multimedia experiences

The Evolution of Web Content Management to Digital Experience

Is web content management gone for good? Or has it simply evolved into a new model? Gartner recently announced that they would retire the Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management (WCM) in 2020. We believe the decision was driven by the notion that the WCM market has reached maturity and the world is now moving toward a broader range of digital experience capabilities that offer the flexibility to deliver omnichannel experiences bundled into digital experience platforms (DXPs). As Gartner notes, “WCM functionality now constitutes a subset of DXP.” -Gartner, June 2020

While the WCM label itself may be obsolete, content management is still the foundation of every digital experience. At Acquia, we’ve been on the forefront of this evolution as a long-time Leader in WCM and now a 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader for DXPs. The new challenge for enterprises is how to unify both content management and customer data management to deliver the experiences customers want across a rapidly changing digital ecosystem. Web content management was born out of customization and understanding the need for technology to adapt and evolve to fit any need as it appears. This philosophy of innovation still holds true over 30 years later. As enterprises look forward to the future of digital customer experiences, they need an open digital experience platform that can adapt to meet any unexpected disruption.       

 1. The First Wave: Rise of the Open Web and IT-Powered Functionality 

Originally, web communication technology focused on simplifying and improving the lives of the developers and corporate workers themselves. When the first Lotus Notes application was created in the late 1980s, it was built as a client/server architecture that allowed teams to collaborate and exchange information across a dedicated series of servers. This gave rise to a community of developers who viewed software and services as customizable building blocks where users could construct code into many applications and services. Content management systems employed a decoupled architecture between the back-end and front-end presentations so that content could be reused and repurposed across a variety of applications. Headless content that wasn’t tied to a specific presentation level appealed to IT innovators in these early days of the web because it empowered teams to deliver dynamic content and communications.

The rise of the web browser and open source software, notably the Apache web server in the mid-1990s, continued this wave of innovation and expanded the reach of web technology from corporations into an open, global space where anyone could take part. Every enterprise now had the ability to launch their own website and communicate directly with customers. The shift of companies moving to digital was met by an increased consumer demand for brands to offer services and business transactions online. As the web became more prominent, communicating information and brand messaging wasn’t enough. To compete with online retailers like Amazon, every business had to turn information into action. The iconic mega-mall consumer experience of the 1980s was reimagined for e-commerce as corporations sought to build online business models.

Websites became a critical tool for marketers to reach customers; however, the responsibility of building and maintaining these sites remained under the CIO and IT teams. IT was tasked with designing a web infrastructure that could power both a dynamic brand and employee experience. This frequently led to conflicting priorities and frustrating workflow bottlenecks. Developers lacked sufficient time and resources to maintain critical business operations systems and meet marketing’s continuous request to roll out new features and layouts to their corporate websites. Suddenly we saw a digital tug of war arise between marketing and IT as the two sides struggled to balance enterprise functionality and speed to market. Customer demand for new content was exploding faster than IT could deliver and marketers began to lead the way for the second wave of digital disruption.  

2. The Second Wave: Rise of the Digital Marketing Stack

The second era of web content management was led by the CMO and born out of a need for marketers to drive buyer demand. The first decade of the 2000s saw an explosion of new channels and devices beyond the traditional web browser as audiences began to interact with brands on smartphones and social media platforms. Yet, when the financial crisis hit hard in 2008, businesses were focused on cutting costs, advertising budgets decreased and marketers were being held more responsible for tying their efforts to business revenue. Online campaigns were less expensive than traditional print and billboard campaigns and organic search and content marketing became popular ways to increase demand and build a strong sales pipeline without major spend. 

CMOs pivoted from focusing on the brand to focusing on the day-to-day customer journey through tactics like email marketing, social media campaigns and web analytics. To empower marketing teams to rapidly build, package and deploy their own digital experiences without depending on IT specialists, content management systems embraced a more intuitive drag-and-drop model of site building. Although this content was faster to create and lowered the development costs, it also sacrificed the previous flexibility of decoupled content models by tying content types to specific front-end presentations. Marketers could create thousands of static landing pages, but content was locked into individual components and layouts. 

