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Web content management’s new role: Targeted customer experience

Integrating CRM with revamped Web content management strategy is pushing WCM into a more prominent role as companies aim for highly personalized and targeted customer experiences.

Web content management (WCM) strategies are taking on a more prominent role as companies look to make personalized content a key part of their push to deliver a tailored customer experience.

Driven by the desire to have a 360-degree view of the customer, companies have been steadily expanding the footprint in Web content management, integrating it with other core enterprise applications like customer relationship management (CRM), email management and campaign management -- systems that have traditionally been maintained and used in a siloed fashion. By building tighter integrations between these core platforms, companies are striving to tailor content for targeted customer experience. These interactions are based specifically on past behavior, taking into account everything from a customer’s purchase history to the kinds of information and content that customer seeks on the Web.

“Personalization of content plays a huge role in CEM [customer experience management], as in the ability to customize content to various segments based on a variety of implicit and explicit data that you have on your customers,” said Irina Guseva, an analyst with Real Story Group, a research firm focused on content management trends based in Olney, Md. “And making it accessible [to customers] from any device, at any time, from any location.”

WCM is evolving beyond its core role of managing Web content to help support rich, multichannel experiences while delivering targeted content, analytics and other key capabilities. More than three-quarters of 260 collaboration and content professionals surveyed last year said they planned to invest in WCM initiatives, according to Web Content Management Is Alive and Well in 2011 Thanks to Online Customer Experience. Of those 78% who were planning initiatives, 26% said improving multichannel customer experiences was the reason, according to the March 2011 report published by Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

In many ways, WCM’s current evolution brings it full circle on a problem it set out to address nearly a decade ago. Many of the first WCM platforms were equipped with recommendation engines and content targeting tools, but the early attempts at one-to-one marketing weren’t successful, industry observers said, because the technology was constrained by first-generation capabilities. Moreover, because of users’ somewhat limited Web interaction at the time, there wasn’t enough information available to enable a compelling personalization and content targeting experience. These factors served to compromise organizations’ ability to drive the desired customer response.

“The premise of personalization was a great idea that fell on its face [initially] because we were personalizing the wrong things, and there was little information so we couldn’t trade on it,” said Scott Liewehr, a partner in Digital Clarity Group of New York. “Now personalization is getting a rebirth because there’s a lot more data available today.”

WCM meets CRM

One of the key ways WCM is factoring in customer experience is by using tighter integration of the content management system (CMS) with CRM systems, in particular. In the past, these systems have been used by different groups for different functions and there’s been little coordination and hand-off between systems.

“While CRM and CMS have long been central pieces in customer experience management on the online side, CRM and CMS were more disjointed than integrated,” Guseva said. “Both systems used to be treated in a siloed fashion, without allowing for much interaction between the two.”

While some WCM vendors built out their own CRM tools or worked to create integrations with niche CRM platforms for their CMS application, the connections didn’t go far enough to deliver a singular view of the customer across online and offline transactions or to support any kind of seamless workflow. As a result, there hasn’t been enough synergy between CRM and the WCM strategy to support a truly modern vision around customer experience.

“The online and offline arms of CEM need to come together in a more integrated and holistic fashion in order to deliver meaningful business results,” Guseva said. “More recently I am seeing the lines between these two systems continue to blur.”

While the linkage between WCM and CRM is definitely on the rise and there is growing cross-pollination of features across platforms, observers say customer experience won’t necessitate total convergence or consolidation around a singular platform. “The tools are certainly coming together, but I don’t think WCM becomes subsumed as a category of marketing automation,” said Kathleen Reidy, a senior analyst at The 451 Group in New York. “Rather I see the beginnings of a broader portfolio or suites that have WCM as one component. There remains to be lots of use cases where you will just need WCM and it will live on as a distinct category.”

Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer who has been covering the intersection of technology and business for 25-plus years for a variety of trade and business publications and websites.

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