In this episode, Programme Director Noz Urbina interviews Mark Grannan, Senior Analyst from Forrester Research. Mark takes us through Forrester’s new term: “Agile CMS” and how it separates content management, planning, and analytics from the channel end-points to enable content-as-a-service for all potential channels at once from a single, central hub. Mark’s contributed to several whitepapers on omnichannel and focuses especially on platform and systems, making him a valuable resource for understanding market trends around content management, planning, measurement, and distribution.
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Full interview transcript
[00:00:07.700] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Welcome to this edition of the OmnichannelX Omnichannel Podcast I am Noz Urbina programme director for the OmnichannelX Conference. I’m here today with Mark Grannan, Senior Analyst from Forrester Research. I’m very excited to have him on the podcast. For those of you don’t know we do these to support our community and our annual conference which you can find out more about on OmnichannelX.digital.
That’s June 8th to 11th, one day of workshops followed by two days of conference. We’ve got a great crop of speakers this year. We’ve had tripled the submissions we were expecting, which is a good sign. We’ve got friends from Forrester, Accenture Digital, Google, The Real Story Group, Cisco and many more, as well as Margot Bloomstein our keynote speaker, author, and magnate of the Content Strategy World as well as myself.
But without any further ado, Mark, do you want to say hi to our listeners and viewers and let them know a little something about yourself?
[00:01:44.530] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Thanks, Noz, and nice to meet you all. Thanks for having me on. I’m just getting to know Noz and the team and the broader OmnichannelX mandate but I’ve been around the space for a while now. I’ve been with Forrester for pushing a decade, that I’ve been covering cms and digital experience technologies and the strategies that sit around them. So very recently about the last 18 months we’ve been pivoting our cms coverage and pretty excited to get a chance to talk to you a bit more about that today.
[00:02:17.710] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
OK, great. So, as an analyst, what are your day-to-day activities include in this space? Tell us a little about what you do.
[00:02:29.610] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
So day in life? I think you could kind of break it down by the activities that we do internally and probably 60 percent is research. So, it’s a research interview. It’s working on a draft. It’s creating a graphic. It’s prepping for an upcoming delivery. So, that’s the research side. Then there is the advisory and consulting side. So that would be more of a one to one scenario where we help clients in either a workshop or getting ready for a speech. Something along those lines. And then I’d say 10 percent of my time, maybe flexing depth at 20 is calls.
[00:03:06.580] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
So actually, it’s a form of advisory. We do these on-to-one 30 minute calls around an inquiry. So clients call up. We try to help them in the context of that call. Either get an answer to a strategy question or a technology selection question or something in between.
[00:03:21.100] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Right. Great. Forester’s always so very well known organisation, which can be a lot of followers who are listening to this. And a lot of people will know your reports. I know you’ve done two on Omnichannel because I was involved in them as an interviewee. What are you working on these days? You mentioned a pivot. What was your focus these days?
[00:03:43.540] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
So, the outset, a little bit of setting the stage, if you will. About seven years ago, Forrester embraced this need for Omnichannel, but through an architectural lens. We called it: The Pivot to Digital Experience. And the reason was because back in the day, around 2010, e-Commerce and the Web CMS were fighting for control of the website, which was one of the primary touchpoints you had. And you had to shop.dot and www.dot, and they didn’t talk, and the brand experiences was really bad. We were trying to solve for that.
[00:04:23.810] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Well, in the last six, seven, eight years, we’ve accelerated that challenge many fold. A lot of different things are coming in and vying for control, not just of the templating, but also of the data model of the transaction, of the navigation, of the look and feel of you name it. We embrace this notion around digital experience. It sat across that mandate. And that’s the macro picture.
Then we have to rethink how content, specifically for me the CMS, fits into that new world because it was a vertically oriented stack. It was: develop the web experience and then publish content out to the end-user. That two-stage model, that’s very vertically oriented, doesn’t work very well in DX landscape. So we had to kind of go back and rethink what should it be. And so talking to folks like you, talking to my colleagues like Ryan Skinner, who I think is a friend of the podcast and of the broader community…
[00:05:28.150] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Note: Actually, Ryan Skinner has been confirmed for the 2020 Conference.
