How Episerver Enables Personalisation for Ecommerce

How Episerver Enables Personalisation for Ecommerce

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Summary

Episerver is the only technology platform that makes it into the Gartner Magic Quadrants for ecommerce, CMS and DXP (Digital Experience Platforms). Its heritage as an enterprise CMS often means ecommerce teams don’t consider it as an ecommerce platform.

However, its ecommerce capabilities mean it’s one of Gartner’s ‘Challengers’. The Episerver team has been rapidly ramping up its native commerce capabilities and personalisation is a key component. In November 2019, Episerver announced the acquisition of leading content personalisation engine Idio.

This got us excited and straight on the phone to Joey Moore, Head of Product Strategy & Evangelism at Episerver. Tune in to find out his take on the benefits this will bring to ecommerce and content teams.

Key discussion points:

  • Who is Episerver and where do they sit in the market?
  • What does the Idio acquisition mean for its personalisation capability?
  • What are the core platform capabilities for ecommerce?
  • What’s the focus for 2020?

If you want to learn more about Episerver, head over to their website or give Joey Moore a friendly nudge on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Read the full podcast transcript

Apology from James & Paul: we had to re-record the episode due to sound quality issues, so this transcript is from the original version but covers the key points. Please listen for the updated version.

James:

Hello and welcome to the 10th episode of the Re:platform podcast. Today it’s myself, James Gurd, and I’m joined by my ever enthusiastic co-host, Paul Rogers. How are you Paul?

Paul:

I’m good, thanks.

James:

We’re both ready to crack on with today’s episode. We’re happy to welcome Joey Izzy from Episerver, a market leading ecommerce platform that plays in a slightly different space to some of the other platforms we’ve had on recently to the podcast. Episerver is strong around digital customer experience and personalization. We’re looking forward to getting under the hood and sharing a bit more information. So welcome Joey to the podcast. Would you mind introducing who you are, what you do, and also just share with people what does Episerver do and where position does it have in the ecommerce platform market.

Joey:

Thank you. It’s great to be here. I like to say that I’ve got the best job title is, it’s a bit fluffy in it is that Head of Evangelism and Strategy for EMEA and APAC. But essentially I work within the marketing team and spend most of my time with our own internal teams. That’s sales, marketing, et cetera. I also spend a lot of time with our solution partners and customers, finding out their needs, their wants in the market, but also finding out how they are using our platform.

James

Come on be honest, who came up with the job title, it was you wasn’t it!

Joey:

Yeah, the evangelism piece I think too! What that really means is that I’m able to go out and enthuse the rest of internal team, but also our customers. We’ve got to provide a clear vision, very clear direction.

James:

And in terms of Episerver the platform…

I obviously know the platform quite well. I’d like you to explain to our listeners what type of platform it is, how you describe it and where it sits in the market compared with other platforms.

Joey:

So we would frame it as a Customer-centric Digital Experience Platform (DXP). It really helps growing organizations close their customer experience gaps. So the customer experience is way up high and brands, retailers and other organizations need the tools to deliver on those expectations. There’s obviously a very strong commerce capability but our heritage comes from content management. We have a rich content management suite to help create this fantastic experience. And all throughout the platform is a personalization tool, so not only machine learning but also tools that enables merchandisers to manage business rules.

Paul:

In the market place because there’s such a plethora of different platforms, which ones do you typically come up against when you’re pitching to clients, is it the usual suspects?

Joey:

Certainly within the UK in terms of Salesforce, Magento and Shopify, Big Commerce as well. But we differentiate particularly on the experience tools. Our competitors offer great commerce platforms, they have great capability. But in terms of being able to create rich user experiences, you’re going to be restricted by what those platforms offer in terms of native CMS tools.

The other thing is having the personalization tools native within the platform. The analyst community, the Gartners and Forresters, have found that companies get a quick time to value from Episerver. The ROI is greatly reduced because you’re not spending a lot of time integrating things like product recommendations or trigger; it’s all there already. We’re using the same underlying data to drive personalisation across the site and out into marketing channels like email.

Those are the two capabilities we really push.

James:

Can we dig deeper on the personalization and CMS angle please. I was really interested to read about the acquisition of Idio before Christmas and the intent to drive content personalization. What I want to understand is what drove the acquisition and what additional benefit is that going to bring to merchants that wasn’t already there within the core platform?

