Letting Customers Call the Shots
Given the amount of time people spend on Facebook and the willingness they have shown to customize their profiles, it does seem like a natural starting point for companies that want to know their customers as individuals. It's a passive, easy means of telegraphing intent to vendors; if a person likes a series of karate videos for his or her network of friends to see, it's a safe bet that sidebar advertisements served up by publishers of karate magazines will find more resonance than those advertising birding magazines.
But what about what Wentworth terms "the Hannah Montana problem"? He tells a story to which nearly everyone can relate: "Amazon.com thinks I love Hannah Montana, because I bought a CD of hers for my little niece. It doesn't yet recognize that people have multiple contexts-that I am a friend, a husband, and an uncle at the same time." So the Hannah Montana ads follow wherever Wentworth goes.
Steven Kludt, EVP of marketing at Cambridge Semantics, Inc., which provides semantic technology-powered application development products, believes that this points to an opportunity for customers to explicitly define their own interests. Kludt's idea is that there will someday be a common profile format through which individuals can set up and maintain a persona that outlines interests and preferences over time-as in, today I'm interested in finding good deals on Hannah Montana CDs, but tomorrow that search is over, and I'm back to being interested in hang gliding.
Kludt says, "Ideally, there is a GUI interface to set up who I am and what I care about today. That enables companies to look at ontologies around individual users." The incentive for users, Kludt believes, is that people may like to take control of the web's image of them. "Facebook is an excellent example of how people might work with their user profile," Kludt says. "But where Facebook tells about who you socialize with, this kind of profile that the user edits has a slightly different angle," one that presumably is worth more to companies because it provides an even clearer view of a specific person's interests and preferences.
He lists the challenges in creating such a common persona: "Performance, standards, and common ontologies. We're only now reaching the point where we can consider how to deploy it." Giving users the chance to self-define their interests over time could uncover another facet that is still hard to uncover from today's web intelligence.
Get the Fundamentals Right
The promise of WCM as an engagement hub leveraging perceptive content is exciting, but it's not an easy step. "The biggest obstacle I hear from clients is that implementing a WCM is so monumental that they don't know where to begin," Liewehr says.
For his part, Wentworth counsels caution. "Before you can get to engagement, you have to make sure the foundation is solid," he says. "You have to get the basics of WCM right." As to the reasons why basic WCM still eludes so many companies that stand to benefit, he points a finger at WCM that overcomplicates solutions. "Vendors need to make CMS technologies easier to use," he says. It is equally important, he says, for companies contemplating a WCM implementation to take their time up front to properly plan and scope their projects.
Dertinger cites that upfront time investment for Navy.com as a key factor in its success. "That paid off," he says, of the time spent with members of the information architecture and design group prior to deploying the site. By developing a template ahead of time, Dertinger says, "It allows us to add new content in quickly."
"These are hard problems we're solving," Wentworth points out. One thing that may make it easier is clear understanding of the business imperative for a WCM implementation. "I always tell customers that these are not content management problems. It's a customer problem. Does the organization want a better way to generate leads, to boost sales, or in the case of a nonprofit, to grow donations or memberships?" These are not small questions for an organization,
of course. But Wentworth points out, "The great news is that if the core implementation is done correctly, all the advanced stuff like personalization is much easier."
Boris Kraft, CTO of Magnolia International Ltd., agrees that core WCM is still out of reach for many companies. "Content management systems are constantly evolving," he says. "It's nice to think about perceptive content, but the majority of people have other problems." Kraft believes that the flexibility and ease of use of the Magnolia CMS is appealing for just that reason. "If something new pops up, a good developer can figure out how Magnolia works and develop a plug-in extension," he says.
On the other hand, the appeal of WCM facilitating "content that listens for context" may be too alluring to wait. As Kraft himself points out, "Things that were considered avant-garde several years ago are on our iPhones today." As cutting-edge gadgets end up in our pockets and at the bottoms of our purses, it's more important than ever for publishers to look forward and to be ready for what's coming around the next content bend.