headless portrait
The biggest downfall of headless systems is the fact that siloed systems don't share nicely PHOTO: Dane Low

With the rising buzz of headless CMS, comes the rising misunderstanding that CMS systems must fall into one of two categories: fully headless systems that require a from-scratch build for every new touchpoint, or page-based systems that are locked into desktop websites.

This, of course, just isn’t true. In fact, your options range across a whole scale of solutions, such as Experience-as-a-Service, where your CMS controls partial-page rendering, or Hybrid CMS, solutions that let you push your content to any channel — just as headless systems do — using a delivery tier that connects all those channels and shares data between them. Think of it as letting your experience work headless, without losing its brain.

Headless CMS Creates Siloed Islands

If you think of your digital experience as an island — with visitor engagement onshore, and the pipelines of content and data running underneath — a headless system requires you to build a new bridge and intricate new data pipelines every time you want to add a new visitor channel, be it a microsite, mobile site, in-store display, intranet, etc.

This creates many siloed islands that don’t easily communicate with each other because each one requires individual maintenance and upkeep. 

Headless CMS

Hybrid CMS Builds a Connected Experience

The freedom to experiment quickly with new customer touchpoints is imperative for innovative businesses, and so is the connectivity that lets a cross-channel experience share content, assets and data to create one consistent feel across the entire experience.

This is where Hybrid CMS solutions come into play. Instead of tediously creating multiple bridges for every new initiative, you just expand your island, thereby easily supporting new touchpoints that can directly share the content and data with your entire digital landscape.

Hybrid CMS

Silos Are the Death of Personalization

The biggest downfall — and biggest risk — of headless systems is the fact that siloed systems such as touchpoints, teams, assets and third-party integrations, don’t share nicely. At a surface level, this can cause a fragmented customer journey, since the lack of shared assets across touchpoints causes each one to look and feel different. That’s because they aren’t updated in unison and often have different messaging.

It’s a broken experience, and it’s simply not competitive when it comes to serving today’s channel-agnostic customers.

What’s more, under that metaphorical water, where all the data and content lie, these headless siloes are upsetting an even bigger beast — personalization. That’s because cross-channel personalization requires the constant communication of data between the touchpoints and third-party applications such as CRM and transactional platforms.

This is where personalization often comes to a staggering halt in purely headless scenarios.

True Flexibility Means Flexibility for All

The reason headless is getting so much hype is its promised agility when adapting to new touchpoints. In reality, though, what often ends up happening is that businesses create many separate integration points that become difficult to maintain.

This makes it hard on the developers, who must constantly keep an eye on the functionalities and templates of every integration, as well as the marketers, who must recreate content for every separate touchpoint. Not to mention that, without a presentation layer and the preview option it provides, content displays often become shots in the dark, making for some risky publishing.

Storing content independent from presentation is a great way to be open to experimentation with new channels, but if every update to these channels requires multiple rounds of back-and-forth between marketing and IT for every small change, you quickly lose the flexibility promised by headless solutions.

That’s why Hybrid CMS systems that keep content and presentation separate, but also have a cross-channel delivery tier built in, are so powerful. Content can be used in a format-neutral way that makes developers happy, but also supports content marketers who want to share assets cohesively across every channel.

If You Build the Software, You Become a Software Company

Companies jump into headless scenarios thinking, “Yes, this is great! We will build the delivery tier with the exact templates for the exact channels we want.” However, they quickly come to realize that if they are the ones building the software, they are also the ones maintaining it.

That means every bug fix, every update to customer demands or marketing needs, every API for new touchpoints — plus all the standard maintenance — becomes the responsibility of your development team, thereby burdening them with these tasks and turning them into maintainers of your delivery tier instead of innovators for your actual business.

And along with that continual in-house maintenance, building your own system means your developers must take into account all of marketing’s requirements, too. Template creation and upkeep will now fall into the hands of your development team, so stop to consider that every small tweak marketing would like to make, even something as simple as changing font sizes or colors, will now need developer intervention.

For global companies, that ability to translate content easily will need to be built from the ground up. Additionally, for companies with multiple content contributors and editors, development needs will include creating workflows with the appropriate permissions. 

Lose Your Head But Keep Your Sanity

For businesses accustomed to rigid page-based CMS systems, it’s no surprise that headless solutions seem like a breath of fresh air — and they are. The freedom to publish content independent of presentation is vital to building exceptional experiences across channels, but it’s vital to keep in mind that this headless-style flexibility can be accomplished while keeping your brain and going hybrid. Hybrid systems keep your content flexible, but unlike purely headless systems, keep that content connected across channels.

In a world with an ever-increasing number of customer touchpoints and business technologies, the ability to share content, assets and data across channels is exactly how a CMS should work. That’s why businesses aiming to create engaging, personal experiences for their multi-device customers need a solution that offers the content flexibility of headless architecture, together with the data connectivity that puts cross-channel intelligence at the heart — and in the head — of the digital experience.