If you ask marketers, the concept of the siloed, monolithic, single-channel website is dead. When it comes to reaching customers, multichannel, omnichannel, and cross-cloud are the typical terms you hear today.
So why are isolated, inconsistent experiences and touchpoints still what we’re delivering most of the time? One of the main reasons is that traditional content management systems and commerce platforms don’t allow for the delivery of anything different. Their architecture tightly couples the touchpoints and customer experiences to the back-end platform in question.
The limits of traditional platforms
If you’ve been engaged on the engineering or delivery end of a commerce or marketing project for any amount of time, you know the drill all too well—it’s been the typical approach for years. The presentation layer of a website is intertwined with the back end and set up as a set of templates or views rendered on the server.
Until the last handful of years, this has also been where most of the functionality—outside of some basic DOM manipulation—has lived. On the commerce end, this may mean templates for your checkout or product listing pages being tied tightly into the back end of the platform in question. And on the content management side, it may mean the same for blog content, marketing materials, or anything requiring personalization.
Moving away from these channel-driven solutions and toward the ideal of an integrated customer experience requires technologies and architectures that adapt to new demands. Instead of isolated experiences, we now need the capability to align the customer experience of a brand across a varied number of touchpoints.
These developments are opening up new possibilities for creating enriched, customized experiences not hindered by the constraints of a particular platform.
The great decoupling
The decoupling of the front and back ends of the technology stack has most recently taken the form of headless architecture. In a headless setup, the presentation layer, the layer the customer experiences, and where page templates have traditionally lived is abstracted and completely separate from the back-end technology stack. The two ends now interact solely through an Applications Programming Interface (API) layer.
Modern commerce platforms and content management systems—including Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento, and Sitecore—all now provide robust API capabilities through features such as Salesforce’s Open Commerce APIs (OCAPI) and Sitecore’s recently released JSS.
This new headless, API-based approach allows us to take greater advantage of modern PWA and browser API technologies. It also provides more control over speed and performance, using techniques such as SSR combined with tools like React and Next.js. And it does all of the above while retaining the benefits provided by the back-end systems.
But, of course, it isn’t just as simple as moving to a new commerce platform or new architecture. To fully realize the needs of meeting customers in the moment, we need to create a unified brand experience across an increasingly disparate group of touchpoints.
This has implications not only for how we engage with client partners and organize creative and delivery teams, but also affects the processes, artifacts, and deliverables required to sync multiple customer experiences using APIs across multiple platforms.
From the technical end, this means developing layers to aggregate the APIs from various systems and using tools, such as GraphOL, to allow the presentation layer to define the shape of the responses needed. It also means finding ways to replace the out-of-the-box presentation layers currently provided by platforms in a manner that is efficient, high quality, and in line with larger design systems and touchpoint needs.
Possibly most daunting is the need to make decisions around the methods and techniques for delivering content. As what was once a single-option choice, rendering on the server has increasingly become a spectrum of options dependent on the needs of a specific touchpoint and use case.
From the UX and design end, rendering on the server means increased alignment across all brand touchpoints, instead of the design of individual experiences being driven by the limitations of a specific platform. To help with this alignment, this process also means greater proliferation of deliverables and methodologies that DEG has been using and promoting for years, such as Atomic Design.
In the end, these processes will need to take the shape of design systems, pattern libraries, and reusable components tied to existing client-side frameworks, as well as the best practices and interaction modes for specific verticals and mediums.
We’ll also need to extend those design systems beyond just web, app, or commerce components to include patterns for voice interfaces, augmented reality, AI assistants, and IoT devices as we deploy new experiences customized to those spaces and tied to the various back-end stacks through the same API layers and micro frontends.
Toward a customer-centered future
The future of what it means to develop in the digital space is exciting and wide open as we move further into this new landscape of headless architecture.
If we’re able to fully take advantage, we’ll be able to move toward a truly integrated customer experience that maps to the customer journey and is empowered by—instead of limited by—a content management system or commerce platform. This will allow us to create engaging experiences across multiple and diverse touchpoints with the customer at the center of it all.