Esri aims for data driven, personalised experiences online with Adobe

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez April 7, 2020
Location Intelligence giant Esri has moved from poorly integrated on-premise systems to using Adobe in the cloud to deliver personalised web assets.

Image of the world with Esri’s branding
(Image sourced via Esri Facebook Group)

Fifty year old, location intelligence giant Esri has spent the last five years consolidating a fractured on-premise IT estate into an integrated cloud-based system using Adobe tools, with the aim of creating more efficient, personalised experiences online. 

Speaking at Adobe (virtual) Summit, Steve Schultz, Esri’s Head of Marketing Technology, explained that whilst the company has ambitious goals to accelerate revenue growth, its primary focus is “making human connections”. He said: 

We’ve been doing that successfully, but now we are hellbent on doing that digitally. Personalisation and relevant, scalable content is key to that.

Eerie describes itself as the number in global leader in locational intelligence technology, operating in over 100 countries around the world, with 10,000 staff. To give you an idea of how its technology is used, it is currently working with the World Health Organisation and John Hopkins University to provide dashboards, trends and insights around the Coronavirus pandemic. 

It also currently has a GIS website that curates authoritative dashboards on the COVID-19 pandemic that are free for reuse by anyone. 

Five years ago Schultz and his team began assessing how Esri could deliver a better experience for users online, as well as become more operationally efficient. He carried out an audit of the company’s technology, finding a number of challenges. Schultz said: 

About five years ago we were simply an email blasting engine. There was no marketing automation taking place, our CRM didn’t talk to a marketing automation solution, and there was no reciprocity of data. There was just one generic web experience. We had no insights to our marketing results, it was just a generic one size fits all approach. 

Our operational inefficiency bred frustration. We were primarily on-premise, very poorly integrated systems and we had to rely very heavily on IT for content updates. That posed some challenges. This journey started five years ago, where I started auditing our tech stack and our capabilities. 

A big vision

At that time, Schultz sat down with Bill Phillips Jr, Application Manager at Esri, to map out the company’s aims and future capabilities. He explained: 

We were really focused on four capabilities - marketing automation, CRM, digital asset management and web content management. We are really focused on these as the core. And for two of those, the digital asset management and the web content management, we picked AEM to really help handle our digital transformation. AEM works really well with our CRM system and marketing automation system. 

Then on top of that we can layer additional capabilities. We were able to have Adobe Ad Cloud, Adobe Audience Manager, Analytics and Adobe Target. That set the foundation for our digital transformation.

Phillips said that Esri’s old online website and digital assets were “pretty basic” prior to adopting AEM. It was one size fits all with no clear strategy. There was no SEO, no personalisation, no analytics. In addition to this, all the pages were independently authored and the people that were authoring those pages had to be proficient in HTML and CSS - causing delays. 

Once Esri made the move to AEM, the whole experience was revamped. Not only did it look visually different, but according to the team there was a lot of stuff “going on under the hood”. Phillips said: 

We did a complete overhaul with a focus on analytics. We even put in components to help support personalisation. We shifted from offering single pages to offering reusable components, so that these components had analytics, SEO and personalisation built into them. 

We also made it so the authors didn’t have to know HTML and CSS. We were able to shift the authoring experience over to the folks in the business who actually know the content, they were the experts. Previously, updates took four to six weeks, now they can be done in real time. 

Since the migration, Esri has seen SEO visits go up by 30%, but it has also seen a huge decrease in the amount of content added to the site (down from 20,000 pages down to 1,500 pages). Site visits also went up “dramatically”. 

Key pillars of transformation 

Phillips and Schultz said that the key pillars of Esri’s approach are: cloud agility, content reusability, AI-powered content velocity and data driven personalisation. 

The cloud agility approach should be fairly obvious, with the focus being on scalability and availability. Content rest ability is about Esri becoming more efficient when utilising its content, which also ties into plans to use AI to make content more efficient. It is also hoped that the use of AI could also help create a better web experience. 

On the use of AI for automating tasks such as tagging and image resizing, Schultz said: 

So we reduce the number of images and renditions created by leveraging features like smart crop, which is optimising our digital asset management, then speeding up our content creation process. 

You increase site performance. I was sceptical when they told me the numbers, but JPEGs were reduced by 50%, image file sizes were reduced by 70% - that’s a huge win on site performance. On smart tagging we’ve optimised our content searching and site tagging with the AI capabilities, which is a big win on the web experience.

But it’s the data driven personalisation and creating personalised experiences at scale across the web experience that’s particularly of interest to Esri - where it has seen some strong results already. Schultz added: 

We can now personalise based on personas - company, geography, product ownership, with the list going on by demographic data. By leveraging Adobe Target, users can see content that’s relevant to them. Landing pages are consistent with content consumed prior to visiting the website, which is increasing the likelihood of converting. 

So, for example, you could have a supply chain landing page and the imagery on that page is personalised for specific audience segments, in this case a C-level, a manager, an engineer and an analyst. Three different audiences we are going after and of course the imagery and content we are displaying is relevant to those audiences. 

Esri has seen the form conversion rate for visitors to personalised pages up 25% on non-personalised pages. Year on year it has also seen nearly a 60% increase in unique visitors and a 30% year on year increase in form submissions.