Predictions for 2020

Two analyst firms have put out some predictions for the future of WCM earlier this year;

I’m going to outline my 2020 predictions for the market – a little early as I want to get a head start. I reference both firms above because in a lot of cases, I agree with the thinking. In fact, much of the “agile CMS” manifesto from Mark Grannan was very similar to some of the underlying strategy behind the Stylelabs acquisition and some of the CMP integration roadmap. That said, I don’t want to repeat what’s been said already, so here are my (hopefully distinct) observations.

Vendor and category blur intensifies

All sorts of weird and wonderful things are happening to martech, but the biggest one of consequence is the overall level of market confusion that businesses will have to contend with. WCM is getting both bigger (continually adding chunks of CDP, adtech, marketing automation, etc.) and smaller (headless, SaaS solutions such as HubSpot CMS and Questions around cloud (IaaS, PaaS, single-tenant SaaS, multi-tenant SaaS, static-site generation, front-end JavaScript, CDNs, Netlify, Gatsby.js, etc. etc. etc.), subscription vs. perpetual and pretty much every combination add to the level of confusion.

CDP as a standalone category first struggled to differentiate itself from DMP (good article from Martin Kihn, formerly of Gartner, now at Salesforce), and now has to contend with being absorbed by marketing cloud platforms, WCM and CRM vendors (did I mention Martin Kihn was now at Salesforce? What a co-incidence…). For various reasons (mostly to do with some big-data buzzwords) the CDP category has massively exploded well beyond the ability for the market to carry it (expect a blog post on that one).

Similarly, WCM will start to get absorbed into larger marketing clouds. Salesforce has a CMS beta in Community Cloud where many of the other functions (CDP, personalization, user management, marketing automation, etc.) will already live in those clouds, similarly SAP is also making a concerted effort around CX – their current offering (formerly Hybris) plus Gigya give them a solid base. I am far less sure of the value the Qualtrics acquisition brings to the play (especially at a 20x valuation) – unless it’s akin to the Microsoft acquisition of Groove networks (buying people and culture – namely folks like Ray Ozzie who became the CTO and ultimately laid the groundwork for cultural transformation and cloud).

CMP consolidating or being subsumed into adjacent technologies

The core functions of a Content Marketing Platform; collaboration, curation, campaign planning and content strategy/funnel mapping are functions that should have been WCM for quite some time. I wrote a longer post here, but in summary, the need for CMP will accelerate, but the sector itself will face some revenue/growth challenges and consolidation.

Adtech vs. martech replacing the old IT vs. Marketing battleground

The main source of “creative tension” in WCM has always been characterized by the relationship between IT and the marketing organization. WCM used to be almost solely the domain of IT; it was a lot of infrastructure to get up and running and IT would treat the deployment of content much like handling support tickets, which of course was not tenable. While there are still many IT-centric WCM systems – and IT still has a veto over technology choices – it could be argued that marketing is now firmly in the driver’s seat as customer experience drives more budget and purchasing decisions.

The new battleground for budget and attention will be adtech vs. martech. Recently, Jason Fried of Basecamp tweeted a well-known but interesting point about the fact that competitors can buy up keywords of your company/product name. This and the more obvious point about the fact that buying keywords is easy – there are fewer and fewer opportunities for differentiation. Combine this with the general trend for consumers opting out of advertising means that lazy brand-building is no longer acceptable and that advertising as a model is at risk.

This of course means that the slack needs to be picked up by better customer experience, which is enabled by better customer journeys, and far better content marketing. Some example vendors doing a great job of this;

SaaS takes over the WCM mid-market, but not the enterprise

This has actually been happening for quite some time – WordPress is basically a SaaS offering in most contexts (PHP is easy to deploy and customize in real-time, either on their own or your hosting platform) and you need only look at it’s prevalence in the Stackie Awards year-over-year to see that WordPress is pretty prevalent here, even among customers with greater marketing needs (the business logic is offloaded to other integrated systems).

What is new in 2019 is that in some stacks, there is no specific callout for WCM at all. Often you will simply see a reference to HubSpot or Salesforce Marketing cloud. Similarly, in Commerce you are often seeing Shopify own a large segment of the market where lower Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) makes it simpler to use this as an option.

(PS – as per Shopify’s 40-F – they rely solely on Stripe as a payment provider. How long before these two shack up and own both online and PoS channels?)