Joey:

Episerver already had a lot of personalisation capability in terms of products recommendations, for example putting recommendations with emails, personalized triggers based around user behaviour etc. From speaking to a lot of customers, there was a need to understand more about the content performance, having better analytics around their content. Customers are actually interested in what their shoppers are actually consuming because we all know it’s been a challenge for brands and retailers to get an ROI from content investment. What content should they create and how do they understand what value is in that content?

So we were looking around the market, developing some of the stuff in house and we said we need to get there quicker in terms of platform tools. So the acquisition was around accelerating not only our own roadmap but also the Idio roadmap. They had a very clear vision for content personalisation so the combination makes sense. In terms of personalisation, there are lots and lots of tech providers doing it. The Idio technology is some of the best that I’ve seen in terms of how it uses data to understand content usage and then personalize it.

James:

We’d love to hear a couple of example use cases because one of the things I always find challenging with personalisation is that ecommerce teams will say they want to tailor the experience, but there isn’t a clear articulation of what that really means. What will Idio do alongside your existing?

Joey:

One of our strongest customer segments where we tend to specifically get a lot of value is what we call ‘Specialist retail’ – retailers who really understand their market, their proposition, understand the products they sell better than those who sell across multiple categories and markets. They tend to have a lot of custom content and knowledge. When people are making purchases they often want to learn more about the product. This is B2C as well as B2B.

What Idio does is analyze all the content, understand the journeys people took to hit a certain goal and then serve content up to those users. So it’s really assisting, putting the content in the right sequence within the buying journey.

James:

Okay. So is this machine learning then, running predictive models based on shoppers who have done this before, what they did and what drove the best results?

Joey:

Absolutely. It’s dynamically tagging every single piece of content within your site. Really the different topics and content categories, building a rich picture for every single use of each content asset.

Paul:

Will that tie in with the segmentation features as well in terms of tagging content against specific segments and then grouping users? I’m looking at this from a personalization background as well, where machine learning is great but you also want to have some manual control.

Joey:

We learned this a long time ago about product recommendations, that you might want to suppress the things you don’t want to talk about, or target specific results based on a key marketing campaign.

Another benefit of Idio is around content analytics. When I’ve spoken to retailers in the past, they’re saying that they create a bunch of content but don’t know what’s working or what people are really interested in. Some of the analytics we’ve got shows you exactly what people are and aren’t engaging with, what they’re searching for compared to how much content you actually have on your site. So it’s a great tool for being able to talk to your editorial and content team to say “we need to be able to create some more content around, for example, holiday look books”.

The data model can look at popular content, see which attributes correlate with user interest, what was hot a month ago or two months ago. This can help inform what needs to be created and not just put stuff out there and hope it’s working.

Paul:

So this is core to the platform then? It’s not a separate tool? And how does it understand the content on a platform, do you have to spend a lot of time programming it, which is often a key issue that stops ecommerce teams from being able to truly do content personalisation?

Joey:

Time to value is important. We wanted there to be a simple implementation for clients in terms of content tagging, using the script to automate the tagging of existing content.

I speak to companies who’ve got thousands or tens of thousands of different content items, who in the past have said “we’re never going to be able to get to that stage of tagging meaningfully”. And so they almost don’t start. Well, if we can take some heavy lifting off their shoulders it becomes a more compelling proposition because you can get to the value quicker.

Paul:

I had a client actually with that exact same challenge and we never really solved it. Millions of visits and huge amounts of content, a zip file with gigabytes of images and someone being asked, “Can you make sense of this?”.

Joey:

Yeah, that makes sense. This is often the struggle with personalization, how much effort you’ve got to put in to set something up so you can then personalize off the back of it.

Over the last few years it has been relatively straight-forward for us to do product personalisation, for example create product recommendations with business rule controls. It’s harder to do that with content. All those companies, editors and merchandisers out there are tagging content manually. But how do you respond quickly to the market? You see what’s trending on social media last night or even this morning and then you need to be able to react and create those campaigns quickly. I think many businesses are tied down by the technology, but with Idio we’re saying you can automate this process to get differentiation.

Paul:

You previously acquired Peerius, How are you planning to combine those two in terms of personalization capabilities?

Joey:

Historically we’ve had very good manual based personalization and that involves creating segments and rules, then being able to show content to different user groups in a particular journey. And that’s great. But this phase I’ve called the ‘segmentation ceiling’, because how many segments can you realistically managed? There can be hundreds, and it ceases to be meaningful and also it’s impossible to keep producing content for that many segments.

