A double exposure of an office worker, planning content for an omnichannel strategy - WCM concept
PHOTO: Shutterstock

The scope for Web Content Management (WCM) software is getting “narrower" because the case for higher-end WCM platforms are increasingly rare as consumers interact digitally with brands beyond websites. Tony Byrne, CEO and founder of Real Story Group, shared those thoughts in a blog post last month and interview with CMSWire about the future of WCM.

It’s a big call in the WCM space, which features behemoth vendors like Adobe, which earned $3.21 billion in digital experience revenue in fiscal 2019, up 31% for the year. Competing WCM platform vendors Acquia (Vista Equity Partners, $1 billion, 2019), Episerver (Insight Venture Partners, $1.16 billion, 2018) and Sitecore (EQT, $1.14 billion, 2016) each received billion investments from private equity firms in the last four years.

Convergence of Customer-Centric Digital, Omnichannel Coherence

So why the vision of a thinner WCM arena? “The scope for WCM is getting narrower,” Byrne said, “and it's not a bad thing. I think it's actually a good thing, and the natural evolution of what's going on in the world.” The long-standing push toward customer-centric digital as opposed to enterprise-centric digital has forced brands to look at their digital experience game plan “from the customer in,” according to Byrne, whose company was originally called “CMS Watch” and provides vendor evaluations. Consumers, Byrne added, also have increased desires for omnichannel strategies and omnichannel coherence.

“Our own subscribers are telling us both those things have gotten really super accelerated during the pandemic,” Byrne said. “Customers are showing up in new channels, new venues and new places where they hadn't been seen before. One customer who was interacting mostly via email is now popping up in social or in a mobile app. And so what this means is that the really big challenge of the 2020s we believe is building enterprise foundation services that are disconnected from any single engagement channel so that you can leverage those services across any channel.”

Byrne cites Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) as a classic example of this evolution because they are designed to live beneath all of your marketing technology systems and supply data to any of them. “We think personalization and decisioning is going that way, internal operations are going that way, and, to some extent, content is going that way,” Byrne said.

Websites once were the place organizations placed most of their digital efforts, tracking customers and investing a good amount into personalization strategies, Byrne said, but that's no longer the case for many organizations. Hence, the proportion of resources and spend into WCM vs. the level of consumer engagement has narrowed, he added.

What does this mean for those behemoth vendors? It’s a “poor omen for Sitecore, Adobe, Acquia, and others whose central value proposition seems to be, ‘we're expensive, so we must be good,’” Byrne wrote in his blog post.

Related Article: Why Did Gartner Kill the Web Content Management Magic Quadrant?

Sitecore: Scope of WCM Remains Large

Acquia and Adobe each declined commentary for this piece. Sitecore did respond when asked about Byrne’s blog post, which has its platform in the headline.

Matt Krebsbach, VP of strategic messaging and communications for Sitecore, said the scope for WCM surely isn’t getting smaller and that it’s growing. “That’s abundantly clear in the trend for organizations to select WCM systems that can sit at the heart of a comprehensive digital experience strategy,” Krebsbach said. “Yes, marketing and IT teams both want flexibility, agility and ease of use. But neither side has to sacrifice capability to get those benefits. That’s why, even when they choose a standalone WCM product, they’re choosing solutions that offer marketer-friendly tools for experience creation, plus developer-friendly infrastructure that makes it easy to build digital products, plus a high degree of interoperability and integration with adjacent technologies.”

Krebsbach called integration a “substantial portion of the effort and cost in a digital experience program.” That makes it easy to see why so many organizations are opting for a WCM platform that includes capabilities for customer data management, analytics and personalization, campaign management, etc. — what is now commonly considered a Digital Experience Platform (DXP).

Numbers Confirm Digital Movement Outside Website

Not many would disagree with the contention that consumers connect with brands digitally beyond websites. Gartner acknowledged this in January when it killed its WCM Magic Quadrant and said the WCM market “has reached its maturity with products becoming more homogenized.” Gartner researchers added, “Client demand has been shifting from WCM to the broader scope of DXP (Digital Experience Platforms).” Forrester said the classic era of Web CMS and webpage-building are done last November.

On a consumer level, reports indicate large shifts in digital behavior away from websites. Digital habits have changed significantly, according to We Are Social’s Digital 2020 April Global Statshot Report published April 23. The breakdown of the percentage of consumers who reported they expect to continue with new digital behaviors even after the COVID-19 pandemic includes:

  • Watching more shows and films on streaming devices: 20%.
  • Spending more time on messaging services: 16%.
  • Spending more time using social media: 15%.
  • Listening to more music streaming services: 14%.

Not one of the new behaviors included visiting more websites. That doesn't mean websites haven't seen an uptick during the current pandemic. ContentSquare reported a 251% increase in visits to supermarket websites in the seven days from April 8 to April 15, compared to average weekly traffic at the start of 2020. The company also reported a 76% rise in transactions on supermarket websites during the same period, compared to pre-lockdown levels, according to the We Are Social report.

And, of course, websites aren’t going anywhere. WordPress powers more than 27 million sites worldwide, and Wix (3.8 million) and Squarespace (2.3 million) are second and third, respectively.

Related Article: 5 Things to Consider Before Abandoning Your Current WCM System

Higher-End WCM Offers 'Path to Grow'

But what about trends in the world of WCM when it comes to organizations that want to power digital experiences for customers and prospects? Irina Guseva, senior director and analyst for WCM and DXP for Gartner, said the scope of WCM is getting thicker, hence the retirement of the WCM MQ and blurring the lines with DXP. “Organizations buying a WCM rarely look for pure content management,” she said. “The days of web pages are long gone. The days of all content types for all channels from a centralized content hub are here. The buyers want all the bells and whistles like personalization and analytics from the same CMS (Content Management System) product. Whether they’re digitally mature to use all of that from day one is another story.”

Practitioners often overbuy in the WCM market and pay for shelf ware, Guseva finds. But that doesn’t apply to all. “Digitally mature organizations want more than a bread-and-butter CMS; they want to really delight their customers, as opposed to churning out pages of irrelevant content,” Guseva said. “Higher-end CMS offer a path to grow into: the crawl, walk, run approach, so long as the buyers have their internal roadmaps and strategies in place, and have a good SI to help them implement them.”

Need for Reassessing WCM

Byrne said he’s not pushing an urgent need for marketing practitioners to abandon their enterprise-scale WCM or completely rule one out. A use case still exists, he added, but it’s important for practitioners to think about “right-sizing” their WCM.

Consumer habits on digital are “calling into question” the need for behemoth WCM platforms. “Maybe what I need is something that's more of an order taker than a decision maker,” Byrne said. “Some WCM vendors are fighting back and saying they should still be the center of your universe and they’re going to be this omnichannel content platform. But almost none of them can get you there.”

A WCM could be your anchor in a marketing technology stack but it also could be one of five, according to Byrne. Assess your WCM needs because it can get you to a “lighter” place at that tier and make your organization’s digital experience software approach more agile. “And you can spread your investments around in a way,” Byrne said, “that actually matches where your customers are.”