While attending the 2024 Boye & Company CMS Kickoff last week, I had a chance to connect with content management leaders and founders from an array of vendors.
Some were leading the CMS practice at large enterprise DXPs. Others were mid-market headless players. Some were outside the standard industry categories, focusing on digital experience composition or orchestration (we’re still figuring out those TLAs).
Still, the largest quotient of attendees were content professionals in the CMS orbit, for which the menu of tools has been growing at a feverish pace – particularly on the headless side of the aisle.
Over the years as composable caught fire, the visual gap became more pronounced for marketers. This is where Uniform made waves with its innovative Visual Workspace. Since 2020, the company has empowered digital teams to see more across the composable frontier. With its cache of dynamic tools, the platform enabled users to blend content and data from almost anywhere, allowing brands to create omnichannel experiences faster and easier, and realize scalable personalization and painless integrations.
But in 2024, things are shifting – again. Traditional single-source DXPs are decoupling products and embracing a more composable posture, while headless CMSes are adding capabilities to meet customer needs with greater choice and control. Meeting in the middle, as Deane Barker would say.
And that’s the bottom line: what the customer needs.
Perhaps it’s not a big surprise that Uniform just announced the addition of next-generation CMS capabilities to its ecosystem. It’s a logical step when considering the market's motion and how users crave simplicity. And the fact is, we’re no longer living in a digital version of Middle Earth, where “One CMS to Rule Them All” is the defacto standard.
According to today’s press release, Uniform’s new CMS will support the functionality that brands would expect from a modern content management system, while differing in an important way: it will expand on the foundational concept of a single-source content repository to a unified, multi-source model. This will allow organizations to leverage content from any source without being shackled by integration logic, data syncing processes, or just the brute-force movement of content into yet another repo. Ugh.
In other words, life just got a little easier.
At the CMS Kickoff, I met with Darren Guarnaccia, Uniform’s President, and Andrew Kumar, the company’s GVP of Customer Solutions and Technology Partnerships. They gave me a bit of insight about the “CMS Cometh” and how they see it evolving the company’s trajectory.
I asked Darren, who has a deep legacy in CMS (and a résumé that includes stints at DXPs like Crownpeak) about what spurred this move to introduce CMS features into the Visual Workspace experience. As he noted, it all emerged organically, as the idea of a CMS wasn’t even on their roadmap.
“We realized about four or five months ago that two things were happening,” he said. “Customers were already connecting with CMS, bringing in all this content and blending it. But there were times when they needed to enrich that content, when, let's say, content was coming from Contentful or Contentstack. Maybe you have a description and you want to shorten it, or punch it up a little bit. Do you make a round trip all the way back to the CMS? Well, maybe… but what if it's for one channel? What if it's for a certain use case? Do I want to create an extended data model? Or do I store that locally? That's where it all started."
Darren also said that customers wanting to move into composable were also being straddled with CMS selection in a very complex market of choices. Meanwhile, they couldn't do any of the upfront modeling to help move their projects forward. These were known inhibitors, and while they didn’t have customers necessarily asking for a native CMS, they were certainly intercepting the signals.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could let them start modeling here,” he said, referring to the Visual Workspace. “So little by little, we built CMS capabilities into our product, starting very small and solving sort of corner cases for customers. But eventually, we built a full-fledged CMS.”
Uniform Content Management is more than a headless feature. It provides a seamless way to manage and deliver content, giving enterprises the ability to unify it all from existing sources. For brands that use one or more CMSes, Uniform is effectively creating an opportunity to work with a single content model that spans all systems, along with any other content sources that might be in play. This includes legacy, monolithic, composable, or even bespoke solutions. Content sources are added with ease using clicks – not code – to render massive integration projects into line items in a sprint plan.
It’s all part of the promise to simplify, simplify, simplify.
I asked Andrew Kumar about some of the underlying motivators behind the company’s new CMS, and how the nature of certain content types is shifting customer behavior – and ultimately influencing the kinds of tools they choose.
“I think part of it was philosophy leading to reality,” he suggested. “Is there content that’s global and reusable, and needs to go across channels? And is it stable, where it doesn't change very frequently? The headless CMS has that covered, but then there’s content that lives for a short amount of time. That’s ephemeral content, but we've been using the term volatile content – where I have an offer or a promotion, and I need to go pull in that product information from the CMS, but then I need to decorate it with a bunch of other stuff for a short window. Do I put all of that non-reusable content that's going to be thrown away in three months? Do I put it back in my head, the CMS, which will create a big mess? Or do I have something in between?”
What’s clear in the calculus is the distinction between long-term, stable content and the very real need for ephemeral, short-lived applications like ABM campaign pages. As Darren described it, this has traditionally been a binary choice for CMSes because no one does both well. With Uniform having a significant mindshare of CMS expertise under its hood, building out the functionality to bridge these worlds seemed an important – if not logical – endeavor.
“It’s about having the right tool for the right job in the right use case,” Andrew explained. “It's like almost everyone at Uniform is a CMS industry veteran in some way, shape, or form – we all come from the Sitecores and the Contentstacks. Content Management is a very flexible way to be able to source and enrich a job to be done, and we’re building these capabilities to empower the digital team.”
Sounds a bit like Jedis bringing balance to the Force.
