Changes to the internet have caused audience expectations to grow. The internet not only brings larger scale, it brings variety and choice. 

Audiences connect and engage with content on multiple devices, channels and venues. From websites, to email, to social media, to who knows what comes next, the internet has essentially put the customer in control. 

If the internet has changed, shouldn't web CMS change as well? The third wave of content management is an evolution in how to create and distribute content to key audiences. It’s an evolution from presentation and interaction oriented content, to a smarter content that adapts to each customer.

3 Waves of Digital Content Management

To understand where we're going, we should first look back and see where we came from: 

The First Wave of DCM

The first wave of digital content management was built around managing static content or "brochure-ware." Brand websites focused primarily on products, presenting content about the products and services sold, along with contact information, with little to no interaction or engagement. 

Eventually brands wanted ways to engage with customers, which spurred on the second wave of digital content management. 

The Second Wave of DCM

The second wave of digital content management saw the shift from web content management to web experience management (WEM), or Web 2.0. The CMS became the website, with the presentation tier coupled tightly with the backend management capabilities. Website functionality came from a set of modules that shipped with the CMS, including capabilities for analytics, social media and limited personalization.

Mobile's rise in importance caused companies to create mobile apps. Email marketing spread and social media became a major channel to reach customers. Online transactions took off for complex products and services, including banking, insurance, travel and healthcare — all of which required content management capabilities. 

But companies faced challenges: complex WEM implementations, lagging vendor roadmaps, time-consuming and expensive upgrades, and difficulties delivering a unified customer experience across channels and applications tested companies. 

Organizations started looking for more agile CMS technology, that adapted to the growing number of channels and devices customers used to access content. 

Enter the third wave of digital content management. 

The Third Wave of DCM 

Whether caused by the Apple iPhone, the cloud or social or a combination of all three, customer expectations have evolved from demanding great web experiences to demanding great digital experiences. 

Whatever comes next — wearables, digital signage, telematics or something else — it will drive the way organizations plan, create and distribute content in the future. 

Businesses want — and need — agile content solutions that enable delivery of relevant content where the customer is, regardless of channel or device, exactly when they need it. Organizations must shift from delivering basic personalization to delivering relevant, contextual experiences across the entire customer lifecycle. 

Maybe it's the kiosk at the mall, or a web app on the bus ride home. Maybe it’s an online credit card application or a banking app. Or the company website or email newsletter: Organizations have a number of delivery options for content and they will only continue to grow. 

In the third wave of digital content management, it's about agility — information agility and delivery agility. Content is mobile first, intelligent and readily available for any website, campaign, app or device.  

To prepare and manage content for this future, the CMS must become the platform for content creation, governance and orchestration — but not necessarily the platform for presentation delivery. It must support content creation so that organizations can easily reuse it in different formats and quickly deploy it to any channel necessary. 

This flexible, intelligent CMS completely decouples delivery of content from its management. This is the third wave of digital content management. 

Gearing Up for the Third Wave 

This third wave of digital content management requires businesses to prepare on two fronts:

Develop a Customer Focus

Develop personas, define customer journeys and outline the full customer lifecycle. Personas provide detailed descriptions of people who represent the audience(s) for the digital experiences you design. Personas focus your content creation to ensure relevance, and help you to organize your information so it supports key audiences. 

Journey mapping documents how a prospective customer moves from researching to deciding to purchase a product or service. It lays out all the touchpoints in the journey and what kind of information and engagement they expect at each touchpoint. 

Customer journeys don't end with the purchase. They continue as long as a customer uses your product and ends when they stop using it. Consider what the entire customer lifecycle looks like — from evaluation and purchase, through to service and support, and potential upselling and cross selling. 

A unified customer profile supports this end to end view of the customer. It connects all systems of record together (CRM, CMS, ERP, etc.) to provide a complete understanding of the customer and how they interact with your organization. 

Align Technology to Support Content Needs 

From responsive websites to digital publishing, to customer portals and communities, the modern content management system is all about agility — the ability to create content that can be reused in different ways across channels and devices. 

A flexible CMS enables content as a service — separating content creation from delivery. Metadata adds structure through tags and categories, making it easier to find by both machines and humans, and supporting its display in any number of formats and presentations. Technologies like NoSQL-based content databases, JSON, XML and other formats support this new approach to structured content management. 

Anyone moving to a new CMS should invest in a platform that allows them to meet future requirements. Don't lock your content into fixed structures and display. Don’t tie content creation to any one channel. Don’t invest in tightly coupled interactions. 

The creation and management of an intelligent content model allows you to handle any channel or device, now and in the future. If your CMS doesn't provide this capability, you will face challenges and costs (in terms of time, money and customer happiness) in order to move forward. 

Prepare for Change 

Like any paradigm shift, this one has winners and losers. To find success in the third wave of digital content management, shift your focus to the customer. Find a CMS that helps you deliver engaging web experiences, but also supports a more open, rapid and lightweight development model so you can create smarter content to feed all of your channels and audiences. 

It's not a question of whether this third wave is coming. It's here. You need to prepare for change now — what are you waiting for? 

Title image Jeremy Bishop