man standing in tennis court with virtual reality goggles on
PHOTO: Martin Sanchez

We live in a world increasingly dominated by visual-rich experiences, which drive greater engagement with customers, partners and employees. Brands across nearly all markets realize the importance of delivering highly performant, engaging and personalized media to tell stories, share information and build strong connections with customers and prospects. Research has shown that consumers will recall 65% of the visual content they’ve seen nearly three days later — and retailers see a strong correlation between the number of videos watched and the average order value on their sites.

The rising importance of visual storytelling has been met by the parallel growth in digital transformation and a rise in adoption of headless systems. A headless system, typically part of the marketing technology (martech) stack, is one in which the presentation or delivery layer is decoupled from the content repository layer. Headless technologies of all stripes, whether headless commerce, headless content management systems (CMS), or even headless digital asset management (DAM) products, have become a significant enabler of the visual economy for many obvious, and not so obvious reasons. Here are three main factors driving the headless shift.

1. Multi-Channel Storytelling Requires Functional Flexibility

Flexibility is a major reason behind the growing popularity of these headless technologies. Flexibility in the context of a headless system is traditionally equated to using a variety of presentation layers with the underlying content repository. Just as important, however, is the flexibility associated with multiple groups being able to interact with the system in a functionally appropriate fashion, whether at an API layer, at a UI layer, or via integrated widgets. This concept of functional flexibility gives rise to ways in which brands can enable more compelling visual storytelling across different channels.

For example, one of my colleagues recently attended the Digital Food and Beverage Conference in Austin, Texas, and one of the prevailing sentiments at the show was the importance for brands to use visual storytelling to capture a piece of the “digital shelf” across their different online retail channels like Walmart, Amazon and Target. In fact, images were called the “the magic bullet” to enable this. The flexibility of a headless system would allow brands to craft different approaches associated with unique channel requirements to ultimately capture more of that digital shelf.

Related Article: Is a Headless CMS Right For You?

2. Augmenting Personalization

Personalization in the context of modern-day websites and applications is not new. The visual economy is predicated on the fact that consumers engage with rich media that speaks to them. According to an Accenture study, US businesses lost over $750 billion when customers switched companies because of poor personalization and a lack of trust. On the flip side, Gartner has predicted the effective use of personalization will allow digital companies to improve their profits by as much as 15% by 2020. 

A headless system by itself doesn’t necessarily deliver personalization. However, the ability to add a delivery layer that incorporates personalization is that much easier with headless systems as opposed to being tied to any one particular delivery mechanism. An interesting example of this is the intersection of mobile and rich media.

Mobile interactions have driven further expansion of the visual economy as mobile commerce, gaming and other forms of mobile entertainment expand the consumption of rich media. According to Mary Meeker’s latest State of the Internet Report, users are now spending 3.6 hours consuming digital media on their phones, a 10 times increase over the past decade. This level of digital interaction is deeper than many of us could have imagined at the outset of the smartphone era. Today, brands are trying to personalize these interactions and future-proof themselves to new mobile trends. Headless systems are a prime enabler of future-proofing as organizations can move quickly to adapt to new forms of interactions, browser standards and even media content formats.

Related Article: Does Your Organization Need a Director of Personalization?

3. Agility and Time to Market

Effectiveness and efficiency are both components of faster time-to-market for brands, and speedier iterations are critical for brand success in the visual economy. With a headless architecture, companies can more easily replace or upgrade parts of their martech infrastructure that don’t work for them in their existing business context. They’re in a position to test and deploy solutions faster, deploy to new channels easier, run new promotions across different channels, more easily incorporate new business models like user-generated content, and much more. In other words, a headless system promotes more agile methodologies, resulting in faster time-to-market for critical business initiatives.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Break Down the Content Deadlock in Personalization

A Headless System Will Aid Success in the Visual Economy

There is little doubt that successful brands in the next few years are those who crack the code on how visual media will build greater user engagement and loyalty. The emergence of headless systems is driven, in part, by the recognition that the pace of change in media consumption trends requires greater flexibility on their part to adapt to new and varied models of consumption. The ability to handle these new consumption models becomes especially relevant if brands want to separate themselves from their peers in the visual economy.