a bowl of alphabet soup
PHOTO: Marie Buyens

We content management professionals love to make life complicated. We're too cool to say content management systems (CMS), and stay up nights creating new categories and acronyms as fast as the fountain of Silicon Valley or Nordic money can fund a new vendor. Below are over a dozen different ways we slice and dice this category. Surely as this industry category enters its third decade, it’s time to declutter, no?

Drowning in Alphabet Soup

Let’s start with omnichannel content platforms (OCP) as defined by Real Story Group, which lists 10 different use cases. Is this a thing? Or is it a case of another analyst trying to claim a hill on which they can plant their flag? (Not really RSG’s style, to be fair.)

Do we need the word “omnichannel” on the front of a content system intended for enterprise use? Have we been storing content on stone tablets for the last 20 years and somehow now require a whole new thing to publish to a smaller screen, a point of sale device or snapfacechatgram? 

It’s 2020. Isn’t being omnichannel table stakes for a modern CMS?

You could make a similar argument against headless as a category. Shouldn’t all content management systems have an API or service layer that give us development creativity?

Or how about this rather wonderful article here on CMSWire that quotes two of my industry chums, Dennis Shiao and Robert Rose. It talks about the difference between web content management (WCM) and content marketing platforms (CMP).

I love the discussion and imagined having it with these splendid gentlemen over a cocktail, but the difference between the two systems seems to be calendar functionality and a lack of understanding by enterprise vendors of the needs of the modern content markets. You know the type — they snigger at why serious, grown-up business people who just want to get stuff done use simpler tools or Wordpress.

A very cogent argument can also be made that your digital asset management (DAM) system needs to be the center of content operations. These systems and their implementations are already familiar with omnichannel use cases like print, mobile and web. Yet, we’ve convinced ourselves that a digital asset is an image or a video, and not words published online like this thing you are reading.

And while we are ticking off the acronyms, I could go on and on about DXP (digital experience platforms), PIM (product information management), MRM (marketing resource management) and others, like CCM (componentized content management), that have fallen out of vogue. But I won't.

Related Article: From Web CMS to DX Platforms: The Evolution of Content Management

Are All These Content Solutions Really So Different?

Each of these solutions named above has something in common: they are content management systems. Providing a way to store content in a structure that makes sense, with metadata to describe what it is, an interface to add new content and some way of publishing the content to something, within a workflow and permission model.

Add a decent API or services layer, it’s decoupled and omnichannel. Put it on someone else’s computer, it’s cloud. Make the API Restful, wrap it in microservices, it’s headless. Add a WYSIWYG interface to assemble web pages and it’s a WCM. Add a calendar and an integration to analytics and voila! You've got a CMP. Chuck in creative tools integration, some loveliness around previewing images and videos, and look, it's a DAM. Make the calendar and workflow better, it’s MRM. Stir in a mega-dose of metadata and we have a PIM. Do all this for documents and you are looking at an ECM.

Yes, I know I'm simplifying. It’s not quite that easy or clear-cut in the alphabet soup that is OCP, CMS, DXP, WCM, CMP, PIM, MRM, MAM, ECM. Yet I would argue that any system in 2020 has many of these attributes. For example, a modern PIM needs to deliver content to multiple channels, MRM systems have APIs, a WCM has to preview images and it seems everything in the marketing stack has to manage them.

Related Article: With Content Delivery, What Goes Around Comes Around

Do You Truly Need a Niche Content Management Product?

Yes, some platforms will suit some specialist scenarios better than others. But in our multi-touchpoint, customer experience obsessed world — aren’t these the edge cases now? Or, in the case of headless and omnichannel, features of a decent CMS, rather than separate categories of their own?

Shouldn’t the strategy be to centralize and simplify all this, rather than invent more niches? We should focus on the middle ground of the mad Venn diagram of the functionality where these categories overlap and, critically, what people actually use these systems for.

It’s like this: my old Ford Mustang would be rubbish off road (to be honest it’s not that good on it), but I spend as much time driving off road as my neighbor does in his BMW 4x4 (which would be never) — 99% of the time our cars serve the same purpose and satisfy a similar basic need for transportation.

While all these systems jockey for the position of the “single source of content truth” we live in a world where millions of decent, hardworking marketers have to manage images in HubSpot, probably images they googled for as they don’t have access to wherever the images are stored in their business. Which runs a grubby horse and cart through any digital governance in place.

To misquote Homer Simpson: "The whole freaking system is out of order. You want the truth? You want the truth? You can't handle the truth! 'Cause when you reach over and put your hand into a pile of goo that was once your digital governance policy, you'll know what to do!"

This is where the challenge is for managing content in any enterprise: the silos. And the people, processes and systems that perpetuate and encourage them.

Related Article: Happy 21st Birthday Web CMS

The Real Business Challenge Isn't Very Sexy

The fashionable discussion about managing content right now is all about delivery, being headless and omnichannel. Many millions of marketing dollars are being spent educating buyers on why this is important. It probably dominates the sales presentation and demo. Yet, the deeper and much harder challenge for content management (and it has been this way forever) is how it’s stored.   

For example, want to break the ice at a meeting of content management people, ask whether Wordpress is a CMS.

By my definition, it is. But it is a terrible CMS. Sure, its API could be wrangled into being sufficiently omnichannel to deliver content to an app or a PDF, and good god, I’ve just discovered it has a headless plug-in.

The reason it’s terrible is the content model. It’s broadly a single user system that thinks in pages and posts, which is a dreadful model if you want to store enterprise product information or deliver a highly personalized omnichannel experience.

At this point I suggest you take sip of that coffee, let the caffeine kick in and stifle that yawn because I am going to say metadata model, then I am going to say taxonomy, content modeling, governance, relationship models, integrations, reuse, separation of content from presentation and findability — I could go on, but these are the things any decent CMS should be able to support.

None of these things are sexy. They've never caught the zeitgeist the way cloud, headless and omnichannel have today. Content management, content marketing, content anything is not about just delivery, systems, acronyms, categories and the constant reinvention of the same thing, it’s also about the content model and how it fits with the people and processes that will feed it.

This is where all the business pain is and where all the benefits are for a business implementing a CMS. As marketers, we are obsessed with understanding the audience. As marketing technologists, we seem to be focused on the last mile of content delivery. But what are we going to deliver? How can we find it? How does our marketing automation find it?

Related Article: How Content Modeling Helps Set Your Content Free

Pick One

To be customer content centric, we need to shift our mindset to a business need to centralize our content management so the business can consistently serve our single source of truth to our audience, across multiple touchpoints, relevant and personalized.

We can then choose a system to put in the center of this, regardless of the three-letter moniker bestowed upon it by the vendor or analysts, just choosing the right platform for the job. Remembering we are buying a system to serve content to the business, not an OMP, CMS, DXP, WCM, CMP, PIM, MRM, MAM or ECM.

I call this system an OHCRAPaaS™ (Omnichannel-Headless-Content-Resource-Asset-Platform-as-a-Service).

I’m kidding, it’s a CMS — crazy, sexy cool right?