However, at the enterprise space, most customers still have strong integration/customization requirements. In some cases, legislation may mandate an on-prem solution, or they are tied to legacy back-end systems. And even where these requirements don’t exist, the vendors servicing those markets are tied to some legacy stacks and the sheer amount of functionality makes it hard to migrate. Adobe and others are making managed services far easier, but this is still not quite a true SaaS play yet. Only one vendor (to my knowledge) has successfully undergone this transformation; Oracle led the trend in converting a “leading (but legacy) enterprise” stack with the old ATG commerce and spent a number of years in the wilderness dropping out of Forrester leader position and only recently returning to market leadership with a full refactoring of Oracle Commerce Cloud (but notably also retaining IaaS/PaaS/on-prem flexibility with Oracle Commerce and much shared codebase). But even that required a number of years and considerable “market confusion” (as per Gartner) about the various offerings.

Wildcard bonus prediction: Adobe to (maybe) acquire some overlapping products

I’ve never quite got my head around the Adobe acquisition of Magento. AEM is a very enterprise-heavy, java-based WCM system. While I had predicted that Adobe would still buy a Commerce solution (despite having their long-standing and solid Hybris partnership stymied by SAP), I would not have guessed Magento. While Adobe had some open-source roots from Day, including elements like the Jackrabbit JCR and Sling being Apache projects, it is largely now a proprietary play with an emphasis on enterprise development and integration and not an open-source community or model.

In turn, Magento is a PHP-based system, with a mid-market and a still active open-source model. Some analysts have argued that Adobe wasn’t really acquiring the technology, they were acquiring the community, which I don’t disagree with. (It could have also been a spoiler to prevent Acquia from further deepening their partnership with Magento, all their other competitors at that level – namely Sitecore and Episerver – having eCommerce offerings themselves).

That said, they now have two very different products, markets and models to anchor their main Customer Experience entry points – so here’s my wildcard prediction: I think Adobe will still look to acquire a java-based Commerce system (my guess would be Elastic Path) to fit snugly with AEM and also look to either buy or build a WCM that is more appropriate to Magento and that mid-market/community-based audience.

There is certainly some precedent for acquiring and maintaining overlapping vendors; Adobe acquiring both Neolane and Marketo, Salesforce acquiring Demandware and Cloudcraze (not to mention owning Pardot, which they got by virtue of it being acquired by ExactTarget) – but at this point in the vendor musical chairs, there are fewer options that may make sense at the price (versus building), so I am actively hedging on this one. It may not happen, but I would be completely unsurprised if it did. But I do think that Adobe will have more trouble trying to push AEM down to mid-market (the architecture alone makes this difficult), so they need to do something drastic if they want to succeed in both markets.

CMP is ready for something big to happen…

About three months ago, Ryan Skinner – the Forrester analyst for B2C marketing professions – wrote a long (25 tweet!) thread about Content Marketing Platforms (CMP):

I won’t repeat the entire thread, because you can read it for yourself directly from Ryan, but it does do a good job breaking down the current state of the industry and the overall need.

When I was at Sitecore, CMP was a big focus of mine and we worked very hard to get that functionality into the overall portfolio as quickly as possible (to the point that Sitecore debuted in Ryan’s report: “The Forrester Wave™: Content Marketing Platforms For B2C Marketers, Q2 2019” with a new offering as a Strong Performer).

However, I think that CMP adoption will accelerate and start to get over that “slow, grinding, unpredictable” growth for the following reasons:

WCM vendors will finally “catch up”

WCM has its roots in a very IT-focused side of the business. Concerns such as tech stack, latency, permissions, etc. were of paramount importance. You need look no further than the fact that Interwoven Teamsite was basically source control for content (complete with branching and merging) – because that was the prime metaphor that most IT people understood. However, the role of WCM has evolved a great deal from an IT-lead enabler of marketing functions to a core part of marketing and customer experience activities. However, this history still causes a split among internal teams and even within vendors – and as a result technical and architectural features still usually dominate the conversation. In light of this, CMP sprung up as a category, largely because WCM vendors were not serving that marketer-led, content strategy function. Two WCM vendors (Sitecore and Bloomreach) have recognized this need directly and appear in the B2C CMP Forrester Wave, and others (Episerver, Adobe, Acquia) have been adding project management functionality. But the need for better collaboration, curation and content performance analytics is becoming more clear (and making this gap in WCM more apparent).