[00:05:33.090] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Good. Good. So talking to Ryan and some other colleagues, many other colleagues at Forrester, looking at what should next-generation content technologies and strategies be?
[00:05:43.690] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
And I’ve put my stamp on it, a label. I call it Agile CMS. I know some folks have cringed at yet another label in this landscape. I’m happy to walk you through why we chose that but I think the more interesting thing is what is it, rather than just the words. So I’ve been, pretty excited about trying to flesh out what it is in the last year, year and a half, and we have some new reports coming out soon as we think we’ll be pretty strong in terms of characterising what this is and what it will be in the next probably one to five years-ish.
[00:06:15.120] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
OK, Well, I’m asking all of our guests as those and I do want to ask you before we kind of launch into it. As there is much debate on this — or some maybe some confusion around whether this is an e-commerce thing or a marketing thing — What is Omnichannel for you? What is your definition?
[00:06:45.030] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Oh, that’s that’s a big one. I would say e-commerce. That world has had a stronger need to define and embrace this than maybe some others because they have to be where the customer is, right. So, rather than just saying I am going to sell to you on my web shop or my dot.com… that model doesn’t really work. Because even if it was the old brick-and-mortar or now it’s the dot.com, it’s still a very singular way to view the customer, of you asking them to come you, instead they’re on social, they’re on mobile apps. They’re using Amazon.com, they’re using Etsy, they’re using everything. So commerce providers their goal is the conversion; the sale. Right? And to attract that buyer you have to be where they are. So they really need the ability to do that. So that’s part of Omnichannel, which is where you are in digital presences, but also the ability to fulfill from anywhere. So you bought it in-store. But I can ship it from another store. So this is back-end fulfillment piece of Omnichannel as well. So e-commerce really has experienced that. But I’d argue that it’s definitely gone way beyond e-commerce and there are other niche scenarios that are even experiencing, and I think in ways that they’re even testing that model. So you could think about media or travel or other types of entertainment. They really have lost control of things going through their channel and now they need to be on Smart TV’s and infotainment displays in a car and everything in between.
[00:08:26.110] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Yeah. You’re actually making me think of other scenarios. This year we’ve got Google’s ‘Lee Boonstra’, who is Technology Advocate for Conversational Interfaces and A.I.. So basically, chatbots.
[00:08:41.180] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
[00:08:42.220] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
And her specialism area is actually the service bit. So not necessarily pre-sales service, but it could be as well, just any kind of service where you are serving current customers, future customers, etc. Again, the question is how do we make sure that those channels, in every stage of the content lifecycle are tied in?
[00:09:03.380] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
So, I think that the scope of Omnichannel keeps growing. What we’re hoping is that we’re gonna get that wider definition of “your whole customer relationship” out there. That’s one of our goals at the conference and why I’m speaking to people like yourself – to to widen the definition as much as possible and keep being part of that increasing of scope so that people say: it is as broad as you need it to be for your business purposes.
So that takes me back to more requirement for agility and your concept of Agile CMS. So can you tell me a little bit more about Agile CMSs? What’s that? Where you’re going with that?
[00:09:48.160] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Happy to. So that notion of omnichannel is, in my opinion, kind of picking your eyes up and looking to the horizon. So that brings in aspects of channels you haven’t embraced yet, channels that aren’t even here yet. But it’s a customer-centric view of the world. Kind of looking back at yourself. You bring yourself into the foreground and say, ok, what are the tools and the processes and the channels that I control right now? And how do I maximize leverage from those efforts? Then you start to get to this reason. Okay. I need to rethink this DX mandate in the context of something smaller. So it’s kind of like a fractal you’re zooming in. And for content we’ve been, as I mentioned, web cms e-commerce is very, very, very channel centric and not that those channels aren’t valuable. They just now exist as one of a dozen, perhaps. And so your same team that’s creating content now needs to be relevant not on one channel, but on a dozen, so now you have to rethink how to reuse those assets.
