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What Is a CMS?

What Is a CMS?

You're told you need a content management system for your content marketing program, but what is a CMS and why do you need one? Let’s take a look.

Having read a fair share of blog posts about content marketing, it’s rare that anyone dives into the basics of content management systems (CMS). You’re told to aim high and do more with content, and to do so, will need a CMS. So let’s take a very brief look at what a CMS is and why you need one.

First, what is content?

Put simply, content is the conversation that you have with customers. More specifically, it’s the collection of text, images, recording, and video that customers consume to engage with your brand. This blog post? It’s a piece of web content. That Instagram story you just viewed? That’s content, too. Do you browse the latest products on your favourite ecommerce sites? That’s also content. News articles, banner ads, social posts, and even something as basic as the logo on a mobile app are pieces of content. But, when we talk about content in the context of customer engagement, content usually refers to some form of digital text, imagery, video, or sound recording.

So, what’s a CMS?

A content management system (CMS) is a technology platform that allows you to create, edit, produce, and organise digital content, usually for the web. Today, most content management systems go beyond the basics, with support for indexing, search, and SEO. The fundamental purpose of a CMS is simple: To create and update digital content for internal or external publication.

Why is a CMS important?

In a sense, a CMS is a tool that puts your content to work to build better relationships with your audience. Today, all businesses want to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time. This can yield huge dividends for every part of your business. For example, marketers can use content to engage customers to recommend and introduce new products. Content can be a vehicle to support better service, and it can teach customers to use your products in new ways or replace parts themselves. Content can also help drive sales, generate leads, and boost customer and partner engagement.

Content management in action

Consider this blog post. A blog post is one of the most common content types found in a CMS. And within this one blog post, there are multiple pieces of sub-content (content within content!): a publication date, author, title, banner image (the image that appears at the top of the page), and body copy. If you consider the entire page you’re reading, you’ll find even more pieces of content, such as links to related blog posts.

Again, a blog post is just one type of content that you can create and modify for publication with a CMS. There are countless other content types, including product catalogs, FAQs, press releases, and news articles … a full list of text- and image-based content would be too long for any article to include! And many CMSs can also serve up more complex content types, like podcasts or videos.

CMS: A 100-word history

In the early days of the web, you could only publish content if you knew HTML or had help from a developer. As you can imagine, the process frustrated both content creators that needed to share updates with customers and developers who had to deal with nonstop incoming content requests. Over time, a variety of CMS tools have emerged to solve that problem and make experience development easy for anyone, without a computer science degree. These tools let non-developers create, modify, and publish content to a web audience, typically, with a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing tool.

Types of CMSs available today

We’re now in a “post-web” era where customers interact with brands across many digital touchpoints. In response, CMS technology has evolved to support omnichannel content delivery — more distribution channels, types of content, and content development processes. When we look at the current market, we see three main categories of CMS:

  • Coupled CMS: Widely used, coupled CMSs include most of the legacy systems with roots in the early days of the web. These legacy systems couple content creation and modification with the presentation “touchpoint,” such as a website. It’s impossible to separate the management and presentation layers in a coupled CMS.

    • Advantages: The technology is familiar for many content creators with a long history of content development. It is also a simplified framework for companies that have a digital presence only on the web (which is fewer and fewer businesses these days).

    • Disadvantages: Coupled CMS may not support the breadth of modern content destinations, such as smart devices, wearables, and custom apps, or personalised experiences in portals.

  • Headless CMS: These CMSs resolve the challenges of coupled creation and presentation by dropping the presentation touchpoint, or presentation “head.” You use a headless CMS to create and modify content, but that content needs to feed into a separate presentation application.

    • Advantages: Because your content isn’t fused to the presentation layer (meaning you can send it anywhere) you have full control over how and where your content is presented.

    • Disadvantages: Headless CMSs require more investment of time and money into external presentation channels.

  • Hybrid CMS: A hybrid CMS provides a native experience channel or touchpoint, but also gives you the flexibility to present content to any touchpoint built on a third-party system. In this context, a native experience means that the content was created on the same platform as the presentation channel. So if your CMS is primarily a blog platform, the posts you create will be part of (as in native to) that platform, as well as the site through which those blog posts will be surfaced to the reader. This flexibility means that a hybrid CMS can be used in conjunction with a legacy CMS.

    • Advantages: Saves time by taking advantage of built-in experience templates and presentation tools. You completely own the content presentation, both on and off of the main CMS, so customers have a completely connected content experience no matter the channel.

    • Disadvantages: None! Hybrid CMSs make it easier to create beautiful experiences than either coupled or headless CMSs.

The future of content management systems

The CMS evolution hasn’t stopped: Personalisation is pushing the CMS in exciting directions. As part of digital transformation, businesses want to build digital experiences that are more relevant for their customers. The goal is to ensure each and every user has an experience that is uniquely curated for their needs — no matter where they engage with a brand.

Many look to AI to drive personalisation — and they should. But a wealth of personalisation potential starts with CRM. So why not link your CMS and CRM and put personalisation on the fast track? As CRM-powered and content-rich customer and partner portals deliver better experiences, a CMS must support the content side of the vision. A hybrid CMS, with both the pluses of coupled CMS and the flexibility of headless, provides a crucial building block for better digital experiences.

The right digital experience platform (DXP) can help you combine CRM and CMS. Forrester named Salesforce a DXP leader in The Forrester Wave™: Digital Experience Platforms, Q3 2019. Get the report to learn why.

This post originally appeared on the U.S.-version of the Salesforce blog.

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