In our previous blog post, we focused on the speed with which the changes companies are now struggling with came about. Whereas it took years for the full impact of disruptive business models, from Amazon to Uber, to be felt, COVID-19 reshaped the landscape of work, education, commerce and government in a matter of months.
If things had changed quickly and we had been able to settle into a “new normal” with relative ease, that would have been one thing. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Instead, the present moment is characterized by both ongoing change and lingering uncertainty with regard to what lies ahead.
To forge a path forward under such circumstances, as we have shown, organizations need to be able to move quickly. But what makes such speed, such agility possible?
The answer is flexibility. Flexibility means that you have options. In this post, I will describe the primary characteristics of a digital experience infrastructure that provides the kind of flexibility that companies need now (hint: it must be open!). Along the way I will also highlight something else. Namely, when you have options and a flexible, open infrastructure, then your organization can face even the most unexpected changes with confidence and, above all, resilience.
A Pandemic Gets People Baking Again
King Arthur Flour is the country’s oldest flour company. While you might not associate agility with a company that has been around for 230 years (give or take), you would have to admit that remaining in business for that long definitely points to a high level of resilience. In the company’s response to the changes brought about by the pandemic, that resilience – along with a fair amount of agility – has been on full display.
The stay-at-home orders and social distancing mandated by governments across the country had at least one unanticipated consequence: people started to do a lot of baking. As a result, over the last several months, traffic to this venerable brand’s website reached an all-time high and continues to grow. With more and more people visiting King Arthur Flour’s website in search of recipes, how-to videos and other instructional content, website sessions are up 260% and e-commerce sales have increased 200% year over year.
To meet this rising interest and drive customer engagement, the company worked with its agency partners to conceive and build a new, content-driven web experience. While the previous version of the company’s website did feature thousands of recipes, it wasn’t built to host dynamic, personalized content that changed with visitor needs. By creating a site that tightly wove together content and e-commerce, the marketing team could now quickly set up new recipe pages, highlight key information and direct consumers to relevant products.
To envision an entirely new approach to the digital experience, and implement that vision in a matter of weeks, reveals just how much agility a company like King Arthur Flour can muster. By building the site on a robust, scalable cloud infrastructure, the company also showed that resilience doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s something you plan for. To that end, the revamped King Arthur Flour digital experience is built to handle unpredictable traffic surges from stay-at-home baking enthusiasts without failure.
To give you a sense of how intense these surges can be, consider this: King Arthur Flour’s sourdough starter page received 2.5 million pageviews in a recent 10 week period. By contrast, on one of its most heavily trafficked days in 2019, the day before Thanksgiving, there were fewer than a million page views for the entire site.
You Have to Have Options
When faced with challenges that are entirely new, an organization needs to be able to try new things. This involves quickly identifying and exploring options, pursuing the options that seem most promising and then continuously experimenting based on what worked and what didn’t.
Experimentation and exploration require flexible tools. Specifically, they require tools and systems that are inherently open. From a technical standpoint, there are two ways that your systems must be open.
1. Open to other tools.
If you are limited to the tools you have, or if your systems can integrate with some tools but not others, your options are limited. That’s clearly the opposite of flexibility. The systems you rely on should make it possible for you to follow a best-in-breed approach, one where you use the tools your strategy demands, not those dictated by the technology you own. To enable this openness, the systems you choose should feature open APIs and, ideally, be built with extensibility in mind.
2. Open to data.
Digital experience tools and systems have little value in the absence of data. Frankly, without data your options are limited as well. You can neither understand your customers nor create increasingly personalized and relevant experiences for them. This means that your systems not only need to be able to collect data from any source and use it to create persistent and actionable customer profiles, but they also need to be able to push data to whatever tools or channels that need it.
Because King Arthur Flour built its digital properties on an open platform, specifically Acquia's Drupal-based DXP, they had options when the pandemic produced an overwhelming demand for their content and products. The good news was that they could take their website in a more dynamic, personalized direction, and they could do so quickly.
Organizations of all sizes need this kind of agility when faced with today’s novel combination of change and uncertainty. As we’ve also tried to show, such agility calls for a flexible framework that supports both experimentation and, if the experiment works, scale.
Of course, if you have agility and flexibility, you also have a path forward. And with a path forward, your organization can cultivate the resilience that keeps companies going for years, sometimes hundreds of them.