By Koen Roos, 14 November 2018
If you are a marketer, website developer or webmaster you have definitely heard of the headless trend in the martech world. There are many articles explaining how the headless approach works, but before talking about the technology we should ask the following question: why you would apply the headless concept?
Today, customers and prospects want the content they receive to be relevant for them, and they want it to delivered quickly and efficiently no matter on which channel or on what time. This means that the marketing solutions you offer should be fast. There is a big opportunity here, as more and more touchpoints are available to interact with your customers.
You don't only need a mobile-first website but you should be able to deliver the same personalized content on any other relevant channels such as smart watches, apps, chat bots and so one. Interacting with your customers across all channels is the key to success.
To maintain an edge over competitors, you need to ensure the experiences you and your developers create are as rich, smooth, and contextual as possible - and extendable to wherever your audience is, whether that’s on a mobile app or a connected device. It’s not enough to build beautiful stuff, you also need to make sure you can deliver it everywhere, as efficiently as possible.
As a marketer, technology should help you in order to achieve your goals. However, sometimes it looks like the technical part of your initiatives is blocking your plans and the implementation of your ideas get stuck when you involve technology.
Customers say that it is important the company they buy from is innovative. This is why it is so important for companies to have an innovative branding.
This means that being creative is really important and a must to capture the attention from your potential customers. So you should be able to go to market quickly and your digital architecture should enable quick releases and use an iterative approach to test out new innovations and ideas as well as gather the data that's needed to adapt your ideas to be even more effective.
By running an experiment, and by closely watching the data, you’ll have evidence that an idea performs. This means that the technology needs to support experimentation and fast updates.
Using the right technology to achieve your goal is essential, but sometimes you as a marketer need to use a tool or framework that is limited in functionalities.
If you want to create a sexy campaign site and your design team has created an awesome layout this might not be feasible in the traditional CMS system available in your digital architecture. Or, if you want to reuse the content on your campaign site on other touchpoints such as smartwatches, apps or Point of Sales systems, this might not be supported by your CMS system - never mind delivering personalized experiences on these touch points.
This causes limitations that have an impact on your user experience plan in order to convince the customer to choose for your brand.
This problem can be solved by decoupling the front end presentation from the backend where your content and business logic is managed.
In your presentation layer, whether it be a website or a presentation on some other channel, the implementation can be done in the most modern technology as available in the martech world. This enables you to implement the sexy design that your UX experts have worked out without limitations in functionality when you would be obligated to use another technology.
Your development team will be happy to use the newest technology in order to achieve your goals; and will be able to update the presentation layer quickly based on your learnings.
This is in essence the headless approach: separating the presentation layer from the backend layer. A headless CMS is a content management system that lets you store, edit, and manage content, but doesn’t actually render the content on the device of your audience.
If you gather data about what customers and prospects are doing while running your initiatives you'll get essential insights to use in the next step of the customer journey. By using the headless approach you enable experimentation and you will unlock content re-use across channels without having to rework it. Headless content management means marketers and developers can build amazing content today, and create future-proof content operations to consistently deliver great content everywhere.
But, headless is not only useful for the content to show on apps, chatbots, smart watches or campaign websites or micro websites. By using the headless approach for your corporate website for example you will be able to redesign your website more efficiently in the future. Instead of reanalysing all data structures and page templates and doing a content migration you will be able to only update the presentation layer to do a restyling of your website.
If you are familiar with the Sitecore platform, you know that Sitecore aggregates the behavioral data from all touchpoints and you can enrich this data with information from external platforms such as CRM, ERP and so on, to have a rich overview of a prospect or customer in the Experience Database. This enables you to deliver the most relevant, personalized experience.
Sitecore always had a strong story around multi-channel re-use of content since Sitecore uses an item-based content management system with full separation of content and presentation. This allows implementation partners to choose in which front end technology websites will be set up. Sitecore is component based and personalization rules, multi variate tests and analytics can be configured by content editors and marketers.
You need to be aware that you can have a problem when you cut the head off a CMS: you can lose the ability to send customer interaction data between the front end and the back end in real time. That means you can’t personalize experiences or run content analytics activities.
And as you know, personalization has gone from a “nice-to-have” feature to an important high priority requirement.
Sitecore really understands this and on their Symposium this year, they introduced Sitecore Omni. With Sitecore Omni you can deliver headless content applications without losing the full personalization capabilities as you are used to with Sitecore.
Sitecore Omni leverages Sitecore JSS and a new Universal Tracker to build headless applications without sacrificing personalization, analytics, and A/B testing features. It enables organizations to unleash the Sitecore Experience Cloud potential on any device or platform whether it be online or offline.
Creative teams can build full-fledged experiences such as websites or single page and progressive web apps, with marketers maintaining full control over the content, presentation structure and marketing features in the Sitecore backend while developers have complete freedom to use any development environment, operating system, and developer workflow.
JSS is a toolkit delivered to front end developers who will be able to use whatever technology and host it on whatever platform they want in order to develop their experiences. JSS is currently in technical preview and will be included in the Sitecore 9.1 release.
Next to JSS, Sitecore Omni includes Universal Tracker which enables you to capture all interactions online and offline on any device. Also Sitecore GraphQL, Sitecore Services and SXA's Data Modeling and Layout Service are part of Sitecore Omni.