Alison Williams, Business Development Director, Amplience look at how SI’s can help to create ‘information architecture’ and coach customers to model their content effectively.
We’re back in physical stores, but this has made little difference to the popularity of eCommerce, which continues steadily along its rising trajectory. This does not mean, however, that retailers can sit back and take it easy. Competition for eyeballs is fiercer than ever, making it even more important that retailers consistently deliver memorable digital experiences anywhere a customer interacts with their brand.
A website is the forefront of a retailer’s eCommerce strategy, and the vertex of the customer’s experience. So retailers are looking to newer, more flexible technologies to enhance their online storefronts, and it’s not an easy undertaking. Being responsive at the front end whilst supported by a full gamut of eCommerce capabilities at the back end is a joint endeavour. As retail IT teams grapple with how to move from their complex legacy platforms to modern technology stacks, marketing teams are seeking freedom to design in content, not code, so they can plan, create, preview, publish and edit in a few easy clicks. Meanwhile, retail business leaders are monitoring the cost of investment in new platforms to support operational growth and are demanding a fast ROI. Where the acute problem may surface as the need for a new website, the holistic solution is solved by redesigning how content and experiences are managed and delivered across all eCommerce channels.
Content management at the core of headless commerce
Systems integrators support retailers to build overarching solutions to these dilemmas, particularly if they are advocates of headless commerce, or even better, promote a MACH approach. Microservices, API-first, cloud-native and headless architectures enable retailers to gain maximum flexibility and agility when building, deploying and iterating compelling eCommerce experiences across multiple channels. These integrators have helped to advance the adoption of modern tech stacks and we rely on them to put content management at the core of headless commerce, but there is still a long way to go.
Traditionally, content management systems (CMS) based on legacy platforms restrict teams in how quickly and flexibly they can respond to changes in the market. Often CMS platforms were built to deliver content to a single channel or plug a technological hole in the retail market. They fail to support content delivery to multiple different channels or devices or to allow content to be scheduled independently of other elements on the page. Legacy CMS’s built for single channels are often template-based, making it a challenge for marketing and eCommerce teams to update or enhance content and more importantly innovate to enable new experiences.
Some CMS’s don’t account for nuanced requirements like combining content or products or scheduling and managing hundreds of concurrent promotions. A CMS built for eCommerce will include features to underpin complex commerce use cases like planning and calendar tools that support content from conception and amendments through to being published. Calendars allow teams to view content that is live, as well as content that is scheduled across all channels. Individual content components can be scheduled so that only that element needs to be republished, not everything on the page, and end dates can be added when content needs renewing. An eCommerce-focused CMS will also include a previewing tool that displays an overview of the entire experience, including product, content and promotions, across all channels at any point in time and on any device. This eliminates the element of surprise and mitigates fire drills and minimises reputational damage when incorrect content is published. Innovative retailers and brands are looking to invest in a CMS that not only manages content but also orchestrates different digital experiences across all touchpoints from store to web to social to email.
There remains, however, a mismatch between content and experience platforms, like ours, and an understanding of how they can be fully maximised. Crafting content that elevates the digital experience requires retailers and brands to be coached so they can make sense of, and best use of, every element in that platform.
The science of content modelling
There’s no set way of doing this however, systems integrators are uniquely placed to recommend a ‘discovery’ phase in which content modelling is prioritised and all stakeholders play a part. To help structure this, we have identified three core pillars of consideration: technical architecture, business user workflows and product adoption.
1) Technical architecture
Most eCommerce implementation projects start with a retailer’s technical team, which has all the power when it comes to making decisions about content modelling. The technical architecture matters to them, it is their job to make sure it works, but what they don’t always consider is how easy it will be for non-technical team members – whose requirements may not immediately be front of mind – to use.
Managing content is a good example. Our systems integrators are encouraged to work with customer technical teams to consider three specific actions. The first is the creation of a data model, a review of the retailer’s content types to ascertain the role they play, and where slots and delivery keys might be used; then it’s about reviewing when and how the application fetches the content so processes can be applied to transform or enrich it, or iron out inefficiencies; thirdly, they need to look at how the application renders the content into components and layouts. How those pieces of data are managed can easily be missed.
Take a simple button; this may have a background colour, a button text, and a button link. A technical user may define the button text as a hex value, but for a non-technical person a drop down of colour swatches would be more useful. This is easier for the retailer to manage and means only pre-defined brand colours can be selected.
2) Business workflows
This is where systems integrators can help to ensure the technical team understands the ramifications of the content management creation process on, for example, the marketing department. It is useful for all parties to engage in an end-to-end walkthrough of the intended media and content workflows for product media and for marketing or editorial media. Preproduction asset preparation should align with use cases and ingestion workflows should be consistent and work well with automation. In addition, user and vendor permissions must be mapped to workflows.
Integrators should encourage the entire team to look at the intended authoring, approval and scheduling flow to confirm it is working well and consider how it can be adapted based on type of content, channel, market or any other variable.
Take a blog post; this may be originally modelled to have a lead image and an open text field for the blog content. However, that content may be published to the eCommerce site, a social platform, and an RSS feed. If a system integrator understands the full workflow of the marketer and all the locations where that blog will be delivered, they may architect it to have a lead image, a heading, an author, a summary, a publish date, and a text field so each of those individual elements can be delivered and orchestrated separately.
3) Product adoption
Continuing the consultative approach, a walk-through of key features and their adoption status allows configurations and permissions to be put in place and content to be organised appropriately. Items such as dynamic imaging and use of applications in workflows can also be explained and understood.
Working with these pillars at the implementation phase ensures that content modelling is treated as an essential element in the retailer’s new architectural stack. For the technical team, it allows them to assess the scalability, reusability and performance of the CMS platform, while on the business user side, there is space and time to learn how to model content most effectively.
The important role of the integrator
Integrators are the glue to ensuring the solution is a complete success, including the technical architecture, the tooling, and the overall workflow. By encouraging teams to work together, aspects of content crafting such as the level of technical knowledge needed to understand the effect of some controls on a final render, is revealed.
Creating content to deliver digital eCommerce experiences is not black and white and good and bad practices change from customer to customer, but integrators can aim for some core objectives. The platform should be agile to support content authors, allowing them to make changes on their own. Those controlling the user experience and design should have a strong sense of creative freedom. The platform must also be easy to maintain and use for developers, providing non-functional requirements such as performance and SEO that are essential to the business.
We understand that it is not the role of the integrator to understand every nuance of our product, but where they can make a difference is in enabling retailers and brands to look more deeply inside this platform to extract value, create maximum impact for customers, achieve a rapid return on their investment and boost their growth.