[00:10:46.900] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
So we blow up the whole page- and site-based mentality and embrace the asset or the content object and that pivot alone is like complete and utter chaos for some organizations that have aligned specific teams against channels. That’s huge. The technologies are aligned against channels. That’s huge. And even the underlying taxonomy, how you think of and define content. Noz, you’ve been a champion of this, focusing more granularity at the content taxonomy and content model level. So, if that’s true and we believe it is. What’s the organizing principle for work or for a project if it’s no longer the site or the page or whatever, you could think of it as a campaign perhaps, or just some sort of project that’s going to bring together assets that you’re going maybe create and then deliver to half a dozen channels. But maybe those half-dozen channels needs three dozen different variants of the same piece of content. And some of those channels have more control of some you don’t. So, you get back to this notion of organizing this fragmented work around maybe a calendar. That’s one idea. And I think that that idea of transparent, collaboration and planning is part of Agile CMS because it allows you better visibility the channels and of the tasks you have to execute against. But it also allows you to iterate faster because if you can now think about the delivery, but then also the analytics coming back in for that virtuous cycle, we can now say, “Well, hey, that variant worked actually better with that segment for this for that last campaign”, and think about redefining the segment or redefining the types of assets you’re creating for that product grouping.
[00:12:38.490] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
So there’s there’s a really big impact there around how you work together and how the content would loop back but also think about all the content you already have. So that’s the other piece. I call it “content hub”, so think of what content we already have; Let’s let’s investigate that typically through search or some other kind of reporting. Then it’s the content collaboration planning. So what don’t we have? How are we going to assign tasks? And then the third one is content services. So it’s authoring management delivery. Some of the analytics, all as an API, as a service, and then you can deliver that out to any channel. And chances are the Web team and e-commerce team is still going to need some sort of stack to develop that experience.
So there’s like an Agile development channel management piece that we’re gonna carry over from the Web CMS world and will also be very, very critical to some some folks. So that’s the four pieces and loosely described the virtuous cycle around collaboratively creating, delivering and then hopefully optimizing your content.
[00:13:45.340] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
So it sounds it sounds familiar to me because, you know, this is my world. But it reminds me specifically of an interview I did with Cruz Saunders, of what’s now [A] was SimpleA who I think was also interviewed for some Forrester reports. We talked about the Content Experience Management system. Basically, the mushing together between the real-time data of customer experience and content metrics. So being able to see in your content management system exactly what was happening in your experience, you were able to bring back that data and what I’m hearing is actually like a whole ton of tools on this extraordinary flooded marketing landscape, all kind of getting eaten up under this one umbrella. So you’re talking about tools like Trello or JIRA on the planning side, scheduling side, you’re talking about things like HootSuite. Sendible, on the social distribution side for example. I’m just throwing out some of the tools here. Then you’ve got the web content management. You’ve got your digital asset management because you’re talking about managing the asset, all with a kind of a hub-and-spoke API model, sorry for the less technical people out there, I’m throw out some acronyms, but basically: we want to have the central functions in this new management system and we’ll be able to attach them by integration to various end points. You even miss mentioned authoring as being something you could integrate in.
[00:15:37.380] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
[00:15:37.380] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
So my question is, do you see this like a monster suite from single vendors? Because I remember the Documentum years and the SharePoint years where it was like, “the one system to rule them all” and a lot of those software platforms became such massive behemoths that it became very difficult to make them do much. So how do we avoid that happening again?
