5 Myths Every Marketer Needs to Know about Headless CMS — Debunked


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Buying marketing technology has proven to be more difficult and more confusing every year. It’s not just the plethora of solutions available in the market but it’s the very consuming task of wading through seemingly endless new fads and trends, forcing you to re-educate your entire team to make an informed decision on which solution is a true investment for your bottom line.

The latest rage in the digital experience stack are headless solutions, sometimes referred to as API-First Content Management. The trend is not entirely new, experts in content management have been talking about the notion of Content as a Service (CaaS) for many years.

What is new is that headless architectures are no longer a priority only for developers and marketing technology geeks. The conversation now has a place with the exec team and in the boardroom, for good reason: The needs of a modern digital experience architecture for agility, dexterity and flexibility play right into the benefits of the headless philosophy.

More traditional solutions have been weary and slow or unable to adapt to this new trend and, as a result, have expressed uncertainty and doubt in headless CMS, particularly with business and marketing teams.

Here are the most important myths you need to know as a marketer – without having to know all the tech details under the hood.

What Is a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS or a headless eCommerce solution, doesn’t come with a prebuilt mechanism to create a front end. Rather, a headless CMS separates content from code. That means, you can publish your content and multimedia assets into ANY front end – not just that one way dictated by the traditional CMS vendor. Your front end developers, app developers or agency access the content and assets via so-called Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Headless is often used synonym with “API-first”.

There’s also a league of so-called hybrid’ or ‘head-optional’ software, which implies that you can operate both in a headless mode and traditional. “Traditional” means you have templates and a “what you see is what you get” functionality to control the way your websites are presented based on a model prescribed by the traditional vendor.

Myth 1: A Headless CMS doesn’t do preview.

Or: You won’t have any idea where your content will end up, or what it will look like after it has gone live and published.

Debunked: Content preview is a standard functionality with enterprise headless CMS solutions. Some solutions that are behind in their advancements on headless capabilities may be trying to scare you away from looking at true headless benefits more closely.

Myth 2: Marketers give up control on the look & feel.

With ‘traditional’ solutions, developers build templates to define the look and feel of a site, what content to display, where it is displayed, as well as basic functionality. These templates are usually bound to what sort of content they are displaying. Typically, you would have a ‘blog template’ and a ‘new template’ – and maybe a couple of different options to display a teaser.

Debunked: Headless CMS removes template overhead.

In essence, the mechanism for picking what a piece of content looks like is the same as with traditional CMS, which is defined by the type of content being published. From my personal implementation experience, templates either change once a year because they work, or constantly, because marketing likes to experiment.
In either case, it is faster to work on the front end design itself than having to request developers to change templates with vendor proprietary code. A nice side benefit of removing this in-between layer is that your site performance increases significantly.

Myth 3: You will suffer because you cannot drag and drop anymore.

Yes, it is true, you don’t drag and drop content around in a headless model.

In your corporate website preview mode, with a traditional CMS, you drag a banner over and republish. Et voila, your banner has moved. It looks great in a sales demo because legacy options were built for desktop websites. But, in reality, a few months later you have to do the same for your mobile website and then wonder how that would work with your mobile app. You’d likely have to call a developer for help and also have to check a services portal..

Debunked: Letting go of drag and drop is a necessity for modern digital experiences. And, more strategically, it’s time to reevaluate and change your process for 2020 digital experience delivery.

The majority of your traffic most likely already comes from mobile devices today. You know you probably won’t get around native apps much longer, if you don’t already have some. Voice is here, with AR and VR coming. If you aren’t starting with your mobile site or app experience already today, reconsider your digital experience design process. The future of digital experience is mobile, apps, voice, smart connected things and spaces – not desktop websites.

And even more importantly, savvy marketers don’t drag and drop anymore, they test. And test again and then again. Increasingly, the actual delivery of the experience is driven by automated testing, and AI-driven personalization.

The role of the marketer isn’t in the assembly of a digital experience anymore, but rather in interpreting the insights gathered from customer interaction and catering to the needs unraveled.

In a world where digital experiences are orchestrated in real time, tailored to a visitor’s channel preference and tested for optimization — how will you ever be sure that what you see in a desktop preview environment is actually what anybody will see and experience?

Myth 4: Marketing has to wait for developers.

Yes, you will work more closely with front end developers. But you will not have to wait for them.

Debunked: Working with front end developers in your team is faster.

In fact, you will find that making design and functionality changes is much faster when working with a Headless CMS.

You can avoid all the unnecessary overhead of proprietary template work that comes with traditional CMS vendors (see Myth 2). Because your front end developers are free to work with those front end technologies that serve your needs best, they can accelerate their efforts to maximum speed.

I recommend including front end developers in the marketing team itself but that does not mean marketing becomes an IT function. Front end developers are more akin to graphic designers, who also work with highly specialized tooling. They follow a very different mindset than the traditional developer stereotype we have in mind.

Front end designers are more experimental, fast to iterate, quick to try out new technologies and typically much better communicators. Most front end developers appreciate esthetics too and have a feel for design — which means in practice that you don’t have to justify why it’s important to move that banner up 10 pixels. Also, they often work with testing tools like Optimizely and can assist you in the process of becoming a more test-driven marketing team.

Myth 5: Headless is great for developers and terrible for marketing.

Hopefully, by now, we have already established a lot of key benefits for the business and marketing side of an organization. If you still have a nagging voice in the back of your head chanting ‘I am giving power back to IT’, then let’s take a step back.

Debunked: Headless is great for business AND developers.

A decade ago, marketing teams took control over the budget for the martech stack. This was a strategic move away from IT because marketing needed to get ahead of the game and move faster than IT could cater to our needs back then.

But that didn’t work out so well. We’ve maneuvered ourselves into working with legacy solutions that don’t live up to the promise. What was ‘fast’ in the world of web, now slows us down in the world of mobile, apps and things.

It is time to let go of the illusion of control because we are sacrificing the end goal for it. Marketers, it’s time to serve our customers with the best possible digital customer experience – across their life cycle, no matter how and when they choose to engage with us.

Sonja Kotrotsos
Sonja Kotrotsos heads up the EMEA Go-To-Market for award-winning headless CMS vendor Contentstack. A DXP (digital experience platform) industry expert, Sonja has helped enterprise customers get the optimal return on experience over the last two decades. She is a mother of three and lives near Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


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