As chief digital officers look to invest in their customer journey, there is significant debate over the optimal technical architecture for content management and delivery.

Deane Barker, Global Head of Content Management at Optimizely, a digital experience platform (DXP), joined us on the latest episode of Martalks, to share his view on the importance of selecting the right content management infrastructure for a given business model.

You can listen to the podcast below, and read our summary of the key talking points.

Content as the core of any e-commerce experience

Before considering the technology for managing and publishing content, it’s important to consider the role of content in the customer journey.

Deane believes content – from the basic elements such as product descriptions to product videos and customer reviews – is an overlooked aspect of the e-commerce experience. He gives the example of how Amazon’s content experiences are fundamental to its effectiveness as a retailer:

“The entire thing is a vast content experience wrapped in a transactional shopping application. If you want to engage further with that, you can purchase the product. And a lot of companies don’t understand that; they kind of discount the content-related aspects of a commerce system.”

Barker further explains that for a customer to finally click ‘buy’ on any product, they have to be motivated. When you recognize that content is the key motivating factor, it shines the spotlight on the importance of adopting the right content management infrastructure.

There are some in the composable commerce space that would argue that “right”, in this day and age, would imply a purely headless CMS. Given Deane’s role – at a vendor of a composable DXP platform – you might presume that he’d toe the same line.

In fact, Deane recommends a more pragmatic approach to selecting your technology, based on your business model.

Composable DXP, headless, or web CMS? How to select a content management infrastructure

Deane believes that many retailers have caused themselves unnecessary pain by adopting a headless CMS that isn’t suited to their needs. Whereas they work for some brands…

“In just as many situations, they’re not appropriate, and they’re being applied with such a broad brush right now. I think that some customers are getting hurt, they’re spending money, they’re wasting time on things that are not actually going to provide them any benefit.”

Deane raises the example of maintaining JavaScript-heavy interactive experiences, when you only need one-way communication channels via the web, as an example of such a poorly-chosen setup. In the latter case, he advises that “you’re not going to get any more efficient or faster than server-side rendered HTML”.

We’ve heard similar things before on Martalks; in an episode last year, Rajib Das of Ignitiv – a system integrator – described a customer experience brief he undertook for Home Hardware, a Canadian retailer.

“We didn’t jump to react with JavaScript frameworks. We kept it as clean as possible, with as much HTML as possible, as much as can be stored in the CDN.

Only the components that need to be interactive, that need data to be refreshed, are the components that go out and call the server.”

This made sense for Home Hardware because the vast majority of customer ecommerce interactions are web-based.

Similarly, Barker suggests that the channels a business primarily sells through should indicate the kind of management system they need.

For most organizations, the web is still the main channel of communication… it is very, very appropriate to have a system that combines management delivery, content and artefact, and that would be a web content management system.

For markets in Asia, where apps are more widely used, a headless backend (or composable DXP) would make rational business sense – not to mention opening up a thrilling range of efficiencies and marketing possibilities.

Dean describes the Optimizely DXP as…

“…a web content management system that happens to have a brilliant headless CMS, hidden inside of it.”

This would make the software suitable for the core DXP use-case (i.e. publishing and selling across various apps, marketplaces and other customer experiences) – whilst retaining the benefit of a web CMS.

But for retailers publishing exclusively or almost exclusively to a website, their existing web-based CMS may still have a long life ahead of it.

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