[00:16:06.140] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
It’s a good question. My personal opinion is that a simple approach will be the foundation and then you’ll you’ll embrace complexity at the edges, but the core doesn’t need to be complex. So the core is the ability to search across existing content repositories. Having a common content I.D. for all assets, and then mapping that, you know, as needed to things like taxonomy. The collaboration and planning – that can be a very stripped down exercise. I mean, there are as you mentioned, Trello, JIRA, Azaan, Workfronts, you name it, right? And even if you don’t have one of those, chances are the new CMS tools coming out, have a calendar baked in. Whether you got that from your old CMP (content marketing platform) or whether it’s coming from a new solution, making that the center of your world and having like a dashboard view will be fairly simple. It doesn’t need to be everything. And then also the content services: If you’ve seen a good rich text editor, it’s very sparse and it should be because you shouldn’t be doing all the formatting and all the details inside that experience. And then again, a well-defined API set to deliver content out is actually remarkably simple, it’s elegant in its simplicity. Not to say once you plug that into an actual enterprise scenario, it could get big. My hope is that you don’t don’t try and cram all the business logic into the content and in fact, it should live probably externally. So at the foundation, it’s simple and then we’re also going to use pretty strong ability to integrate and connect into other areas. So you mentioned social media. My real time analytics feed coming back from a social channel is somewhat limited. So there might be only really heavy need for channel targeting, channel analytics, from the channels I actually own, the web, web shop, some other areas of mobile. But third party channels may not have that same level of real-time-ness.
[00:18:26.540] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Hmm. ok. The other big thing that came to mind is the reckoning, the judgment day, you’re kind of describing between the titans in content management of today and digital asset management.
[00:18:47.050] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Well, I don’t see those as actually overly conflicted honestly. I think there’s been some acquisitions in the space. I think there’s been a healthy number of partnerships in the space. My humble opinion is that not everyone is going to need a full-on dedicated enterprise. DAM (digital asset management) solution. They just don’t have terabytes or petabytes of rich media. They might have ten thousand images. Full stop. And they may have very limited governance and digital rights management. So why are you investing half-a-million dollars in a solution that can scale to a media-company levels, if that’s all you’ve got? So my hope is that an agile CMS approach with this very API-centric architecture on the back end and a very scalable database for binary content store, rich media that you may not need the DAM, it can be the poor-man’s digital asset management solution inside that and if there was an external one that already existed inside the business, well, then you could just treat that as yet another repository for that content hub model. Just search and index.
[00:20:03.740] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
So it’s the CMS bit the content management bit which loses the tight coupling to the website becomes, and more content focused, and on the asset management side, it’s adding in just enough asset management so that you can get your job done.
[00:20:24.540] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
I think so.
[00:20:28.440] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Ok. I think a lot of our listeners are gonna be going “So am I talking about adding content features to my damn or am I talking about adding DAM features to my… etc.? How do we slot this discussion into the world that people already know? I think that’s that’s the reason that I’m asking questions along this area is because there is a very large and overlapping stack of technologies already. I’m seeing this in projects all the time where, for example, where do you manage taxonomy? What does tagging live? Is that in a content management system, which, as you said, often right now are aligned with channels? Or is it in a central hub, or is it in the DAM sometimes and then that’s farmed out as a sub-feature of the digital asset management? People are getting by as they are, but what you’re saying is there has to be a new cleaning up of all this and that Agile CMS is the new platform for moving forward.
[00:21:28.020] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Yeah, that’s that’s our label. I’d be thrilled if it caught on. Not too too worried about the label itself, just more the principal. And it’s that really dynamic content model, content graph if you will, that lives at the heart of all of that and then you can build whatever system you want on top of it, including in the processes to support it. So, I’ve been hearing that more and more from folks who are in a variety of industries. So I spoke to one there in a pharma scenario and they said “Well, we were had siloed technologies, and the idea of rationalizing our 35 different CMS down to one didn’t really have an ROI, but what we did look at is increasing the influence on the digital channels that we already have through more content and tying that back to a sales activity and all of the sudden we took what was a zero dollar influence on a channel to more than a billion dollars in pipeline influence within 18 months.’
[00:22:32.210] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
OK. So who’s talking to whom? Here your start is the pharma company.
