Your customer visits you on your website, searches for a product on their mobile phone, gets reminded of the items left in cart via email, signs up for ‘back in stock’ notifications via SMS and if you’re doing something right, when they call your customer service, the agent is able to pull up this entire history to give them a tailored experience. The era of web-only experiences is over. Not only that, customers demand that the brand understands their needs and are able to tailor the experience on every channel based on their historical interactions and relationship with your brand.
The Rise of the Headless CMS
The big challenge of this new era is supporting all customer touch points and providing consistent, continuous and meaningful experiences across all channels. This is why headless CMSs entered the market and their primary objective was to allow content creators to create content once and publish it to various channels by decoupling content from presentation. For example, a blog article would be modelled with fields such as header image, blog title, author, synopsis, body, etc and have no html or CSS describing the look and feel or layout of the blog. This would allow the front-end platform to take control of the visual experience and each channel would decide how the article is presented. The goal of these platforms is to allow content teams to create content once and deliver it to all touchpoints. Contentful, Contentstack, AgilityCMS, Kontent.ai, Strapi and many more emerged to solve this very problem.
The Marketer’s Dilemma
In the early days, a headless CMS was perceived by marketers as a developer’s tool and it quickly became one additional piece of the overall Martech stack that now needed to be integrated into the marketer’s workflow. The old school Web CMS platforms were quite sophisticated in providing amazing WYSIWYG tools to marketers for curating and authoring the web experiences, albeit limited to the web and mobile channels. Marketers loved the control over the visual experience they were creating, even though these platforms were rigid and it took a lot of customization and collaboration with IT to meet business requirements. Many marketers are still uneasy with the headless approach as it takes away the beloved experience management tools from them along with their perceived control over the customer experience.
With the explosion of the number of channels we need to deliver content to, it is a no-brainer that content can not be responsible for describing where and how it should be displayed and in what context. Unfortunately, a lot of headless CMS implementations are still replicating the traditional way of creating content, that is, for the web alone. They are cluttering up html into structured content and tagging specific content items with where it should be displayed and for whom. This undermines the entire headless movement and is in fact worse than even sticking to the traditional approach of WebCMSs. Now, we’re making the marketing team’s life more difficult without a benefit.
To make the matters even worse for the Marketing team, the content doesn’t just come from a single CMS. It is scattered across multiple headless and traditional CMSs in large organizations. The experience must be created from aggregating content from multiple backend sources and there is no longer a single point of control.
So, how do we make the marketer happy with the new world order and give them the tools to be successful in building relevant and connected omnichannel experiences? The solution is somewhere in between a traditional DXP and a Headless CMS.
Put Your Marketing Team Back in Control
In order to keep the balance between content reusability across channels and marketing control over the end user experience, there needs to be a clear separation of concern between the two. The modern marketing teams must be trained to understand the benefits of headless content and the relationship between content and experience. Where possible, the content creation roles should be separated from experience definition and delivery. What is required is a channel-centric Experience Orchestration and Personalization Engine that gives marketing teams intuitive control over what content the customer sees on each touchpoint. This experience layer should provide a top down, channel centric view of the experience so that the marketing teams can contextualize the content within its placement on a specific touchpoint. This experience orchestration layer should feed not only the web and mobile channels, but also be the connective tissue across the entire digital experience stack. It acts as the brain and neck of the composable tech stack.
Headless Doesn’t Mean Unintelligent!
In order to tailor the customer experience across all touchpoints, it’s important to understand the customer’s context, their real-time intent as well as their historical interactions with the brand. The Experience Orchestration layer must be aware of the customer’s real-time profile. This can be done by creating an identity graph of the customer natively within this layer or having a connection to the Customer Data Platform that creates a single view of the customer. Access to this profile would allow the marketer to tailor the experience for the customer at every step of their journey.
In keeping with the analogy of ‘headless’, in a composable DX stack, content comes from a variety of sources. The Experience Orchestration layer must be able to connect to each of the headless sources via APIs and pull content from each source in real-time without having to sync this content into its own content repository. This is essential if we are to leverage the delivery infrastructure of headless CMSs and Commerce Engines for the performance and scale that they were built to provide.
And How About the Face?
The face is the visual presentation or rendering of the experience. Depending on what channels you interact with your brand, this could be the web page, a mobile screen, an email, an SMS, a notification on your smartwatch, a kiosk or digital display at the store, and the list goes on. The goal is to create consistent and continuous experiences across channels, which means that we must reuse the content as well as the experience logic. The face should not be defining what content the customer should see. It should simply take its instructions from brain and display what it’s told. The actual look and feel and layout of the display should be controlled within this layer, but not the content itself. The Experience Orchestration layer, or the brain of the composable tech stack, can instruct the various faces or touchpoints to display specific content based on the customer’s real-time context.
Now, to wrap this all up, there are three primary layers of the composable tech stack i.e the backend data/content sources, the front-end and the Experience Orchestration layer. Experience Orchestration is the centralized control over the experience on every channel and is aware of the content residing in various systems, the various channels that the content needs to be presented within and the real-time context of the customer.