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Over the last decade, there has been a massive shift as traditional CMS platforms have made way for headless CMS alternatives. This shift’s primary driver has been the disruption caused by new and emerging technologies coupled with increased customer expectations. These expectations have placed additional pressure on enterprises to deliver content to multiple channels and provide customers with enthralling digital experiences at every touchpoint. 

According to Gartner, in the digital landscape “more often than not, simpler is better — but to achieve simplicity requires vigilance from leaders.” In order for enterprises to provide these omnichannel experiences, their content management systems must provide them with robust functionality and a simplified user experience that enables all practitioners to get the most out of the platform. We spoke to CMS vendors to understand the critical differentiating factors for headless CMS platforms to meet the current enterprise and customer demand. 

The Evolution From Developer-First Platforms

Headless CMS platforms have been notoriously challenging for non-technical users to get the most out of since they were initially created to provide developers with the freedom to create custom front ends for various channels without restrictions. Developers were quite satisfied with the capabilities, but this meant that the other participants in the digital experience creation landscape suffered. 

According to the CMO of Basel-based Magnolia CMS, Rasmus Skjoldan, that developer-centric period is no more. “We’re at a point of maturity for headless CMSs now where this will no longer fly. The early days of headless CMS were all about presentation-independent content, requiring only a simplistic content authoring user experience. Many digitally mature clients have seen now that this approach is no longer going to cut it,” he said. 

Given the complexities primarily due to the number of channels and personnel involved in creating digital experiences today, a simplified user experience is not only a necessity but a requirement. However, the reality is that much of the enterprise landscape software is challenging for the average user. But this approach won’t suffice given the volume and velocity of content marketing teams are tasked with producing today. “Content teams need to widen the playing field to include other experts in the company, partners, external people, writing and publishing content,” said Sonja Keerl, Global Head of Product Marketing at San Francisco, CA-based Contentstack

“Only if vendors as a whole make sure that it’s an easy user experience, will they be able to create the volume and velocity of content that customers expect and reach the critical mass to personalize their experiences,” she added.

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Is Specific Functionality Still Important?

With the CMS landscape reaching a point of maturity, most vendors find themselves competing on the user experience they can provide for their customers rather than the features. “With the proliferation of headless CMS today that can more or less all do the same, better UX is the natural progression from developer-centric tooling,” Skjoldan added. 

The ability to create a combined experience that enables developers and marketers to get the most out of one solution will be a significant factor going forward, according to Dominik Angerer, CEO & Co-founder of Linz, Austria-based Storyblok. Yet he believes that functionality could still be a relevant way for vendors to distinguish themselves. 

“CMS will become more performant, accessible and allow automating and integrating all kinds of processes to support developers’ and marketers’ efficiency further. There will be vendors with specific functionality to give them a unique selling proposition,” said Angerer. 

Feature Differentiators Will Depend on the Size of the Business

The choice between features or the user experience for practitioners as the key differentiator ultimately comes down to the size of the business. For some smaller teams that only manage a simple site, then some of the features that make managing user experiences easy at the enterprise-level could be overkill. 

“Many simple headless-only CMS are suitable for managing smaller sites and apps, and for smaller teams,” says Mike Vertal, CEO of Reston, VA-based Crafter Software. But for mid to large-sized organizations that manage multiple sites and global content teams, feature-rich, content authoring capabilities will continue to be necessary to cope with their specific requirements.  

“Those segments of the market where you see sophisticated content and presentation and higher volumes of content or workflow. Each of these enterprises has unique UX requirements, so an extensible content editing capability is important,” said Vertal.