpose. Obviously having a strategy in place isn’t the be all and end all — you need to be able to execute on that strategy as well, and just like a real fitness regime, digital is something that needs regular work and nurturing.
  1. Integrate digital with everyone in the business
A nod from the top that digital is important for the business is critical in ensuring you can deliver on it. After all, how are you supposed to deliver great digital experiences without the support from your board of directors? In Beyond the Hype, however, more than a third of respondents feel they do not have enough support from their boards when it comes to executing their digital strategies. Moreover, more than half say they lack support from other departments within the business. These are the companies that will struggle to get any kind of effective digital initiative off the ground.
  1. Consolidate legacy systems
It’s old hat, but legacy systems slow you down — they were not built for the challenges modern digital businesses face today. In fact, legacy systems were built to solve a challenge that doesn’t even exist anymore, which is the webmaster bottleneck. Now, the challenges don’t lie with people, but with technology. To move to a design thinking approach, and in turn unlock innovation, organisations need to have a single content management system (CMS) that underpins everything digital. A CMS that can help you deliver sites quickly and easily, and help you manage a brand across different territories (while giving a level of autonomy to those regions) is crucial for success.

By considering each of these factors, and putting speed at the heart of everything digital, businesses will be well set to deliver digital experiences that stick with customers — and ultimately drive sales.

James Murray, is EMEA general manager, Acquia