[00:22:37.480] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Yes, they created a digital excellence group, they looked at opportunities to rationalize technology and they said ”Well, not really sure that’s our primary value-add, we’ll do that slowly, steadily over time. But instead we’re gonna create this new thing that sits at the heart of those many things we can plug into it and we’re going to start to really track the efficacy of the content. Through better analytics, through better process management, through better APIs, I can now track the influence of my content. I can take that win, and then I can start to use that money to rationalize old systems, and invest in new ones.” But it wasn’t, you know, “wipe the slate clean all day one, or in year one even, and then they really established the influence of content in a digital sales channel.
[00:23:26.500] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
OK. This is very, very, very interesting. This is coming up a lot. And a lot of clients, are saying, “We’re tired of having six, seven, eight, or in this case, 35 websites/Web CMSs or instances — it could be it multiple vendors, less vendors and websites than instances. Because you can have two whole divisions running of Sitecore, for example, these guys have got Adobe Experience Manager. Some guy’s got some Joomla site running out somewhere. They’re popping up like mushrooms. So you’re saying rather than go down the common path, which which is what I’m very often hearing, which is, “We’ve got to trash this and choose one big mega-vendor, and put all the sites on of that”. They created a centralized hub for understanding the impact of content, and then over time, use that intelligence to make better strategic decisions about when it was worth actually consolidating its systems. OK, good, good! That’s the kind of pragmatic approach I like! So come back to this billion-dollar influence. What does that mean?
[00:24:32.050] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Well, it’s a little bit of fuzzy math if you ask me, because how do you track the impact on a sales pipeline? And how do you ascribe value to that? So I personally think they did a little bit of back-of-the-napkin math. So look at page views, email opens, dwell time on the site, video consumption, things like that, traditional content consumption type metrics. And then through better analytics, they were able to link that session, or even the authenticated session, or that email open, back to the opportunity. And then to track the success of the opportunity at large: So did did it go from a marketing-qualified lead, to a sales-qualified lead, to a contract, to a live customer, and then were able to really map the value.
[00:25:26.190] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
So there might’ve been some value there before but they just couldn’t understand it, or know what the influence was. Now they have a better view through analytics of of saying, “Folks who looked at this, did this” and we can correlate them like that. So that’s the first order process. I think down the road they’re going to double-click on the analytics capabilities so that specific assets can be attributed to specific activities. As they enable more digital onboarding type of capabilities, that will be even richer. So, “Hey, you just sign the contract. Take this. Your implementation or whatever. Whatever it is. Here’s a video,” and then making sure people stay engaged throughout the entire conversation from like first touch all the way through first delivery.
[00:26:20.470] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
And I have to, as always the kind of customer lifecycle guy, come back to relationship maintenance. Everyone’s coming back to this idea of advocacy. So for me, it’s a legacy ailment of marketing that we often kind of treat existing customers as almost noise on the line, when it’s all about the new qualified leads, the new business. But these systems with their ability to consolidate and measure a lot of activity over time, including the post-sale stuff and saying: what is getting existing customers to upgrade, cross-grade, and widen the footprint within each customer, and so on, over the life of the customer relationship.
[00:27:15.840] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
100%. I think that makes a much healthier organizational culture. You’re not just focusing on top of the funnel and heavy churn and all this other stuff. We’re going to focus on value that we’re giving to our customer. We get to know them really well. So I think, yes, you’re absolutely right, that marketing paradigm shift is well underway. Unfortunately, we still see lots of laggard metrics, vanity metrics, that don’t represent that lifecycle value.
[00:27:41.850] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
So that’s what [that pharma] marketing team was doing because they were still very much in support of sales. We’re seeing other evidence in other areas where they’re maturing beyond that, right? So they’ve got that piece in place. Now, then they can focus on operational metrics. How much did it cost us to produce that content? How many times did we use it? What was the overall impact to the business? And then how can we do a cost-benefit analysis? What types of content? What channels to invest in? Down the road, you can kind of mature that through an operational lens after the fact.