Also product recommendations are now regarded as standard for most brands, but it’s impossible to personalise these at scale for a huge catalogue. I remember one of our large retail Clients had around a million products every year coming into the business and they just said, “We just can’t do this, we need an army of merchandisers to do what you guys do with your personalisation tools”. A lot of organizations who maybe don’t have the internal resource for merchandising are looking to technology to do some heavy lifting. So back into the original question. So we can test manually but also use machine learning to do all the heavy lifting for you.

Paul:

I’ve heard James talk a lot about the content and publishing side of things over the last few months. And it sounds like you’ve got some really good features there. Can you talk us through how this would compare to platforms like Magento or Salesforce, which have good page building functionality, but not enterprise CMS

Joey:

This is a lot of our heritage. If you look at the Forrester and the Gartner reports for web content management, we’ve been leaders in there for many, many years. If I think we were the only commerce platform in the Gartner magic quadrant for content management and personalization. Adobe is also in there, and they acquired Magento, but tends to be quite a different customer type than our typical customers.

We have strong capabilities around workflow. If you’re creating content and you want someone else to sign that content off to make sure it’s correct, we have strong workflows around that. With regards to commerce, you’re using the same catalogue all within the same page. You can just go into the catalogue and say, right, I’m writing this piece around what to wear to a wedding and I can actually put in three products directly page without any need for development support, it’s a simple drag and drop.

Paul:

And do you have anyone who has taken Episerver from a commerce point of view but isn’t using it for content management? For example, if somebody already had an existing enterprise CMS that they didn’t want to change but they really loved your commerce and personalization?

Joey:

Yes, we can do that. Often though they end up using the CMS because of the value you get from having the combined solution instead of trying to work from two systems.

Paul:

I was looking at your website earlier, at some of the API as you have available and you talk about headless being a possibility. Presumably that’s not as common as with some of the other platforms as a result of some of the publishing capabilities in the CMS?

Joey:

We offer a hybrid headless solution, there are headless capabilities there for the technical team via the API. But for the marketing and merchandising teams, there’s often no specific need to be headless.

Paul:

Absolutely. so next question. What does your multi-store offering look like in terms of managing data across multiple stores?

Joey:

One of the main reasons people will select Episerver still is the ability to launch multiple regions and multiple languages very, very quickly. All within the same application. Clients typically say that to launch a new storefront it’s days of effort, not weeks and months.

We work with multiple translation services as well to help speed up content localisation.

Paul:

It strikes me that a lot of your partners are enterprise focused. Do you have smaller systems integrators as well for SMEs?

Joey:

We have a good partner community in the UK, very different sizes. Some are larger partners that offer a full service, end to end strategy, or those that focus on implementation only. We continuously recruit partners.

James:

And are there any specific target areas for 2020 in the product roadmap, in particular capabilities within ecommerce where you want to ramp up technology partners?

Joey:

One key area is ERP and making it easier for what’s typically the most complex part of a commerce integration, so reduce the time, reduce the risk. When that goes wrong it goes wrong in a big way. The aim is to get more and more commonly used ERPs pre-integrated.

James:

Here’s a nice question to ask a technology company: cost levels! How does the cost model work? Many people are used to GMV-based pricing structures, like on Shopify or Salesforce, or tiered bands like Magento. Can you talk our listeners through how your cost model works and at what point does cost scale up rapidly because of the size of business?

Joey:

We’re flexible in terms of where value is perceived. So we have two models where the primary is based on the number of page views, which works well for a lot of organizations. There is a consumption based metric for increasing costs but it can also be based on transactions.

James:

What drives that decision? So say for example, you’ve got a luxury retailer with a really high average basket size, so order volumes are going to be quite low, but the revenue is really high. How do you decide whether it’s going to be transaction based or page view based?

Joey:

We work with the commercial teams in that retailer to understand what model works best. We have thousands of different customers now in terms of how their business looks so a one size fits all approach I don’t think necessarily works.

Paul:

Last question for me. What do you believe is the ideal use case for Episerver and what are your favourite existing Client sites?

Joey:

The ideal customer is an organization that has the ability to differentiate around the brand and the story that they have to tell. They probably understand their product and market better than most. And they want the ability to communicate their brand visions to their customers digitally. For brands I love the most, I really like the Farrow & Ball site and Polarn O Pyret. If you visit the Swedish site on a mobile using the PWA the site is super fast.

James:

If anyone wants to find out more about platform, if they’ve got more deep dive questions, whether it’s ecommerce managers or developers, who should they go to?

Joey:

I’m relatively active on Twitter @JoeyIzzy. You can always reach out to me directly – joey.moore@episerver.com and we have a whole host of great content on the website around webinars, white paper research pieces as well.

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