The Evolution of the modern CMS

Author: Meghan Lockwood | Categories: CMS

To the modern marketer, the web content management system (CMS) has become the workhorse that delivers most of an organization’s digital content. As you can see in this chart from eMarketer, 77% of businesses report that websites are important to engage existing clients and attracting new clients. Even with email, social and abundance of emerging channels, an organization’s website is still the primary channel for digital communication, and therefore, a CMS remains a key tool for the marketer.

With the web CMS still the primary tool for a modern marketer—how do we know if our tool is keeping up with the changes in marketing? The first step in addressing this critical question is understanding how the modern CMS has evolved from a static software tool to a comprehensive suite of tools that facilitate multi-channel customer experiences and fascinating customer insights.

This article will walk you through the four stages of the CMS life cycle (so far) and then walk through the new marketing challenges that modern CMS tools allow you to address.

From managing webpages to managing experiences

Web CMS has changed significantly over the past two decades, with the most significant changes over the past few years. To understand the evolution of the web CMS, the following is a quick history that highlights the significant changes and vendors that contributed to the modern web CMS.

Stage one: Managing webpages (1995-2001)

Early days of web CMS was a carryover from document management, with companies like interwoven, documentum and vignette dominating this time period. Web content management at this time was about managing the web page—the HTML file. Many early web CMS platforms are categorized as ‘page-focused’ platforms, because of their ability to manage whole web pages, rather than the content on the page.

Stage two: Managing content separate from presentation (1998-2006)

As we move into the new millennia, we begin to see many new players, originating from Europe—Reddot (DE), Mediasurface (UK), Sitecore (DK), Day Software (CH) and others that were beginning to appear in North America. What these newcomers brought to us was the notion of separating content from its presentation. That one difference made many things much easier, including managing multiple languages, sharing a single brand experience, edit once-use everywhere content, among other capabilities we appreciate now.

Stage three: Optimize the web experience (2004-Present)

With a true separation of content and presentation, new capabilities emerged that made it possible to optimize the web experience—which means that the web CMS is delivering an experience that is aligned with your expectations. Many new web CMS platforms, along with those that already in the market, began to add capabilities—like A/B testing, analytics, personalization, cross-device display—to create on-the-fly web experiences that are specific to an individual’s needs and preferences. For the first time, marketers were able to have total control over the experience.

Stage four: Cross-channel experience management (Present)

Currently, web CMS vendors are in a race to become complete cross-channel experience managers—many of them adding email, social and content marketing capabilities. There are no guarantees that these all-in-one solutions will address the marketer’s needs as well as integrated, best-of-breed solutions, but vendors like Sitecore, Adobe, and Acquia (Drupal) certainly have the modern marketers’ attention, while demonstrating the continued evolution of web CMS.

New challenges addressed by web CMS

As new challenges are emerging for the marketer, web CMS platforms are quickly evolving to address them. There are two drivers that contribute to the challenges being faced by marketers and new capabilities delivered by web CMS platforms: customer expectations and marketer sophistication.

Customer expectations

With organizations like Amazon, Zappos, Apple and Starbucks setting and meeting high expectations with customers, a high bar is being set for everyone who engages with these customers. Customer expectations drive many of the capabilities seen in current web CMS platforms, enabling even small organizations to reach the bar set by others.

Customer Expectations
Anywhere, anytime access Customers want to access information at home, on the train or eventually in the car. The web experience must accommodate the customer’s chosen device and setting.
Coherent cross-channel experience Customers want to find and engage with your information with channels most convenient to them—email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and mobile applications.
Seamless online and offline experience Customers want to continue their online experience when engaging your organization in an offline manner—phone call, store visit, billboard or product.
Make it about ‘me’ Customers want you to engage them, not a persona or an audience segment, but to understand and respond to their needs and perspective on a personal level.

Marketer sophistication

Marketers have become more sophisticated, expecting more from their web CMS, than they have in the past, to address the challenges posed by increasing customer expectations. Wanting to deliver to the expectations of their customers, and working to differentiate themselves from competitors, marketers are looking to capabilities within current web CMS platforms to support their efforts.