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Partners in the Digital Experience

Partners in Digital Experience: VMLY&R on Fueling Customer Journeys

October 21, 2019 6 minute read
We talk to David Mitchell, CTO of global agency VMLY&R, on how to create connected and human-centered digital experiences.
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Partners in the Digital Experience

More than 50 years ago, the United States achieved what many had seen as an impossible dream: landing a man on the moon. The Apollo 11 mission marked both a “giant leap for mankind” and totally revolutionized the possibility of how we can use technology to push limits and connect people all around the globe (over 600 million people worldwide eagerly tuned into their television sets to witness history). Today, the power of technology isn’t just seen in these milestone moments in front of the family TV; the internet touches every moment of people’s lives from the moment they wake up. The overarching influence of the web has propelled digital transformation across all industries and reimagined how organizations connect with their audiences. 

As the CTO of global brand experience agency VMLY&R, David Mitchell works to expand the scope of what technology can accomplish to build memorable and connected customer experiences. “Marketing begins with inspiration. Then that inspiration moves toward building connection, deepening that connection digitally and making experiences that can be shared with others,” he says. 

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As an Acquia global select partner and a Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Global Marketing Agencies, VMLY&R  has created award-winning campaigns for renowned brands like Wendy’s, Heinz and Sprint. During his career, David has seen a large shift in how companies achieve success. Brands today are moving away from product-focused offerings toward a service-based economy. “Our clients come to us for the rubric of how to create a connected brand,” David says.

Launching Connected Experiences 

The biggest differentiator for brands today is building experiences the right way. The focus is no longer on what someone’s selling, but on building trust and memorable connections with the people you’re selling it to. Within their own leadership, VMLY&R includes a range of creative and tech roles such as a Chief Connections Officer and a Chief Experience Officer who work to integrate innovation strategy, technology, human-centered design and brand purpose throughout the entire customer journey. David and his team design transformation from a human-centric perspective rather than a tech-focused approach. While everyone may be talking about the impact of “digital transformation,” VMLY&R frames this shift as “experience transformation.” They create seamless experiences where technology feels like a natural extension of the human journey. Innovating for new touchpoints and ways to connect is why VMLY&R uses a technique that they’ve dubbed “Content Rocket.”

“Content Rocket” works to orchestrate experiences directly from the perspective of the customers. This journey-driven development process requires David and his team to see the world through the eyes of their clients and anticipate their interests at different moments. Making this happen requires using technology to facilitate strong centralized management of an organization’s content. “You can’t just blast the same message everywhere. There needs to be atomization of content, and that’s why a central content platform is essential,” says David. Open source empowers digital leaders to uncover new possibilities and takeoff towards the future. But first, brands need to know how to get off the ground. 


Small Changes, Big Impact 


When it comes to creating a better digital experience, the biggest hurdle is knowing where to start. The path to transformation isn’t instant, and brands often get overwhelmed with trying to master everything at once. “You have to figure out the most impactful thing that you can do right now with the resources you have, and start creating results around that,” says David. Brands today are moving away from product-focused offerings toward a service-based economy. David believes in using centralized technology that puts the marketer in charge of creating digital experiences rather than getting overwhelmed by risky, unwieldy project plans that leave workers unsure where to begin.  


The first step to creating better experiences is listening to what your customers are telling you when they open an email, visit a web page or add an item to their online shopping cart. There’s so much data available today; brands just need to learn the right way to respond to it. “You should be reacting to what customers are sharing in a way that makes sense,” David says. The need to individualize messaging and activate it across multiple channels, regions and divisions is a necessity for digital marketers who want to earn consumer trust. “That's why personalization tools, like Acquia Personalization, are so critical because they help us combine, reuse and redistribute in a productive way. It means you can apply messages in the right context without having to rewrite everything,” David says.  


The Future is API Forward


In order to always meet customers where they are, VMLY&R is evolving their technologic approach to be “API forward.” They are confident in employing Acquia’s platform to deliver customer experiences because of its extensibility. Moreover, open APIs readily connect with legacy and preferred technology investments and integrate with new systems, making it more readily adaptable. Their focus on the language of transformation and open API architecture allows companies to focus their investment in how they’re orchestrating the customer journey. It lets them put that interaction layer front and center. “It’s orchestration from the customer's perspective, not from the back-end, business logic perspective. API forward is changing the language of technology to meet the customers where they are and allowing the actions of the systems to respond to them,” says David. 


Both VMLY&R and Acquia view the landscape of digital transformation and of open source communities like Drupal as full of unexplored potential. “Fifteen years ago the idea of open source was scary, but that’s not the case anymore. More and more companies are moving toward open source because they’re realizing that people want to have the option to do more. They don’t want to be locked into vendors and hit a dead end.” Nothing is off-limits and nothing is impossible. 


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