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Where Have All the WCM Cowboys Gone?

CowboyHappy New Year. Here we are in 2014 and Web Content Management is in a funk. Yep, I said it. The entire sector is in danger of becoming an afterthought. 

Ask yourself a question: when was the last time a WCM solution provider actually made some really interesting news, or got the market talking about incredible potential?

I guess over the holidays you could say that the fact that Limelight sold off the Clickability platform to Upland Software was “newsy.” Yeah, until you start unpeeling the reasons.  As the CEO of Limelight said:

“. . . the sale of our web content management business enables us to concentrate our efforts on expanding Limelight’s unique delivery optimization capabilities, where we see attractive market opportunities . . . .” 

Allow me to decode that CEO-Speak a bit. Basically, 18 months after picking up the WCM hitchhiker, they found it was slowing down their business and said, yeah, we need to get rid of this extra weight.  Mind you, this is a SaaS based solution – where the entire value proposition is on “speed.” Was it any wonder that the news release went out the day before Christmas Eve? I think not.  To me, it’s quite a metaphor for where WCMS is.

It’s Not Just One Company

To be clear – this isn’t the fault of Clickability. Or rather it is in small part – but now it’s up to Upland Software to do something specific about it. This is rather something that seems to be pervasive across the entire industry. WCM needs a healthy injection of mojo.

For comparison, let me just throw out four company names: Eloqua, Neolane, ExactTarget, and Responsys. In the early 2000’s every single one of those small “email” companies were clamoring for partnerships with “big” WCM companies.

None of those four companies are older than any WCM solution on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant or Forrester’s Wave.  Yet, in one year, those four companies accounted for more than $5 billion in acquisitions.  The last one (Oracle’s acquisition of Responsys) happened in the same week that Clickability was sold.

In fact, the only real remaining stand-alone is the new kid on the blog, Marketo. In less than eight years, they’ve launched, grown, gone public, and now trade at a sales multiple higher than about 90 percent of their peers. Is it all hype? Maybe. But when was the last time the market was this excited over a content management company?

So what did these email companies do?  How did they leave WCM in the dust of growth and (almost literally) explode over the last decade?  Every single one of them transformed their industry’s story into something that businesses truly felt as an imperative – marketing automation. Collectively they nurtured and expanded a core concept that had burst out of the CRM space in 1999 into something that was truly an exciting imperative for every single business out there. And that’s the key word: exciting.

Clients need content management. They want marketing automation.

So Is WCM Dead?

No. As Miracle Max would say “it’s only mostly dead.”  But it’s going to need a pretty special pill to bring it back.

Certainly there’s been no shortage of the WCM space attempting to transform. Heck, even back in 2010, my keynote at the Gilbane Conference was called WCM is Dead – Long Live WCM.

Everything that I said in that presentation is still true three years later. WCM technologies are all now “experience management” solutions. But whether it’s a D, or a C, or a W in front of that X – it doesn’t matter.  What hasn’t happened is the creation of an excitement around a business imperative.

And to be clear it is an imperative. As my colleague Tim Walters said (much more elegantly than I ever will) digital experiences MUST be managed “in order to orchestrate the complexities behind the scenes and present a consistent, cohesive and exceptional experience to the customers.”

So, okay, maybe managing content effectively isn’t all that exciting.

I would beg to differ.  As I’ve said on this blog before – technologies specific to the content marketing space are beginning to displace regular ol’ slow and unwieldy content management systems. For example, Oracle acquired Compendium – a very small content marketing technology solution that does absolutely nothing a good WCMS system couldn’t do if implemented well.

Why would Oracle acquire Compendium when they have (at least) two WCM systems that could excel on a feature for feature basis? Well, other than the obvious answer of, you know, Oracle . . . . The real answer is speed and excitement around the content marketing and marketing automation concepts.  In the words of a wine connoisseur, Eloqua and Compendium pair nicely.

Why content management vendors haven’t wrapped their heads around being thought leaders for the core concepts of the content marketing process – and thus what’s really going on with their customers – continues to baffle me.  Yes it is exciting. It’s early. It’s raw – and customers have not figured it out yet.

I’m taking at least two or three calls per week from venture capital firms who are actively investing in content marketing technologies – and there are hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into this space.  Is it the next “marketing automation”?  I don’t know, but if I was leading the marketing efforts at a digital content experience software company I know for sure I wouldn’t be taking it for granted.

Where Is The Next WCM Cowboy?

There have been calls by some that 2014 should be a “back to basics” year for WCM systems; getting back to usability.  I couldn’t disagree more. Vendors and buyers should just face facts. There is no such thing as an “easy” WCMS. Period.  End of Story.  Content technology solutions are inherently complex and the implementation unique to an organization. People who use them have to learn how to use them. That’s just the way it is.

Oh, and by the way: “I’m not buying Eloqua or ExactTarget or Marketo because it’s very complicated to set up lead nurturing programs” – said No One EVER.

Just last week in their Market Overview: Web Content Management Systems, David Aponovich at Forrester said “the relevance of web content management (WCM) has never been higher as businesses and brands leverage this technology.”  I would replace the word “relevance of” with “need for.” And I would argue that it’s so much more important to deliver against a “want” than a “need.”  The WCM industry is currently doing okay at the latter – and horribly at the former.

Let me be clear: I love the WCM space. I make a good part of my living in it – and I spent a good part of the early 2000’s being as guilty as any marketing practitioner that I’ve mentioned here. But as a real cowboy told me one summer while I was earning my college money riding fences: “Life ain’t about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.

Here’s to a grand 2014 to all of you WCM software companies. I’m hoping for a great, exciting year for someone to bounce high.


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