Digital experiences and why they’re more important than ever

Think of the last time you purchased something. Maybe you saw something you liked on Instagram, and you clicked through to the website and added the item to your cart. After a little more browsing, you used PayPal to purchase it. After payment, you receive a digital receipt and — if you're a new customer — a welcome email. Now you receive a newsletter every few weeks with new products and special offers.

Each of these steps — from the first glance of your new purchase to newsletters in your inbox —is a digital experience. And each one told you something about the brand you interacted with, built trust, and (hopefully!) brought some joy.

So what is a digital experience?

Digital experience, sometimes referred to as DX, is a term that describes any online interaction that an individual has with a business or organization. Digital experiences aren't limited to websites or apps. A digital experience can be a screen display, a smartwatch or a smart home device, just to name a few. The term "digital experience" also encompasses less obvious digital interactions such as chat boxes, email communication, payment systems, artificial intelligence and facial recognition. The keyword is “digital,” as the interaction has to happen, you guessed it, digitally.  

Some people use the terms "customer experience” and “digital experience” interchangeably. While they are related, they actually refer to two different things. A digital experience is a single interaction, such as looking at a digital screen or logging into a banking app. A customer experience covers all the interactions had by a customer. These can include offline experiences, too.

To be successful in the digital-first era, you need to be thinking about both the customer and digital experience. It’s critical they are seamless. You might have a sparkling new website, but it’s no good if your payment system is outdated. You can't only address one link in the chain; there needs to be cohesion throughout your digital, and in-store, experiences. 

It’s the digital-first era

Aside from going to the corner store for milk, for the majority of us, software touches nearly every transaction or interaction we have with a brand or company. This is a positive thing, mostly. We're getting to know brands better and can choose brands that align with our personal ethics and values. We're always in-the-know about deals, offers, and new drops. We have access to apps that make daily tasks like exercising, shopping and checking into a flight more streamlined and convenient. Digital experiences have become inextricably intertwined with our lives. 

Whether we are ready or not, we are entering into the digital-first era. For a brand, digital is no longer a value-add; instead, it's a core competency. Brands need to have the ability to create and deliver digital experiences and do it fast. It's evident from our own lives that brands that are keeping up –– that are thriving –– are doing so because of the content and digital experiences they are creating. 

And it's not just born-digital or tech companies, and the odd outlier, that are serving up digital experiences –– it's everybody. Or more truthfully, it should be everybody. From toilet paper companies offering subscription services to enterprises selling software, nobody is immune to the digital-first era. Those who don't get on board will quickly be left behind. 

It comes down to this: as part of the digital-first era, the ability to leverage apps, data and analytics will be crucial for companies wanting to succeed in today's economy. If this seems like a lot, it's because it is. Let's start from the beginning: what is a digital experience? What makes a good one? And why providing this level of digital interaction isn't as hard as you might think. 

Why are digital experiences important? 

Customers want more. They want to purchase directly from Instagram feeds. Customers want facial recognition payment. After all, who can be bothered to root around for their credit card when Apple Pay can sort it out in two clicks of a side button. Whether it’s in-store or on the app, they want a seamless experience that doesn't feel disjointed. 

Digital experiences are quickly becoming the primary way that companies interact with clients. With the world moving swiftly into the digital-first era -– even more so now that we've been dealing with Covid-19 –– digital experiences are going to replace brick-and-mortar stores as the leading way to do business. This isn't to say that storefronts are going to close up forever. Instead, they are going to become a secondary touchpoint. The job of the in-store experience is to be cohesive with the digital experience –– not the other way round. 

It's no secret that consumers have an abundance of choices. Where they might have gone to Target to buy a black t-shirt in the past, now they have thousands of options to buy that same black t-shirt. And if you're one of the people selling a black t-shirt, you're left scrambling for something to differentiate yourself from your competitors. 

Your ability to create and deliver digital experiences and products is your biggest differentiator. Providing a better, more engaging experience than your competitor is key. With that many competitors, there is no room for bland or bad experiences. 

How do you ensure your digital experiences stand out? 

Your technology must match your ambitions. As we move into the digital-first era, evaluating whether your tools and technology is a help, not a hindrance, is critical. Do you have a flexible, agile workflow that allows you to create and deliver content quickly? Or are you struggling through workarounds and barriers? If it's the latter, you’re showing strong symptoms that you need to transform now, or risk getting left behind. Here's how to get started: 

  • Provide the tools. You’ll need a content platform, as part of a digital experience platform (DXP), that is flexible, customizable and created for the digital-first era. 

  • Employ, or champion, digital builders. These are people who can envision a digital experience, and work with an agile team to create it.          

  • Consider what's next. The digital-first era is defined by rapid change. The digital experiences of today are not going to be the same in two years. Your technology should be ready for the future. Ask: is my tech ready for facial recognition software? Or artificial intelligence? If no, then now is the time!     

Contentful helps some of the largest brands build their digital experiences — learn more about how we can help you, too.

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