We have entered a new disruptive phase – that of the Experience Web, an enhanced technology architecture that's emerged from the proliferation of customer touchpoints, applications, and digital interactions.
At a time when content overload hinders engagement, interacting at multiple levels across the customer lifecycle, will be the key for businesses to promote active audience participation.
This new dynamic relationship needs to be supported by a modular digital architecture, built around a strong content management system (CMS) as a core growth and management tool.
Digital platforms able to manage not only a company’s core infrastructure, but also their data, website and workforce, will empower organisations to integrate business objectives, strategies and processes, while allowing content to be offered as a rich experience at every stage of the customer’s visit.
Choosing a new CMS is therefore a crucial decision that will impact a business on many levels. In this article, we illustrate the potential of the new generation of CMS systems and the importance of providing a personalised customer experience, and we offer insights into what upgrading to a dynamic CMS platform involves and can mean for a business.
With the focus placed on content marketing over recent years following the pervasive ‘Content is King’ mantra, it is no surprise that the amount of content currently produced and pumped out digitally has inflated to the point of being unmanageable - or at the very least failing to spark the consumer engagement it was designed to generate.
A phenomenon Mark Schaefer dubbed Content Shock suggests that the exponentially increasing volumes of content clash with our limited human ability to consume it. Therefore, the strategy adopted by many brands and businesses of simply producing large amounts of content, in the hope that it will increase customer traffic and traction, clearly no longer works.
The key focus from now on will be in creating actual experiences for a target audience, by presenting content to users in more relevant and personalised ways – all managed via a CMS that allows scalability, and insight into consumers’ usage, interactions and engagement.
Fig. 1: Data from the Cisco Visual Networking Index™ (Cisco VNI™), an ongoing initiative to track and forecast the impact of visual networking applications. (Illustration ©Inviqa)
The next five years, between 2016 and 2020, are set to bring about what Dries Buytaert, founder of leading digital experience platform Drupal, calls the Fourth Wave, that of the Experience Web.
Major advances are already on the short-term horizon, including wearables, the Internet of Things, real-time geo-location targeting, drones, and even self-driving cars. The intersection of these new technologies creates tremendous opportunity for forward-thinking companies to redefine the customer experience through technology. Digital marketers and IT teams are at a cross-roads: those that put the customer experience first will succeed. Those that fail to think ‘digital first’ will become obsolete.
What Buytaert hints at is that the role of websites is changing: from pushing out branded content aimed at attracting consumers, to user-centric tools aimed at offering visitors an experience online. Brands will need to re-think their websites under this new light, and will find the tool to successfully manage the transition in a strong, dynamic content management system.
As well as strictly managing content production and distribution, the new CMS will gather feedback and information from the audience the content aims to engage. Harvesting customer data and behavioural insights is becoming crucial at every stage: from informing marketing and sales strategies and driving campaigns, to enabling the delivery of more targeted content across a number of channels.
The new CMS no longer performs simple back-end management, it now also is a front-end tool that allows 'building, managing, delivering, and optimising digital experiences. The bedrock of your business technology agenda'. This is a considerable step forward in terms of optimising customer engagement activities, since marketing teams would now be able to have full grasp of the platform without requiring the involvement of a development team.
A great example of putting customer data to great use comes from hairstyling brand Fudge Urban.
Fudge swapped a traditional content website for a dedicated interactive content hub featuring user-generated content gathered from social channels such as Twitter and YouTube, to appear alongside product information, ‘how-to’ style guides and customer reviews.
Fudge Urban’s marketing team have complete control over the content displayed on the site and can customise the social content fed through to its homepage to maximise the impact of the site during campaigns and promotions. Nearly 90,000 users visited the site in its first six months and the site has become an integral asset for the Fudge Urban brand.
In its original form, a CMS was a simple linear process involving a user publishing content through a server, which rendered final HTML pages via a set of designed templates. Nowadays, such a straightforward set of actions has been made increasingly obsolete by the omni-channel requirements of complex digital ecosystems.
Fig. 2: Dries Buytaert summarises the evolution of CMS features in the past 15 years.
Tomorrow’s CMS has evolved into a multi-layered and responsive rich hub, built on reusable, modular content and meaningful metadata.
This is a dynamic structure, able to adjust and expand through the use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), to create modules that enable quick adaptability to device innovations, and omni-channel capabilities.
APIs allow multiple service integrations such as sales and CRM tools, customer and prospect databases, email campaign tools, configuration management, native apps, multi-lingual capabilities, and web services – to name just a few.
APIs also sync up business-critical systems in real time, with benefits including having live insights on customer data or up-to-date order statuses and stock levels for etailers, all of which translate in a reduction in manual tasks to sync data – but the opportunities are virtually endless, adding to the potential of this new kind of content hub.
Fig. 3: Example of dynamic digital architecture stemming from a content hub. ©Inviqa
The potential of a dynamic platform can translate into quantifiable business advantages, as the new generation of content management systems will enable brands to:
- Eliminate the costs and time associated with content research and subsequent duplication, by locating content regardless of creation point. Content is often re-created as it’s difficult to find what already exists across a network of multiple sites, teams, departments, and technologies.
- Automate and syndicate updates to keep content consistent and fresh.
- Normalise content across systems and silos.
