WCM design is at the forefront of a multichannel strategy

Web content management design now requires you to think carefully about a multichannel strategy to boost and personalize user experience.

If you're in charge of your company's digital presence, you've undoubtedly contended with the mobile revolution for several years. One way or another, you've been adapting your content for mobile devices, seeking to augment what you already deliver through full-screen Web browsers. You've assessed the costs and benefits of developing native mobile apps compared with those of mobile Web apps and have considered hybrid alternatives to...

blend elements of the two. Perhaps you've developed and delivered your first mobile apps and are assessing what to do next.

Designing Web content management systems for multichannel environments requires a different approach from traditional Web design, though some of the same principles apply. In the past, your goal was to create webpages that made content easy to access and navigate. Now consider how to make that content useful in multiple environments. The two prongs of this strategy are creating content that is accessible to a broader audience and also personalizing it for individuals -- and for different devices.

Publishing content on smartphones, tablets and PCs is only the beginning. The content you produce now has a business purpose: to create a user experience that stems from a mobile or PC-powered app. The spotlight is on the digital experience you deliver to customers, partners and employees as they browse, shop and do their work.

Designing Web content management systems for multichannel environments requires a different approach.

In the era of multichannel content delivery, information architecture becomes essential, as is the ability to deliver content by the chunk, which enables content reuse that is also tailored to the environment and audience. With content chunking, you segment content into focused and relevant sections so that it is useful for each destination (such as smartphone and tablet apps). Tagging these chunks is important so that they can be re-used in different contexts.

Creating multichannel experiences

Amazon provides one of my favorite examples of a multichannel experience.

When I am down to the last package of my morning tea, I reach for the mobile Amazon app on my smartphone, scan the bar code on the package, tap a couple buttons and order a new six-pack. Consumers love having this purchasing power in their pockets. Of course, if I want to plan ahead, I can log into my Amazon account from my laptop, sign up for automatic replenishment, and avoid mobilizing the reordering process altogether. I can choose how I want to shop.

Notice that these two shopping experiences lead to the same outcome: a package on my porch. Amazon supports a great native mobile app as well as a full-screen Web browser. One captures essential data on my mobile device and solves an immediate problem. The other enables me to navigate through the site on my own time, find my replacement product and select a long-term solution.

Both exploit the rich and flexible application environment Amazon has built over the past decade to deliver personalized results. Significantly, these back-end services provide the secret sauce for delivering the goods.

Getting multichannel right

While most companies lack the deep pockets and technical expertise of Amazon, designers and developers of multichannel digital experiences should take note. Amazon highlights five important lessons about how to get things right.

1. Optimize the experience for business results. It helps to identify the task customers need to accomplish in using one channel or another. My smartphone includes an easy way to record an image. Using a barcode scanner, I can capture the information found on a physical object and transform it into a digital object. This makes it easier for users to create scanned images that can be used for, say, expense reports. Cameras on mobile devices obviate the needs for office scanners and put the tools in the hands of users.

Sensors and scanners on mobile devices are only the beginning. When designing for multichannel experiences, consider the unique capabilities of each channel. Investigate how you can capture data on the mobile device and incorporate it into the experience.

2. Develop task-oriented, purpose-built apps. You've invested a lot of effort in designing all the point-and-click selections on your website. But shrinking the full screen experience into a tap-and-swipe form factor doesn't accomplish the goal of creating a mobile experience. Instead, it's about simplifying the experience for the current context.

3. Focus on the high-value tasks in varied business contexts. For instance, it is one thing to shop for airplane flights when I am sitting on a couch and comparing routes and costs. It's another to pull out my smartphone and check for gate information as I leave my car in the airport parking lot. (My mobile app should recognize my location and give me context-specific information.)

4. Plan to script user scenarios for multiple experiences. Once you've identified the high-value tasks and contexts, work from the outside in to determine the information sources your customers need. Consider the key categories or metadata. Remember each channel is different. So script the scenarios for mobile devices and PCs, as well as for immediate action and thoughtful consideration. Be sure to incorporate mobile data from the device. Current location, in particular, provides many clues about your context. When developing multichannel digital experiences, there's no substitute for investing in user-experience design.

5. Plan to access an array of back-end services. To develop and deliver multichannel experiences, you're probably going to need to add capabilities to your current website. (While every site is different, most are designed for a full-screen Web browser running on a PC.)

In the not-too-distant future, key actions and activities on your website will have application programming interfaces that multichannel apps can invoke as services to deliver unique experiences. You will also mash up services from disparate third-party sources on the Internet. Focus on developing the flexible and adaptable back-end services that can deliver the varied digital experiences throughout multiple channels and devices.

Remember, providing multichannel digital experiences is as much a journey as it is a destination. It requires ongoing planning and architecture. Focus on customer experiences and what each segment of your target audience needs in order to accomplish particular tasks. Then determine how to present the information and invoke the actions to meet their needs.

Next Steps

SharePoint WCM loses key features in the cloud

WCM buying considerations

Multichannel customer service is the new mandate

This was first published in July 2014

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