Industry Insights

A Deeper Look at the Very Foundation of Organizing Your Content

Just in the last decade, our understanding of content has been subject to constant changes. We regularly revisit our definition of “content”, and how we should approach it in every sense of the word. For those on the “consumer” side, the same evolving relationship stands true, be it in a more subconscious way.

In the meantime, with the channel explosion that we are all experiencing, content and the ways we interact with it have been diversifying at a fast pace.  Being able to simultaneously distribute high-quality content on the web, phones, smartwatches, digital signage, AR/VR headsets, and many other platforms are not niche novelty experiences anymore but necessary steps in creating user journeys that stand out.

Avoiding the Knee-Jerk Reactions to Content Management Issues and the Endless Game of Whack-a-Mole

But how are we supposed to keep up with everything? Can we even begin to predict the next big thing — let alone prepare our content management for it at the right time? These are necessary questions that all of us should be asking ourselves. In this article, I have tried to approach these questions with a different perspective than what we usually see. Instead of knee-jerk reactions to content issues in an endless game of whack-a-mole, I propose taking a deeper look at the very foundation of content organization - or in other words, the way we set our relationship with content in the first place. By relying on recent reports, I focus on the key problems in building digital experiences faced by companies and move on to offer what I think is a substantial solution to those problems. 

How Do We Feel About Our Content Strategies?

It is unnecessary to argue how important content and content marketing are in 2021. The point has been made over and over again in the past, and it is hardly news to anyone. Instead, what we should be asking is how effective our content marketing really is.

In a 2019 survey, around 29% of responders reported no further success in their content strategy compared to the year before (2018). This should already sound alarming to us, but it gets even worse. Another study reports 38% of executives believe their content strategy performance is average or below. (HubSpot, 2020).

Pie Graph 2019 Survey from SEMrush and Hubspot
Sources: SEMrush and HubSpot

Where is the Problem?

The logical next step is to ask why is that so? Especially when we already know that companies are already spending a huge amount of money to fix their content problem, considerably more than in the past - and that the number of companies without content strategies are shrinking altogether.

Fortunately, we already have access to data published by comprehensive studies. According to “The State of Digital Customer Experience” report by CMSWire, the top 5 digital customer experience challenges are:

  1. Limited budget/resources
  2. Siloed systems and fragmented customer data
  3. Limited cross-department alignment/collaboration
  4. Outdated/Limited technology, operations, or processes
  5. Lack of in-house expertise/skills

If we take a closer look at this list, two facts immediately stand out: 

The first and the last challenges (1 & 5) are a direct result of budget constraints. In other words, these problems can be solved by simply having access to more resources. While being big issues, they are rather simple in nature — which in turn means that finding the solution is not the issue. 

More interesting, the other three challenges (2, 3, & 4) are also directly related to each other and share a common cause. These three problems all stem from a sub-par content creation experience. Content creation in this context applies to a broad range of users: writers, marketers, designers, developers — and anyone else who is on the creation side of the content. 

Unfortunately, when talking about experiences and how to improve them, we seem to be solely focused on consumers and their journeys. However, we cannot expect the end result (content) to work perfectly fine while pushing aside the experience of those creating it.

Moving to a more practical perspective, these three problems all point to the way a company’s CMS is set up.

To demonstrate my point further, we have to go back a couple of decades.

The Traditional CMS: A Monolithic Solution with Monumental Problems

In the past, as access to the internet was just turning into a common service in most households, creating content mostly required having a certain amount of coding knowledge (be it minimal). The early CMSs like Drupal and WordPress were made to empower non-technical users, who could now publish their content on the internet. They functioned by adding a visual interface in front of the underlying code. However, code and content were still bound together, forming a single monolith. This solution worked perfectly fine at the time.

The important point is that, at that time, connection to the internet was mostly a desktop capability. Problems started to pop up as technology advanced, and new channels were opened up for users to interact with online content. These monolithic solutions were not meant to be used in a time where more than 50% of the global traffic comes from mobile devices. 
This is why those three aforementioned major problems are still damaging companies’ content efforts. Just as a reminder, they were:

  • Siloed systems and fragmented customer data
  • Limited cross-department alignment/collaboration
  • Outdated/Limited technology, operations, or processes

In order to understand these problems better, let’s take a closer look at each of them individually.

1. Siloed Systems and Fragmented Customer Data

Monolithic systems were built (mostly) for desktop users. As a result, with the emergence of new technologies and devices, more silos had to be incorporated to publish content across different platforms.

Multiple silos feeding content to different platforms

Multiple silos feeding content to different platforms 

Having your content scattered across multiple silos is a huge problem on its own which should always be avoided. There are many reasons why that’s the case — including:

  • Difficulty in data retrieval and analysis (since user data is also scattered across different silos)
  • Hindered user journeys
  • Increased chances of security breaches
  • Harder to implement quality control
  • Generally slower operations
  • Limited collaboration (which itself is the 2nd major problem)

2. Limited Cross-Department Alignment/Collaboration

Multiple content silos naturally result in limited collaboration and harms communications in general. While cross-department collaborations are the first to notice the effect, communications within the same department will also eventually follow soon after. 

As more and more content is created, the confusion gets even worse. Workflows have to be constantly micro-managed to make up for the wasted time spent on unnecessary duplications or data retrieval. With enough silos, blind spots are eventually going to show up everywhere - resulting in team members doing the same work over and over, not knowing what they need is actually buried down somewhere in a silo.