- Speed time to market with new, content-rich sites.
But what content-rich sites will also allow is an unprecedented level of customisation and personalisation, which will in turn open new avenues for granularly targeted marketing, leading to enhanced consumer engagement.
Fig. 4: A content hub allows you to create targeted content based on the needs of your customers. Conversion and engagement metrics will create richer data to feed back into your content hub and so the cycle starts over. ©Inviqa
A brand that has merged platform potential with a great vision is William Hill, with its development of WHLabs.
This is a dedicated experimental division, focused on creating compelling customer experience innovations – of which the API programme has been one of the most successful projects.
The programme opened the company’s APIs, and its wealth of betting data, first to developers and subsequently to the wider public, to experiment with new gaming products and digital betting. WHLabs’ ‘window to the world’ is a CMS-powered website that enables it to connect with their customers and mine a wealth of information.
Data analysis has allowed the development of new customer features for speedy registration, better options to manage betting, finances and betting history, access to active communities and competitions.
And this is only the beginning, with the WHLabs Accelerator Programme opening its doors to tech startups working on a number of new customer experiences.
Marketing expert Mark Schaefer describes a new dimension that is now forming, where the Internet of Things and smart technologies will build 'a digital layer on top of the real world'.
This is kick-starting an era of marketing fuelled by an emphasis on immersive experiences, which need to be adaptable to multi-layered, all-time connectivity.
People spend nearly two hours a day browsing on their smartphones or tablets, and expect to discover timely, relevant and engaging content on their favourite platforms without having to look for it. To really speak to the target audience, the brand message must be delivered at the right time, via the right device, to the right person, and within the context of what they are doing at that moment.
A dynamic content hub will use contextual data – comments, preferences, geo-location information – to serve the audience with personalised content, product recommendations and services. This personalisation and contextualisation will be informed by insights derived from real people, in a process where all content is tracked for relevance. How are the audience receiving and consuming it? How are they reacting to it and interacting with it? What are the different levels of success for each channel and campaign?
Looking at a customer’s demographics, browsing history, device use, location, and so on, can open windows of insight into their interests, behaviour and content preferences across all channels. And customers presented with what they want to see will be more inclined to respond with higher conversion rates and brand loyalty. While this is not a new marketing approach, the ability CMSs now award brands to gather and manage this kind of data within one content hub, and use it to create fully personalised content, is finally becoming a reality.
While contextualisation is often seen within retail, all businesses and industries can benefit from this customer-centric shift. Media, entertainment and publishing companies, for example, can improve engagement and readership by looking at audience data and delivering customised content with each and every visit.
Organisations must start viewing content as the means to create personalised, contextual, and real-time customer experiences. They will manage these efficiently with a modular CMS architecture that, on one hand, allows data harnessing and analysis, and on the other can fulfill a company’s scalability goals, driving quantifiable business results.
Consumer feedback and insights are put to maximum use by natural cosmetics brand Lush, and its brilliant initiative Lush Kitchen.
The Kitchen ‘cooks up’ small batches of new products, to be posted online for sale daily. An interactive list of ingredients, and stories of how the products are individually sourced, accompanies each product page. If the demand for one of the batches is strong, the product can then find its way into Lush’s permanent catalogue.
This is a very clever way to turn a storybased transactional experience for the customer into a crowdsourced product test for the brand. And it would never be possible without the flexibility for content management offered by the CMS platform created for Lush. It is through it that the brand can manage multiple page editors and high-quality imagery, handle a high turnover of products and, crucially, provide a channel for customers to feedback directly to product teams.
The route to customer engagement success is to deliver a consistent experience across all touchpoints – something that can be achieved by a CMS that manages channels, campaigns, visitor information, and performance measurement via one centralised platform.
Fig. 5: Example of extensible architecture with the CMS at its heart. The system has a componentbased core designed for high productivity: all features of the software are separated into components, with minimal interdependencies. ©Inviqa
Because of this prominent role, a CMS today needs to be much more robust, connected, scalable, and flexible than ever before.
So how to choose the ideal CMS?
The first thing to do is ask the right questions to motivate the change. Rather than ‘Which software should we choose’, the primary consideration should be: ‘Why do we need to upgrade, and what are we aiming to achieve?’.
Answering these two simple questions would shed light on the issues that need solving and the business objectives that you are looking to be implemented – which will also provide a clearly defined set of goals to later measure return on investment against.
The focus has now been shifted from content management as a purely technical issue, to content management as the wheel that spins the entire marketing, and ultimately business development machine.
Evaluating a CMS platform is therefore no longer equivalent to pondering its price, vendor, or even list of features, but rather means measuring its weight against customer experience, marketing strategy and business objectives at large.
About the author
Myles Davidson is director of Iviqa's content management practice. Myles’s CMS credentials can be traced back to the dot-com era, when he invested in the development of a custom JAVA-based CMS platform to support the medical search engine Findmedical. More recently Myles co-founded iKOS Digital, which became one the biggest Drupal agencies in the UK, working for clients such as Lush Cosmetics, Vivienne Westwood, Royal Mail and Kenzo. At Inviqa, Myles creates and transforms digital businesses in media, publishing, entertainment and utilities, as part of Inviqa’s strategic accounts. Contact @mylesdavidson.