Part of the curb appeal with Uniform’s new CMS rests with generative AI in the Visual Workspace. The features accelerate a user’s ability to create content at scale, but there’s more to it – particularly as it relates to personalization and A/B testing. These “Holy Grail” instruments have traditionally been limited by the amount of content a brand can create, and for that reason, fall short of their intended goals.
Now, with generative AI woven throughout the Visual Workspace, new content and content variants can be created almost instantly. According to Uniform, they’re providing the “guardrails” that ensure generative AI is creating accurate, on-brand content, using the language models of your choice.
Along with the addition of generative AI, Uniform announced enhancements around localization, versioning, and asset management as part of the Visual Workspace. Historically, these features were only available to content managed within the CMS. But now, Visual Workspace provides these capabilities to all content used in digital experiences, regardless of the source.
With new CMS features in the Visual Workspace – as well as purpose-built tools for building and maintaining digital experiences – brands now have an alternative to storing all their content in a CMS and having to write integration code (vis-à-vis the “Glue Code Monster”) to get it back out.
One other attribute from a dollars and cents perspective: brands can also reduce their CMS spend by reducing its use, along with the amount of integration logic needed to tap content from their CMS into their digital experiences. In essence, it simplifies the overall authoring experience for marketers, making them more productive.
The one word Andrew Kumar kept conjuring during our meeting was “coexistence.” During the course of the CMS Kickoff event last week, it became a theme – a mantra of sorts – that epitomized his vision for the CMS landscape in 2024.
A utopian sentiment? Sure. But a challenging one to realize.
It’s true: most large organizations have multiple content management systems. Heck, there are even more disparate places like DAMs and PIMs where data exists that marketers want to draw from. This is where Uniform has been making things easier in a complex, ever-growing morass of sources. In short, they’ve always been chasing coexistence.
From a CMS perspective, I was curious how a platform that partners with many headless CMSes might be perceived when introducing its own. It wouldn’t be the first time that purpose-built systems have added whole applications to address a customer need (think Salesforce or HubSpot adding their own CMSes along the way).
“There are going to be scenarios where we may be seen as competitive,” he observed. “And it's not really our intent, because we do, really, philosophically, coexist. It’s our game plan. It all depends on the needs of the customer, and what's the best mix of tools. I think we'll have some clear guidelines with our partners of the scenarios where it makes sense. And we are very much targeting enterprise customers that are always going to have one too many CMSes and always going to need us. We work very well with our headless CMS partners, where they will outright tell a customer, ‘don't put that stuff in the CMS, that's what you put in Uniform.’ So generally, we have warm relations with all of the headless CMS vendors.”
Boy oh boy, there’s a whole lotta choice out there. That’s for sure.
Case in point: I just had a headless CMS startup reach out to me this week. Early stage, but touting a few customers – and looking to grow. This happens with more regularity than you might imagine; if you want some perspective, check out our CMS Critic Product Directory.
As long as there’s demand, choice is a good thing. Commoditization is inevitable on some level, but for the most part, each platform is endeavoring to differentiate around specific use cases, industries, and other critical factors. As Dean Barker noted in our Q&A session at the CMS Kickoff, it’s partly the swarm of frontend options and frameworks – and the growth of omnichannel – that's driving the continued emergence of headless CMSes.
With Uniform, there’s something natural about the evolution of its CMS features. The company’s culture is deeply embedded in content management (and probably opinionated on the subject from a multitude of angles), and it complements the overall strategy of building digital experiences faster and better. Still, Darren noted that while the CMS is a key development, it’s not the first thing they plan to discuss with customers.
“We always lead with the Visual Workspace,” he said. “That's the anchor, always. Everything goes back to this, but now it has CMS capabilities. And that's the headline, you know? It’s also about getting started faster, even before you’re ready, even before you’ve bought a CMS, because this can let you do all the same structuring and all the same modeling. Even prototyping.”
In wrapping our conversation, I asked Darren how his experience in CMS might have informed the vector when building a new content management system in 2023 (which was done rather quickly, I might add). You know, correcting mistakes of the past and what not.
“At one point, I realized that if we were to build a CMS today, I would do it differently than I did 10 or 15 years ago,” he mused. “And the number one thing we would do is build it for a multichannel, multisource world. We would assume not all content lives just here. The fundamental premise of every CMS is ‘I should own everything. I have to own everything.’ But we realized that if we come the other way, we could be integrating with everybody. There are going to be times when you need to store some stuff here, too. Whether it's enrichments, or embellishments, or I want to get started on this site, and I'll plug in the CMS later. I'll start with this. And I'll model things out here. And then I'll unplug that and plug that in. And so it's built in that composed way where you can turn it off when you don't need to use it. It's just a part of the platform.”
For users – and the market – having this level of choice within a platform seems like a win. Customers can leverage Uniform’s built-in CMS features, or connect with another CMS, and do it all based on their unique needs.
In the end, it’s all about speed and simplicity.
And yeah, maybe a little coexistence.
August 6-7, 2024 – Montreal, Canada
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January 14-15, 2025 – Tampa Bay Area, Florida
Join us next January in the Tampa Bay area of Florida for the third annual CMS Kickoff – the industry's premier global event. Similar to a traditional kickoff, we reflect on recent trends and share stories from the frontlines. Additionally, we will delve into the current happenings and shed light on the future. Prepare for an unparalleled in-person CMS conference experience that will equip you to move things forward. This is an exclusive event – space is limited, so secure your tickets today.