The implications are too many to be discussed in depth here. Just imagine for a moment:  

A company is about to turn one of its concept ideas into an actual product and offer it to its customers. As is the case in most similar situations, it is extremely important how quickly they can go from the concept to the physical product. Now imagine for a second how complicated that is going to be if the product manager fails to properly communicate with the design team or that content creators, marketers, and developers assigned to the project wouldn’t be able to collaborate effectively to launch a targeted campaign and new landing pages.

3. Outdated/Limited Technology, Operations, or Processes

This problem can have different causes, depending on the specific case and also your perspective. Of course, in many cases, this could very well be the result of budget constraints. However, in more than one way, this problem could also stem from the fact that monolithic systems go hand in hand with an all-in-one approach when it comes to building a technology stack.

I tend to agree that this can be a major problem, especially if you are concerned with seamless scalability, future-proofing, and simply having the option to make your own optimized stack. In short, an all-in-one approach can definitely act as a barrier when it comes to implementing new technology or tool that you may desperately need - or maybe you have done your research and want to stay ahead of the curve by getting your hands on the latest tool in the box, yet you are bound by your vendor’s choices.

If having a perfectly optimized and updated technology stack is an important issue, voluntarily giving up your freedom of choice and bounding your options to your vendor is not the way to go. Not to mention, in an all-in-one scenario, you may even end up paying for tools that you rarely use or perhaps even need.

Headless: A Solution for the Experience Problem

So if the monolithic systems and their approach to content management and technology stacks are to blame for having less-than-optimal experiences on the creation side of content, then what is the solution?

The CMS industry itself fixed this issue by going at the heart of the problem - the link that made monolithic systems a monolith. By cutting that link, I mean separating the backend and the frontend (the visual and the underlying code). This solution is called headless because the “head” (frontend) is cut off from the “body” (backend). 

My goal is not to explain how headless systems work but to point out why I think they fix those three key challenges in building great customer experiences.

With a headless solution, you have a single backend storing all your data (content) in a raw format. The data can then be delivered to different frontends (computers, phones, tablets, AR headsets, smartwatches, IoT, etc.) simultaneously.

This means not having to deal with multiple silos anymore! Everyone can work with the same central content hub now. 

If you remember the initial problems, you can already see how we can get rid of two of them (“multiple silos” and “limited collaboration”) by simply abandoning multiple silos and opting for a central content hub. As simple as it may sound, getting rid of content silos will have incredible consequences, from better market analysis and shorter response times to market trends to flawless collaboration across the board, as everything (content and data) is now stored in a central repository.

Concerning the third problem (“outdated technologies”), I mentioned how it can very well be the result of an all-in-one architecture — inspired by monolithic systems. Well, by applying the same perspective, I believe headless systems get around this problem by encouraging a best-of-breed approach to building a technology stack. To put it simply, here, you have complete freedom to integrate any new tool as soon as you want it. There is no need to wait for a vendor to include it in your suite anymore. This obviously means you can go for the tools that your team is already familiar with, which can easily get rid of tedious learning curves.

While fixing the problems associated with monolithic systems is definitely a step forward, headless systems go beyond fixing the problems and empower users in other aspects of their work too. Some of the more important points include:

Omnichannel-first: The headless concept at its heart was a response to growing omnichannel needs. Having the possibility to simultaneously publish content across a multitude of devices and platforms can make life much easier for business users. Needless to say, a perfect omnichannel solution should also have the flexibility to immediately integrate any new channel.

Completely personalized experiences: Generally speaking, monolithic CMSs encourage pre-built components for the presentation of content, risking the possibility of ending up with generic templates supplemented with minor customization. A headless CMS, on the other hand, offers absolute and complete freedom in creating components that can be customized to the smallest degree.

Content automation and reusability: An ideal headless solution takes advantage of modular and customizable content blocks. This means, instead of creating a piece of content from scratch each time (which will eventually result in un-inspired copy-pasted material), content will be created in blocks. These blocks can then be rearranged, edited, and customized to create completely new pieces of content. Additionally, a perfect headless system would also allow you to implement intelligent content.

Listing all the benefits would require its own article, and it is not really the purpose of this article - for example, the freedom that developers can experience while working with a headless system is itself a huge point. What is important here is to understand how a headless approach can drastically improve the experience of those creating the content.

Is Headless the Right Solution for You?

Like any other choice, the answer to this question depends heavily on your specific situation and needs. In general, if those three content problems are also hindering your progress, then the answer is probably yes. The biggest advantage of headless solutions when it comes to content is their ability to get rid of silos and use a single content hub, and also their omnichannel-first approach to distribution. One thing you can always do is to try out the demos on different headless platforms to see if one suits your needs better. 

As a last note, what I think we all should be more thinking about, is how our content management solutions can empower developers and business users at the same time, without forcing one to compromise too much in favor of the other. At the end of the day, great content is created by those who have a great experience making it! 

Thomas Peham

Thomas Peham

Thomas Peham is the VP of Marketing at Storyblok, a headless CMS that provides developers with all the flexibility they need to build reliable and fast websites. Thomas is also a SaaS marketing expert, tech enthusiast, hobby runner, semi-pro photographer, and coffee lover.

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