We’ll get into the detail of what a headless CMS is shortly but, for marketers, using a headless CMS is simply a more effective way to deliver a great customer experience without the worry or delay that often accompanies a traditional (“monolithic”) web CMS. It provides more speed and greater flexibility without any IT constraints, so marketing teams can innovate, implement change or react to market needs like:
• Quickly expanding your website estate or portals, regardless of the front-end language
• Feeding your channel partner websites with relevant content
• Repurposing content for social channels
• Creating in-app experiences on mobile
• Adapting to voice activated devices like Amazon Echo
• Enabling in-store experiences with kiosks or beacons
• Integrating wearables, chatbots, AR and other immersive experiences
All of this can be handled from a single system under your control that surfaces the right content or product data into those multiple different channels and devices. This is why brands like Audi, Moonpig, Bang & Olufsen, Dentsu Aegis Network, Eurail and Burberry have adopted this approach.
So how does it work?
Many traditional “monolithic” CMS systems are essentially a single slab of back-end and front-end technology. The back-end contains your data, business logic and content repository, whilst the front-end is your content delivery application that users see. If you do things in the back-end it impacts the front end and vice versa because the two are tied tightly together in a single application. This can lead to deployments that take hours, content freezes, and integrations that compromise the customer experience. Using this monolithic approach, you also have to repeat this painful set-up for each different device or channel you want to serve. This is far from efficient.
In the headless world, the “head” is the front-end bit, so by going headless, you completely decouple or separate the front-end from the back-end. A headless CMS does not care about the presentation layer, site structure or design. Instead, it stores its content in pure format and what connects the back end and front end is an API (an integration intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other).
We see more and more businesses realising that it’s crazy to store and then serve up individual content for each type of device, when a modern platform can centralise and serve up that content from one place. Think of the time that will save. Think of the flexibility too: content that resides in the headless CMS can now be presented in multiple channels, with a completely different purpose and look and feel (and for the techies, because an API delivers content from the CMS to the presentation layer, the front-end team can change the presentation at any time with their preferred front-end technology such as React or Angular).
As well as allowing marketers to have more creative freedom in the front-end, a headless CMS gives developers the ultimate flexibility to innovate, using their preferred framework and technologies for their development. And from a security perspective, using a headless CMS reduces the risk of security attacks because the CMS is completely separate from the user front end, which means that the CMS can be hidden.
Making the transition
So… is it a simple case of “swap out the old for the new and carry on as before”? No. You will need to make some adjustments – but they are worth it! For instance, not all functionality comes out-of-box. The CMS in a headless context doesn’t deal with the presentation layer and will require developers or partner agencies to build things like navigation and breadcrumbs in a website, as well as the relationship between the multiple items in the CMS and the content structure in the website. You also need to be a bit more structured in your set up of the content and workflow approvals but, once in place, the foundation is set to help you fly.
If you are working with a switched-on digital agency, they should also bring options for a front-end framework to save you time and cost. The main effort is then just working with the API’s to ensure the back-end and front-end work seamlessly. Also, today’s headless content and ecommerce systems make it faster and easier for content editors and product managers to do their work. They can preview pages, personalise content, make changes, manage approvals, see content calendars, involve external contributors and measure the engagement level of published content.
Many of these systems are designed in a way that make the transition from monolithic to headless easy to achieve in small increments. You don’t need to risk a big bang change; you can steadily replace your legacy systems at a pace to match your readiness and skillsets.
Liberating marketing teams and the customer
Many organisations are trying to move their clients to a more digital mode, but they are afraid of losing clients on their buying journey. They want to keep their digital users digital. This means they have to provide enough channels and device options to keep customers within their digital estate. In order to do so, their marketers need the flexibility and agility to easily distribute content into all the channels and devices that their customers use.
Mastering this will ensure content is easily managed and controlled whilst instantly available across websites, ecommerce, social, marketing platforms, wearables, voice-powered devices, mobile apps, kiosks, IoT and smart-devices. Marketers can now work with any front-end language or device because the headless content can feed it. What a liberating thought in a world of constant change! Finally the Board can take comfort from the fact you are future-proofing the business.
Sadly, for some organisations, delivering a world class customer experience is still just a slogan. The businesses that move beyond the slogan are the ones that actually put in place an enabling platform for marketers to deliver that customer experience through all channels, on any device and these will be the winners of the future.
Profound works with leading brands helping them select and deploy headless CMS and ecommerce systems to suit their unique needs. To find out how a SaaS based headless CMS could be useful in your organisation, get in touch here.