Based on Ryan’s comments about burn rate, it seems very plausible that a number of standalone CMP vendors are ripe for acquisition by WCM vendors where this functionality will simply become table-stakes. Of course, consolidation may go elsewhere; Sprinklr (the only Leader in the CMP wave) is primarily a Social Management platform, and other CMP vendors such as Percolate have been adding Digital Asset Management (DAM) and other capabilities, so this consolidation trend could go in multiple directions.

Multi-channel becomes more important

When WCM “ruled” Customer Experience (CX), it was because web was the primary channel. While it still lays claim to a good part of any martech CX stack, it is clear that more brands are starting to pursue a multi-channel approach to marketing. This does just mean replicating the same content from web and mobile, but also ensuring a consistent voice across social and offline channels (i.e. CRM/support or enablement channels such as Showpad) where content is not created near the web channel. A CMP sitting in front of those channels and teams is key to ensuring alignment of that strategy across the organization.

Marketers will finally start to realize the power of Content Marketing for Customer Experience

According to everybody and their dog, Customer Experience is the next big battleground, and most brands have been investing heavily in technology as their silver bullet. This has gone in waves; WCM, personalization, customer journey, etc. but they are starting to come to the realization there are some diminishing returns to a primarily technology and data-driven approach. This is also combined with the fact that adtech is largely an arms race – both you and your competitors can equally throw money into the machine of Google, Facebook (and lately Amazon) so you are losing any source of differentiation of brand or strategy. This has lead to a bit of a re-think to acknowledge that you still must to have a brand and content strategy to execute successfully, but also that any outreach to customers must be far closer tied to the product than any “ephemeral” brand associations. CMP is an interesting category in that it explicitly acknowledges the role that people and strategy play up-front – but unlike other forms of martech it does not promise quick wins. Which is of course why adoption has been slow, because it takes heavy organizational effort to make that happen. But when it does happen, you get these results; buyers “love their CMPs”, and their NPS score are “really good for enterprise software”

Similarly, one thing smart marketing organizations are starting to realize is that more content is not necessarily better. They need to have clear visibility into what was created and why. Part of “governance” is ensuring that you’ve got a clear audience and demand for what you’re creating – because otherwise you are not just wasting resources, but also adding to the noise that your customers need to wade through to get what they need.

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. There’s a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness. Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.

Michael Porter

Skyword, a CMP vendor, has a great article from Liz Alton, entitled: “Good Strategy Is Knowing What Not to Do: The Art of Rejecting Content Ideas” and to me, this really gives a clear example of how tightly related a CMP is to organizational behavior and how it can help focus and drive those hard content marketing decisions.

CMP will start to marry the quantitative and qualitative

Marketing has been very “data-led” lately with adtech eating attention and budgets, but good Customer Experience is much more about ensuring that qualitative concepts like “empathy” and “top-tasks” lead a CX strategy, and CMP platforms are the bridge for aligning these worlds to ensure that you have the metrics in place to proactively help set and monitor that strategy.

To conclude, there are a lot of trends in martech and customer experience, and organizations should get ready for some vendor re-alignment into the spaces you already play in (CMP pulled into WCM or other channels such as Social). But more importantly, doing the hard work around content strategy is key to drive a superior and differentiated customer experience and a proper implementation of a CMP will help to enable this. Hint: The best brands and marketing organizations already are already doing this.

So CMP vendors in a standalone category may still have struggles (the same could be argued for WCM) but the overall need is great and will play a strong role in Customer Experience one way or another in the future.

Post-script. Ryan Skinner linked to my post on LinkedIn and Shafqat Islam the co-founder and CEO of NewsCred made this comment:

In a couple months there will only be one pure play CMP vendor left standing. Everyone else will be acquired, out of business, or a zombie company. Sad truth about the category.

Shafqat Islam

Can’t say I disagree – this is one of those interesting cases where there is a need for the product – but for the issues in uptake I mention above, the standalone vendors are “struggling” (in my words). There is such a thing as being too early for the market (Apple Newton, etc.), but I stand by my statement that the need is there (and will grow) but other segments (WCM, Social) with more heft will take advantage of the functionality in CMP to fill their gaps. Ultimately this is good for marketers, but not so great for those vendors (unless acquisition was Plan A).