[00:28:14.490] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Yeah, I’ve got I just presented with a customer making the transition, but hasn’t made the transition all the way. So they’re, for example, able to state that 77 percent of the content is being leveraged more than once. So they’re getting reused across purposes, across deliverables. They know that this asset has been used in multiple things that are going out, both direct reuse and derivatives, and they’re tracking that as a KPI. But they haven’t gotten all the way to tracking it back to let’s say commercial activity, like they know they’re operationally more efficient, and they’re reducing costs, localisation and so on, but they don’t know the end customer financial impact. Then there’s other companies who know more about the financial aspect, but you ask, “How much did this actually cost to produce and how much leverage did you get out of it?” Then they have no idea. So everybody’s sort of putting pictures together from the data that they have and the things that they are focused on, to get the whole picture.
[00:29:16.890] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
But my humble thought is that you’re going to start at a really, really wide aperture and then you’re going to narrow it in. And I don’t know how fast the industry will be narrowing because that that attribution model is really fuzzy in a lot of industries. But let’s just say you tag your content not only by what it is and how it relates to a campaign, but you tag it by segment, by journey, journey, step. A lot of those other things that are coming from the customer model, you bring that and you overlay it onto the content and then you can track the success of both independently and watches as the correlations start to emerge. It’ll be a little bit of some fuzzy logic there in the early days. But I think next couple of years, that will be the pattern. And then we’ll be able to get into better analytics as things emerge at that content asset level.
[00:30:05.070] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Fantastic. I love that. That that’s definitely speaking my language. I’ve been trying to advocate for the idea of 4D content, four-dimensional content, where you have the asset which has its column width and length, but it’s incomplete without a picture of time, place and depth. So who did it go to? When when is it needed? Why was it requested? How often was it shown? How much of it do they need to know? Do they need just a snack, or a meal bite, etc.? So you’re just saying that you think that the agile cms needs to bring these time and space concepts in so we know more about the content throughout its lifecycle.
[00:30:54.540] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
Right. And I think that’s that’s the piece that’ll probably phase in over time because the analytics maturity required to execute against that really fine-grained timeline is pretty high, at least based on the customers I speak with. They might look retroactively at a campaign’s metrics a month later. There’s nothing in place that allows them to get other insights and then act on it very quickly. So as they get faster in terms that iteration, ergo agile, we’re going to be able to embrace that finer-grained, or fourth dimension of content, which is time. And I think that will be essential to us. When do we send content and you know, as you as you say, the “When” versus the “What”, as you said snackable, bite, meal — and I love those analogies. But, if I just have a bullet versus, a paragraph versus, a page versus a novel, you could start to see, “Well, they only have a minute to read a text or two minutes to read an email”, that would be very appropriate to understanding their receptiveness to the content. So I think it’s coming. It’s just gonna take some maturity that’s outside of the content world. It’s in addition to the analytics and the data model that’s going to backup that customer relevancy.
[00:32:13.900] – Noz Urbina, Omnichannel Conference Chair
Yeah. So, OK. So I think that’s kind of giving us a good, good note to go out on there. That’s because that’s what we’re trying for with OmnichannelX is to bring together the streams — get the systems people, governance people, design people, user experience people, and content people, and trying to get them in a room together and go “OK, the future of this is not functional optimization, It’s not departmental optimization, channel optimization, it’s holistic systems, like, the overall system that we’re working to, and optimizing for that.’ That’s what we’re all about here at OmnichannelX. Thank you so much, Mark, for your time. I had a great chat. I’m going to be taking us out here, and I want to remind everybody that we’ve got the Website on www.omnichannelx.digital, and if you’ve got to this podcast from that site, you already know, but if you got to it through Spotify or iTunes or something like that, come check us out. You can check out our newsletter as well. And the conference that’s coming up. The next one coming up, June 8th to 11th, 2020. And every year after that until the end of time! So thanks, everybody. Thanks, Mark. Have a good one.
[00:33:29.310] – Mark Grannan, Forrester
About Mark Grannan, Forrester
In former lives, Mark worked with math and stats geniuses at a quantitative mutual fund; was crew on private yachts; and worked with amazing architects at a small firm in Boston.
Blogs, articles, and more on Mark’s page.