As marketers and advertisers, you may or may not have heard the term ‘headless’. Outside of technical and digital circles, the level of understanding of this term varies considerably.
‘Headless’ is often used broadly to describe a ‘microservices’ model of system architecture. Traditional architectures often consist of large systems, covering a wide range of functions (e.g. content management, ecommerce, email and digital marketing) all under one roof, e.g. Sitecore.
However, many marketers are beginning to see advantages to utilising a microservices architecture which consist of smaller systems, each focusing on a more discrete set of functions (e.g. Contentful or Prismic to manage and deliver content, Dotmailer or ExactTarget to deliver email, Marketo or Pardot to deliver segmentation and automation). Each system is best-of-breed allowing you to build up an enterprise-level architecture.
To explain the impact of ‘headless’ technology on marketing, let’s consider three key areas.
The role of a marketer is a busy one and, in theory, technology is supposed to be there to help. But for many marketers, technology can often be the one thing that drags you down. Many are forced into using tech (whether it be email marketing software, marketing software, CRM, etc.) that isn’t fit for purpose, whether it be through its capabilities or dependencies.
Swapping the technology for a more suitable solution seems simple on paper but, in practice, dependencies between systems in the digital ecosystem can prove to be blockers, never mind the inter-departmental politics and economics surrounding their procurement.
And this is where headless comes into its own. Headless is based on the principle of a flexible architecture where each component focuses on a specific function. Each component is decoupled, limiting the number of dependencies. In essence, you are creating a plug and play system where if one component is not doing the job you need, you can remove it without compromising the rest of the ecosystem.
To many it sounds almost utopian! But getting to this ideal is not always an easy task. It is certainly achievable, but the effort will often depend on the complexity of your digital ecosystem.
Let’s consider the role of digital in marketing campaigns. A common scenario we see is that the technology platform utilised by the advertiser is too constrictive, introducing limitations that impact on user experience or functionality. You find marketing teams either branching out into other platforms ad-hoc (which can not only introduce conflict but also result in a lack of control and varying levels of quality) or being forced to create campaign sites that fall short of the desired vision (resulting in lower levels of success).
Once again, the microservices architecture can swoop in with a solution. The architecture separates your front-end view (presentation layer) from your back end (e.g. content management). As a result, it means that you can leverage the latest technology to deliver truly engaging and innovative experiences. Delivery times are boosted, enabling your teams to deliver quicker and iterate quicker.
If the software on offer doesn’t quite meet your needs, the flexible nature of the architecture allows you to adopt new technologies better suited to your team, allowing you to maintain consistent levels of quality and control. Moving wholesale across to microservices requires careful consideration and planning, but the architecture offers marketers a great opportunity.
The beauty of the microservices approach is that you can start simple. Launching a campaign site using a headless CMS in a simple microservices architecture can serve as a great business case for a wider project while also handing you the benefits of user experience and speed.
Finally, we should consider omnichannel. The days of your website being the only digital touchpoint with customers have passed by. As marketers know, customers engage with a brand across a range of touchpoints, making content distribution can be tricky. You find yourself creating content centrally, often in documents, before painstakingly adding that content to each and every channel.
While it is possible to add content to a traditional content management system and then distribute it to not just the website but to other channels as well, this can often be inefficient. Content has been created with the website in mind, requiring additional effort to mould the content into formats that fit with the nature of each channel.
The headless CMS, a component of the microservices architecture, offers a solution. In this CMS, you are creating content that is agnostic of any channel. It can then be distributed as a whole or in parts to all of the channels you operate across, boosting efficiency and consistency.
This is a big step forwards but there needs to be pause for thought. Creating content in this way means we say goodbye to the WYSIWYG editor. For some, this is no loss but for others this may seem to be a step backwards. It’s a shift in mindset – transferring the responsibility of presentation away from marketers.
Trends in the industry show that headless is here to stay and we have already seen businesses moving towards this new architecture and process. The speed, flexibility and value for money offered by this approach can be hugely beneficial to marketers and advertisers.
While the shift towards this architecture can be a daunting task, the very nature of headless and microservices in general means you can start small. When your next campaign comes along, think about using the microservices approach to power your campaign site and the channels you are using. As we mentioned, you can leverage the benefits of the approach while also building a solid business case to demonstrate the wider benefits to going headless.
Want to find out more about what headless really means for you and your business? Join us for a live webinar on 26 September as we explore the realities of changing your CMS.
Rick Madigan is a digital marketing strategist at MMT Digital