Once just a tool for uploading content and images to the Internet, the online content management system (CMS) has since established itself as the bedrock for all online business processes. But what does it take for a CMS to be omnichannel-ready?

"All roads lead to the website (and hence the CMS)," states Scott Brinker. Of all the marketing technology on Brinker's Marketing Technology Landscape, "CMS is arguably the only required category in the entire landscape."

The more channels emerge for customer engagement, the more crucial content becomes to securing business goals online. The mobile mindshift is well underway, and it's more crucial than ever that businesses have the Web content management technology to support and nurture customer relationships in their visitors' mobile moments.

The Semantics of Omnichannel and Multichannel

It's easy to dismiss omnichannel as the next in a series of marketing buzzwords.

Robert Rose makes an excellent point for omnichannel skepticism: "One of the reasons I hate the word 'omnichannel' is that it encourages us to be everywhere, and no one can." Gartner's Jake Sorofman echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that "it's less about omni or multi than it's about the right channels."

Though the "omni" prefix certainly carries a certain weight, omnichannel readiness is more about the ability to be anywhere and choosing where to be strategically. Brands need the choice to add whatever channels may come next, in an integrated way that supports a holistic, mutually reinforcing content strategy. A new channel (regardless of what it may be) should be added with ease, without silos.

Pushing the Boundaries of Multichannel

Modern customers have more choice in how they engage with brands than their predecessors did. Choice of context, channel, and device mean that the customer journey no longer follows a single, linear path.

The demands of online business have evolved in response. Businesses are going beyond the "multichannel" digital experience of mobile, social, and Web—instead creating interactive experiences that permeate touchpoints and blur the line between the physical and digital.

Businesses that embrace an omnichannel strategy recognize that their customers' digital experiences cannot be dictated. The experience should, however, be accommodated with relevant content that serves the customer's higher need across touchpoints.

Boundless Digital Experiences

"Across the board, consumers are using smartphones and tablets more frequently and across multiple contexts," Forrester's Michelle Beeson points out. These consumers expect brands to create what McKinsey calls frictionless experiences to cater to their decentralized customer journey.

Omnichannel blends the physical and digital customer experience, allowing the two to mutually reinforce one another.

"In the future, retail stores that drive convenience, service, and relevant personalized experiences through the use of digital store technology will succeed," according to Forrester's Adam Silverman. "Why? Because today, customers show an affinity for digital store technology. In fact, 66% of luxury apparel customers are more likely to shop with a digitally enabled associate. Those retailers who wait on the sidelines are at risk of maintaining the status quo and may only grow marginally."

Vanessa Zeng emphasizes that traditional retailers must embrace omnichannel’s disruption to their business to succeed: "Omnichannel sales will become the motor of the retail business. Traditional retailers can leverage established advantages, such as brand awareness, a loyal customer base, and supply chain management capabilities to develop omnichannel sales and establish a seamless connection between online and offline to help develop offline sales."

The benefits of omnichannel are not exclusive to e-commerce; it offers significant opportunities in sectors such as customer service, finance, and higher education.

A CMS Needs to Be Agile and Flexible

Regardless of the vertical, content is at the center of these omnichannel strategies. Brands need technology to support the integration of the online and offline customer experience. As a result, CMSes need to be more agile and flexible than their predecessors.

Keeping up with the evolution of brand experiences requires business agility; it's organizational. "A content management system is a front-to-end system," according to Meg Walsh, Marriott International's Senior Director of Digital Data Strategy and Distribution. "A CMS is a piece of software that has a role in a broader ecosystem."

The strategy behind creating all-encompassing, seamless, and innovative brand experiences involves significant collaboration across teams and departments.

For an omnichannel brand strategy to be effective, software needs to enable the broader business processes. McKinsey emphasizes this need for agility: "Agile, data-driven activities must be supported by an organization that has the right people, tools, and processes."

To truly enable agile business strategy, a Web CMS should be scalable and easy to integrate with whichever tools the evolving brand experience demands: whether an e-commerce, a CRM, or a sentiment analysis tool.

Content-Centric CMS Supports Any Channel

As channels proliferate, CMSes built around page editing will no longer suffice to keep up with business needs. Manually editing and inputting content for specific channels will become increasingly cumbersome.

To support an omnichannel content strategy, brands will need to manage content centrally. A CMS with a decoupled architecture (separating content from presentation) allows content to be edited and published across channels instantaneously, enabling brands to manage channels in real time and add channels as needed.

Effective Omnichannel Needs Personalization

Whatever terminology we ultimately want to use to describe holistic, integrated digital experiences across touchpoints, it's about personalization.

Without personalization, engaging with brands across touchpoints risks revealing the "ugly welding seams in the customer experience," states Jake Sorofman. Customers shouldn't feel their transition between touchpoints, snapping them out of the customer experience. This personalization should happen in real time.

"No website visitor should be treated as a disposable metric for future predictions," says Sorofman. "Each should be treated as a valued customer at the time of their visit."

* * *

Content strategy across channels should not be a shot in the dark.

A CMS should provide constant feedback on content performance from all channels, enabling businesses to continuously refine their strategy for diverse audiences. Businesses should be able to make changes quickly to optimize the omnichannel experience for any customer, across any constellation of touchpoints.

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Joanna Madej is content marketing manager at Hippo CMS, a content performance platform .

LinkedIn: Joanna Madej