Has WCM Been Commodified?
- Marketing technology. Web content management technology (WCM) remains nuanced and essential, not a commodity.
- Martech stack diversity. The martech stack has evolved, with WCM being just one of many dynamic components.
- WCM platform options. Content marketing platforms continue to innovate, offering a range of choices for modern businesses.
“Commodity” is a dreaded term in technology. It implies something so simplistic, so standardized, and so cheap, you don’t even need to compare suppliers based on the product itself. The word brings to mind something you trade in bulk, like pork bellies or orange juice.
No tech vendor wants to sell something commoditized, and even technology buyers and consultants will shy away. After all, where’s the challenge and innovation?
I hear with some regularity that web content & experience management (WCM) technology has become commoditized. As someone who’s followed the market for a couple decades now, that term certainly pricks up my ears.
But it’s simply not true, and woe to any digital leader that treats WCM capabilities as a commodity.
Marketing Technology Content Platforms in (Relative) Decline
For sure I can understand why observers might perceive marketing technology tools as a kind of afterthought.
WCM technology represents a digital necessity, yet has seen a long-term decline in relative importance across martech and DX stacks. Traditional websites, while essential digital table stakes, represent just one of a proliferating set of channels where you engage with customers and prospects.
WCM is also part of an older marketplace, going back a quarter-century now, and while vendors do still innovate, many difficult challenges have been more than adequately addressed:
- Rich text editors are more stable and reliable, though of course they started from a low bar… 😉
- Flexible collaboration services have replaced more rigid workflow models
- Hybrid headless has emerged as the dominant architectural model for accommodating both decoupled content management and ad-hoc website management
- Most platforms can readily publish content to multiple different properties, across multiple languages
- Mature design patterns have evolved for integrating DAM, personalization, analytics, and other specialized, WCM-adjacent technologies within larger enterprises
- Simpler or more transient web properties can be managed successfully via inexpensive site-building platforms, like Wix and Squarespace.
Related Article: Why Your Customer Experience Strategy Needs a DAM
Some Problems yet to Solve
When analysts, consultants and integrators argue WCM technology is commodified, what they seem to be saying is, there aren’t any hard problems to solve, or more pointedly, I’m bored. WCM vendors play the same game by inventing new acronyms, like “DXP,” which really only means that they’ve gotten distracted by acquiring some random adjacent toolsets.
And yet, when Real Story Group (RSG) sees WCM vendors competing in test-based selection projects, we can detect some implicit disagreements just based on how their products work. Under the covers, key differences remain over such things as:
- How to simplify authoring, editing and review of content destined for multiple channels
- How to preview and simulate customer experiences across multiple touchpoints
- How to readily assemble bespoke page experiences from blocks and fragments
- How to simplify template modifications
- How to balance the complex customizations required by larger enterprises with truly multi-tenant cloud architectures
- How to incorporate fast-paced developer innovations while still addressing contributor and manager desires for more predictable environments with ample business empowerment
- How to leverage highly complicated taxonomies
- How to seamlessly integrate enterprise customer data
- And so on…
Nearly every WCM vendor thinks they’ve truly figured all this out. None of them actually have.
Related Article: 14 Rules for Selecting the Right Content Management System (CMS)
WCM Is Still Relevant
Those challenges matter because content still matters. Content matters to information-rich B2B marketing, and to diverse brand/campaign/promo content for B2C organizations — not to mention nonprofit and public-sector publishing. A savvy stack leader will make sure she has the right WCM platform in place.
Indeed, the enduring fragmentation of the content marketing platform marketplace proves the vibrancy of choices for buyers — from mid-range platforms to super-complicated toolkits — and suggests this market may not be as long in the tooth as observers might think.
While we don’t see a lot of greenfield WCM deployments, RSG has witnessed quite a bit of WCM replacement going on over the past five years. Organizational priorities and vendor roadmaps alike can shift, and sometimes the friction becomes intolerable. Also, a surprisingly wide set of enterprises still suffer under the weight of legacy WCM platforms (see the gray logos, above).
Still other martech leaders are switching to lighter, less developer-heavy WCM platforms that play more nicely (read: more modestly) in a sophisticated, composable marketing technology stack.
WCM Challenges Ahead
For sure the WCM market faces some hurdles ahead. Now, I don’t really care about the future health of individual WCM vendors, and beyond the solution you license today, you needn’t either. But where this market is headed can tell us a lot about where marketing technology is headed.
First, almost none of WCM platforms on the market today adequately address the omnichannel needs of the future. They lack key abilities to effectively manage media and data as first-class entities, to catalog component siblings and children, and to track compound content assemblies. A newish set of “omnichannel content platforms” (OCPs) has emerged largely from the digital asset management (DAM) market to address such needs. As OCPs get adopted over time to handle all your reusable components, they are likely to consign WCM platforms to managing just longer-form, story-based content and one-off webpage experiences.
Meanwhile, an entire class of well-known, high-end WCM providers is starting to get creaky and weak. Tridion has become a shell of its former self. Adobe AEM Sites licensees increasingly question its stratospheric costs and byzantine complexity. Sitecore is gasping for breath like a landed carp, still trying to properly leverage its OCP, “Content Hub,” the most innovative part of its portfolio.
To be sure the WCM mid- and upper mid-markets continue to thrive. This means you the customer have many solid choices, and choice is good! So ignore predictions of commodification, do your research and testing, and choose a right-fit WCM marketing technology that will nestle easily into your expanding stack of the future.
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