This content also appeared in the June 2013 edition of CRM Magazine.

Web content management (WCM) software has been around nearly as long as the modern Web. This software enables technology pros to develop sites, lets content people create and publish, and helps marketers leverage online channels to engage customers and prospects.

Forrester’s recent research into this vibrant market confirms a fact that buyers of this technology need to be aware of: WCM has become an essential foundation for enabling successful digital experience efforts. And by doing so, it’s supporting one of the last things that corporations and brands can use to differentiate themselves.

Recently, vendors have put resources into expanding features, building, buying, or integrating with various things:

  • Visitor profile, segment, and targeting tools to deliver personalized content in context
  • Capabilities to develop and deploy mobile and social channels of engagement
  • CRM, email marketing, analytics, A/B testing, integrations, and tools
  • Cross-channel insights and reporting
  • Multichannel campaign management functionality

And that’s just the start. Today, WCM software goes far beyond what was available two or three years ago. Suddenly, WCM software is sexy. It makes the vision of digital experience come to life. (Forrester defines digital experience management [DXM] as the management and delivery of dynamic, targeted, and consistent content, offers, products, and service interactions across digitally enabled consumer touchpoints.)

So keep this in mind: WCM software may not be the only piece of software in your online marketing arsenal, but it may be the most vital and versatile.

Vendors in this category and their products vary widely. Our report, The Forrester Wave™: Web Content Management For Digital Customer Experience, Q2 2013, which came out this spring, addresses 10 relevant solutions in the market today, examining and rating each vendor on about 100 criteria. Even among solutions that claim to do similar things, the variations are wide and numerous.

Our observations, supplementing years of research by Forrester into this market, include the following:

  • DXM needs WCM. Just a few years ago, a good editing tool and a business-friendly administrative user interface caused hearts to flutter. Today, the leading WCM software supports many parts of the digital experience ecosystem and multichannel engagement. This is a process and set of tools and technologies companies should use to support effective digital experience practices.
  • Marketers lead many purchases. Previously, IT and Web developers led WCM initiatives, sourced systems, built WCM-powered sites, and handed them off to marketing. But now it's likely that marketing and other customer-influencing or business departments are part of this investment from the get-go. We often find marketers partnering with IT or technical architects to research companies’ next-generation WCM.
  • WCM is key to digital strategies. WCM isn’t just one more application in a stack of business technology systems; it’s a linchpin that organizations and brands rally around to create and execute digital strategies. WCM providers long ago solved your content creation problem; now vendors are positioning their products using phrases like “web experience manager” and “digital experience platform.”
  • WCM is changing the way organizations talk to their prospects and customers. It’s also changing the way people within the same company talk to each other and assist one another to pivot more effectively toward a digital future.

The IT director of a B2B company told us that his company’s new WCM software has brought him together with his company’s head of digital marketing to rally around WCM and deliver great experiences. He said, “Our new WCM has given us a foundation that we can build on. IT supports the platform, and our digital marketing leader is driving our strategy. We’re getting closer to our customers in the sales process; we now know how they’re using the Web to engage us. As we start to think about mobile, social media, and personalization, we have a platform to implement those strategies. This is an enabler for all the things we want to do in the coming years.”