Visual Editing With Composable Martech Tools: A Deep Dive
- Headless without the context. Headless martech solutions often lack the full context editing experience marketers are used to.
- Composable, but challenging. The flexibility of composable architecture creates new challenges with product integration.
- Let’s get visual. Visual editing trends are infiltrating a variety of tools, from pure play headless CMS’s to digital experience orchestration.
The Challenges Faced With the Martech Stack
Modern martech tools and architectures are often composed together with a variety of MACH-oriented products, many times with a headless CMS (or more!) at the core, providing the central content layer across all marketing channels. One of the primary criticisms of headless products is the lack of marketer-friendly editing tools.
By definition, a headless CMS provides no frontend presentation of content stored in the CMS, so this makes out-of-the-box on-page in-line editing quite challenging since it doesn’t know how the content is presented (or if it’s even presented to a website for that matter!). Those days may be over as headless products and adjacent composable martech tools are starting to provide visual editing capabilities that marketers are used to.
Related Article: Goodbye DXPs, Hello Composable Stacks
New Composable Martech Tools to the Rescue
A composable architecture provides flexibility and freedom to swap in and out various headless products to create an architecture as unique as each organization; however, this comes at a cost: The time and effort to integrate all of these products. New categories of composable martech tools have risen to solve the integration problem, and with some of them comes an ability to provide the missing visual editing capabilities that marketers were used to in traditional coupled/unified DXPs.
While the exact category names are still emerging and up for debate (FEaaS, DXC, DXO), there is a range of overlapping products that appease marketers in composable stacks:
- Front-End-as-a-Service (FEaaS) is a digital product that outsources the designing and building of a web frontend to a set of no-code tools that can be used directly by marketers. Instead of having to hire a digital agency or a contract developer to build your website frontend’s components, you can leverage drag and drop atomic elements (text, image, section) to assemble, design and lay out custom components for your website. This focuses on the frontend individual components you interact with across digital channels.
- Digital Experience Orchestration (DXO) is a capability to federate and orchestrate content and data flow from multiple back-end APIs to power digital experiences. Not only do you unify back-end content into a single system, but it can also provide smart decisioning to deliver the right content to the right channel on the frontend, like the brain of a composable stack. This focuses on the underlying data sources and what to provide to the frontend.
- Digital Experience Composition (DXC) combines some of the same capabilities (component design and API data binding) with page-level composition. DXC allows marketers to compose pages and their layout with various UI components and bind them to the right back-end data, whether that comes from a headless CMS, a PIM, or from a DXO engine as the brain across all of the data sources.
Related Article: How Effective Are Marketers at Using Martech Tools?
Trends in Visual Editing
Whether you are working directly in a single headless CMS or a broader composable stack and use DXC to compose your experiences, visual editing is starting to become a first-class capability for marketers. Let’s dig into the top trends of visual editing across these composable martech tools.
Trend 1: Side by Side Live Preview
This is a fairly simple approach to visual editing by displaying an embedded staging version of a real website directly next to the headless CMS back-end fields. This is a common feature that headless CMS products provide directly in their CMS back-end admin to see live edits on site pages as they are happening in draft CMS content. Sanity and Storyblok are examples of pure play headless CMSs that do this. This feature is starting to mature as table stakes for any headless CMS.
Trend 2: CMS Deep-linking
A common feature that is prominent with DXC providers is a way to deep-link directly into the underlying source of content across any number of products that power a single page. For example, a page may have content from two separate CMSs and product data from a commerce engine or PIM. Deep-linking to those back-end systems allows easy access to the content in its native source of truth. Some DXC providers that do this are Stackbit and Perfection. This too is a fairly table stakes feature for DXC since it provides direct across to the underlying systems being composed.
Deep-linking can also be found on the rendering/hosting side of digital experiences. For example, a small set of headless CMS’s (such as Sanity) that also happen to render their experiences on Vercel are able to take advantage of Vercel’s visual editing feature which embeds an edit button and edit frame around CMS-managed content. This provides deep-linking directly into the CMS interface to manage the content.
Trend 3: In-Line on-Page Editing
In-line on-page editing is the baseline expectation many marketers have coming from traditional coupled/unified DXPs such as Adobe, Acquia, Optimizely and Sitecore. Modern composable martech tools such as DXC products are able to provide this level of control in composable decoupled architectures. They provide connectors that directly communicate to back-end API-driven products (CMS, PIM, DAM, commerce) and synchronize bi-directionally with them. These tools, however, sometimes require you to enrich your existing frontend markup with extra code attributes to connect specific back-end fields and content types to the frontend editing tools in the browser. This level of control provides the authoring experience that editors are used to with traditional and hybrid headless systems, however at the cost of the DXC product added to the stack and potential changes to the markup, which may require engineering effort.
Trend 4: Drag and Drop Page Layout Composition
DXC tools offer the ability to compose layouts though page builders while providing some of the other editing capabilities mentioned above (in-line on-page editing and side by side control). Not only can you connect components to back-end content and data, but you can actually stitch together multiple components to create fully composed pages. Some examples of products doing this are Stackbit, Builder, Kajoo and Sitecore XM Cloud Pages.
Trend 5: No Code Component Creation
Taking the page layout composition one level deeper, DXC products and FEaaS “Component Builders” can offer authors the ability to design and layout individual bespoke components on a no code drag and drop canvas. This is a common use case for short-lived landing pages for campaigns that are not worth the full development cycle back to an engineering team.
Additionally, add in the ability for authors to fetch external content via APIs directly in the tool and they now have dynamic externally-driven content in their custom components, so they don’t need to set static content in their design. This gets to the true essence of composability, where authors have control down to the individual component and can fetch their own data and content. Builder, Kajoo, and Sitecore XM Cloud Components are some common examples of this capability.
Where Is Visual Editing Going?
It’s clear visual editing is finally becoming a first-class citizen with headless products and composable martech tools and stacks. The level of editing control afforded to marketers is certainly relative to the complexity of the digital experience solution at hand. For single-source experiences powered by a single headless CMS, split screen editing should be enough to provide a preview of live edits to content in context.
That said, complexity has to live somewhere, so highly composed experiences may need to take advantage of DXC as an overlay to provide an authoring experiences across all content sources. This additional power and control comes with the cost of additional licensing and vendor lock-in to a DXC provider.
I expect to see more pure play headless products integrating features that enable live preview of web content as a table stakes feature going forward, while the more complex scenarios may require full products such as DXC.
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