As more of these individual, static websites were created, digital marketers invested in new tools and systems from CRMs to social media publishing tools to marketing automation systems. All together, this formed the new modern marketing stack, dominated by platforms such as the Adobe Marketing Cloud, which came on the scene in 2012. With their marketing cloud, Adobe sought to deliver content everywhere consumers engaged by incorporating multiple solutions. The result? Marketers suddenly were gathering tons of customer data and deploying more content in more places than ever before. However, this wave of digital disruption ultimately resulted in a lot of activation without true insight.

Each technology solution functioned independently without the ability to integrate with other sources of customer data. Without the ability to connect all sides of the customer journey, content and data silos began to multiply. Marketers wanted to remain relevant and be heard amid a sea of new content, so they responded by making even more noise (sending more emails, running more banner ads, etc.). The result? A cacophony of inconsistent communications that didn’t reflect the experiences customers wanted. 

Without a way to unlock each of these content and data silos, brands were spending unnecessary time and resources on ineffective, irrelevant experiences and losing out on the opportunity to keep customers engaged when it mattered most. The need to bundle traditional enterprise content management with additional data management and customer service functionalities gave way to a brand new, comprehensive way of optimizing the customer journey: digital experience platforms.  

3. The Third Wave: Digital Experience and the Customer-Driven Journey

The introduction of the digital experience platform or the third, most recent wave of digital disruption is best explained as a return to the composable architecture of the past combined with the data-driven priorities of the future. The explosion of big data came to a tipping point in the mid-2010s with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT). Today, brands are collecting more data from more devices and channels, yet they lack a centralized strategy for how to leverage this information across the entire customer lifecycle.

In the modern multi-experience marketing landscape, content management needs to break free of legacy systems and predetermined pathways and embrace an open and composable approach to content. Organizations have discovered that the total potential of the customer experience is much more valuable than the sum of its parts. An Open DXP presents brands with limitless opportunities to rearrange and repurpose different content and business capabilities to suit any purpose. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating digital transformation at an even greater speed than  before, investing in open, adaptable technology is more critical than ever. The timeline for digital transformation has shortened from years to months and businesses need to move their operations online now if they’re going to stay relevant. Acquia’s Open DXP gives brands the opportunity to scale their operations whenever new disruptions hit by breaking down content, data and organizational silos so you can reinvent and repackage content across every channel and device. In this way, we understand the rise of digital experience platforms not as a new invention, but as a best of both worlds transformation of both the technical and business functions. A DXP unites the flexible architecture and decoupled content approach from the first wave of IT-powered marketing with the intuitive, experience-driven focus of the later waves. For far too long, businesses have only tried to solve one need at a time, separating marketing and IT without fully grasping the total picture. Not anymore. An Open DXP reverses the separation between IT and marketing by reimagining and repurposing the strongest elements of enterprise content management and intuitive customer experience into a platform that can be architected for adaptability and shaped to suit the view of current and future customers.  

To learn more about the evolution of the digital experience industry and the rise of DXPs, check out our e-book. 


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Report attribution and disclaimer:

Gartner Retires ‘Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management’ as Commoditization Fuels Digital Experience Management Opportunity, Irina Guseva, Mick MacComascaigh, 15 June 2020

Gartner, Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms, Irina Guseva, Gene Phifer, Mike Lowndes, 29 January 2020

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

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Kevin Cochrane

Senior Vice President of Product Marketing Acquia

Kevin Cochrane​ is SVP Product Marketing at Acquia. Kevin has been a leader ​in the ​CMS industry since its inception, leading marketing teams at Interwoven, Alfresco, Adobe, Bloomreach and most recently, SAP.  He ​is excited to continue driving innovation in the Digital Experience space. Kevin studied International Relations at Stanford University.