When considering the future of web content management (WCM), it is perhaps helpful to remember that the technology is designed to systemize and automate that which has long been practiced by retailers and expected by consumers in the real world. Just as a shopper who enters a sporting goods store and asks for help finding a fishing rod might beat a hasty retreat if the clerk brings back a soccer ball, visitors to websites expect to be listened to and to receive personalized service. When you figure that an online shopper is not a car drive away from another store but rather just a few quick keyboard strokes away from another website, the pressure to get WCM right mounts exponentially.
Tom Wentworth, CMO of Ektron, Inc., a web solutions provider focused on WCM, marketing optimization, and intranet, social, and mobile solutions, calls this "humanizing content." He says, "Think of offline interactions and how they are based off of context: How the buyer acts, looks, even the car they drive may influence how they are treated in a store. Humans do a great job of processing context-we take it for granted in the real world. But online, we sometimes ignore it."
The good news is that the sources from which online context can be derived are more numerous and more accurate than ever, thanks to sophisticated enterprise data systems, powerful analytics, and social networks. The trick is to collate and channel the data consistently, such that the user experience feels authentic, accurate, and honest. This in turn deepens engagement with prospects and customers-replicating the best of offline context gathering in an online setting.
While WCM started off as a platform in which multiple players could collaborate around and administer content for an online environment, many in the econtent industry see WCM systems as uniquely suited to evolve into engagement hubs, or platforms that enable content to listen for context from multiple inputs and provide the best possible user experience as a result.
Scott Liewehr, content management strategist, analyst, and consultant with Outsell's Gilbane Services, says that leveraging WCM to make content listen is critical-he terms it "perceptive content." Liewehr says, "People talk about persuasive content, but in order to be persuasive you have to first be a listener." And that means compiling everything you know about a specific customer before offering up a response, whether in the form of a search result or links to related content. Liewehr explains, "The way someone comes to your website provides context-what was the search path they took to get there?"
Wentworth says Ektron has identified five key channels from which a company can learn about a specific user's intent in any given interaction. "Site behavior-whether they've responded to a marketing campaign, what their previous purchases are. Environment-this takes into account physical location, [which is] especially important for delivering to a mobile device. Traffic source-what were the search keywords? What was the referring domain?" The other two sources that can provide context are existing customer data culled from elsewhere in the enterprises' data infrastructure, such as a CRM or contact database, and social networks.
Ektron customer RedPlum.com, which offers digital coupons for consumer goods, has a dizzying array of personas who visit the site, from new moms to working families to retirees, not to mention an expanse of products for which it offers coupons. Wentworth says, "RedPlum is getting really good at using Ektron to [home] in on the right coupons for the right people." Visitors can indicate their locations, link to RedPlum via social networks, and sign up for a newsletter-all steps designed to provide context to RedPlum and a better coupon match for visitors.
In their white paper titled "Global Digital Engagement: Leveraging Opportunities to Increase Impact and Reduce Complexity," published in April 2011, Liewehr and his colleague Mary
Laplante point out that engagement is a cumulative effect, resulting from a series of interactions that deliver value. With each incremental customer interaction, a company can build a more complete picture of who the visitor is, what his or her preferences are, what his or her physical location is, and what his or her purchasing needs are. The goal for effective WCM is to move further along what Liewehr and Laplante term an "engagement arc." Liewehr says, "As we listen, we build an understanding of a specific visitor's needs as they search."
These listening moments also provide a pathway to content optimization. "Say I'm selling Post-it Notes, and someone searches for them via the term ‘Sticky Notes' and ends up purchasing them," Liewehr says. A WCM should automatically add that new search term to the content in question so that the next time there's a search for "sticky notes," Post-it Notes will appear in the results screen, giving the customer a more efficient search experience. This automated expansion of metadata tags based on user interactions is another facet of making content listen for context.