Customer Experience Management vs Content Management – Cruce Saunders interview (39 min w transcript)

This session was originally recorded for the Urbina Consulting “Less Work, More Flow” podcast, but it was so relevant to our program that we had to include it here and add a full transcript.

Noz Urbina and Cruce Saunders talk about the difference between Customer Experience Management (aka CXM or CEM, or DXM (Digital Experience Management)) and traditional Content Management.

This discussion features definitions of CXM/CEM, Content Engineering, Session-based Analytics, and a range of omnichannel personalisation and adaptive content-related topics: What makes a CXM system different than CMS? How can you effectively adapt content and segment your audience,  without having users log in or even register? How can a content strategist or marketer take advantage of these differences to deliver value to their brand and audience? We’ll discuss all this and more.


Noz Urbina: Okey-dokey. First of all, thank you everybody for joining my first ever podcast. I am new to the podcasting world, joining after having been a blogger for umpteen years. So my name is Noz Urbina and this is the Less Work, More Flow podcast, which will be posted on the Less Work, More Flow blog on

I’ve got with me here today Cruce Saunders, Founder and Principal Consultant at [A]. I’ve known Cruce for a while from the conference circuit and we’ve been of like minds and had many interesting chats. So, I thought we would bring one of those chats here to the airwaves.

Cruce has been leading solution firms focused on content delivery technology for over 15 years and his company Simple [A] leads large-scale content engineering engagements in partnership with global agencies. They deliver content engineering, content technology implementation, content management and personalization for complex digital properties.

Cruce is also author of the ebook Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World available on

So we both have an affinity for the world of complexity and so we’re here today to try to help demystify some of the more complex animals of the content strategy and content management world and we will be discussing CXM versus CMS, customer experience management versus content management and the systems that underpin those.

First of all, thank you Cruce for joining me.

Cruce Saunders: Glad to be here, Noz.

Noz Urbina: I’m so delighted to have you. I’m so delighted that you will be my first interviewee ever on the format of audio podcasting. So how are you doing?

Cruce Saunders: I’m doing great. It’s a good time. There’s a lot going on in this world where we’re all sort of in the midst of digital transformation and a lot of what we do in the content engineering world kind of fits right in. So we’re certainly keeping busy and it’s a lot of fun.

Noz Urbina: Yes. Actually, you just reminded me that of my audience is of course content strategists and might not even be familiar with the term “content engineering”. So, why don’t you just kick off a little definition of what you mean when you say content engineering?

What is content engineering?

Cruce Saunders: Sure. So, the easiest way to think of it is that the content strategist is the CEO of content and the content engineer is the CTO of content. The content strategist is defining the who and what of the content and so who the audiences are, the personas, the structure of the content itself and the message that’s going out to the audience and who the audiences are, the authors, the workflow, the – and so much about the content in and of itself.

The content engineer on the other hand is interested in the delivery of the content, how the content gets out to various channels and what that looks like in terms of schema, in terms of taxonomy, in terms of metadata, in terms of structure.

So, it’s that mark-up in the delivery system for the content. It’s the container. So you can think of the content strategist as the content owner and the owner of the stuff that goes in the container and the content engineer is focused on the containers and the delivery of it. Those practices work together.

Noz Urbina: Right, OK. Yeah. I was just going to say that. Because I know that many content strategists also dabble in content modeling, which I would say has one leg in both camps.

Cruce Saunders: It is. I think of the practices as continuums with multiple disciplines in each. So it starts with content strategy and at some point, it becomes content engineering.

Noz Urbina: Yeah, and then if someone was a dedicated information architect or a modeller, they’re somewhere in the middle.

Cruce Saunders: Well, exactly and in the world view that we look at for digital organisation structures, we see the information architect as a very, very key participant along with the content strategy and content engineering practices, so that those three all have to work together.

Noz Urbina: Right. OK. Great. So, without any – I don’t want to get to any further ado before we get into the heart of our session today, which is to deal with two other terms which are going to cause much debate and head-scratching, which I’m very excited about.

One is the CMS system, the content management system, which I think most people are pretty comfortable with, that they have some definition of, if not a shared definition. But then we have this new term “content experience management system,” which is either CEM or CXM, depending on who you follow.

So, I was wondering if you could give us your insight. What is a CXM versus – as opposed to a CMS?

What is CXM vs CMS?

Cruce Saunders: OK. So, the customer experience management platform is truly a different set of technologies than the CMS. But they depend on the traditional CMS output and input of content database. So, traditionally, the CMS has evolved over the last couple of decades as – as first – enterprise content management environment and then there’s – advent of the web came about. Similar technologies started to be used to present content to the public web and then many of these systems started proliferating so that we ended up with really hundreds and hundreds of different platforms that are essentially databases for content, right?

They allow authors to enter content into a database and then that content gets displayed. They want to make it easy for the author to enter content, so they provide kind of structured authoring environments for authors and then they display that content out via the public web or HTTP and HTML pages and a lot of times, those are being rendered on the fly.

So, those systems, there’s a number of them developed over time that have gotten very, very good at delivering scalable web experiences to customers and so in the content management system, there’s open source solutions like WordPress and Drupal and then there’s certainly large scale proprietary systems, too many to enumerate.

All of those systems in the content management space are very, very good at – it’s essentially an ecosystem of starters and templates and your ways of displaying content out to web visitors and sometimes across multiple sites. All of them have gotten good at handling structured content, so essentially content that is more than just a WYSIWYG text box but that it provides essentially different content types with elements that can be organized around delivering structured content into multiple locations, right? Different delivery views for the same fundamental content.

Noz Urbina: Remind me later I’ve got to take you up on that comment that all of them have gotten good at handling structure! But please, continue on to CXM.

Cruce Saunders: Well, fair enough. Yeah. I see that as table stakes and the ones that aren’t doing that I think will be dinosaurs quickly. But these CXM platforms or CEM platforms have taken on a whole new twist, which is now, now these platforms are starting to get differentiated by three major factors. There’s a lot of differentiation but I’m going to cover the three major themes.

First is integrated email, marketing automation, commerce and analytics. So this is essentially baking into the platform itself the – a number of touch points and analyses points for data about the content and for reuse of the content.

#CXM / #CEM systems go beyond CMS to integrate marketing automation, commerce & analytics, unifying a number of touch points & analysis points per @MrCruce #b2bmarketing #Digitalmarketing #marketingtips Click To Tweet

These are things like content that gets used on your website. That also goes out via a newsletter. It gets followed up on via an automatic nurture campaign that includes links, that come back to the website and personalize what you’re seeing based on the – what you clicked on in that email and your session history.

So, the integrated email marketing automation, commerce transactions and analytics on platform allow for a continuous customer experience across all of those aspects of interacting with your organization. So, they’re not – it’s not that you’ve got all of your content marketing in one system or your email marketing in one system and you’ve got all of your web content in another system and your documentation in another system. It’s starting to be all of that orchestrated across multiple touch points and multiple functions on platform, so within the same platform.

The second thing is actually the part that makes it work, which is that all customer experience management platforms that are true CXMs, CEMs are owners of session-based analytics on platform. Now that’s a very important point.

If the platform does not manage session-based analytics, they’re not truly a CEM. It can advertise themselves as a CEM but they’re not truly one.

Noz Urbina: So, session-based analytics.

Cruce Saunders: Session-based analytics are everything that we understand about what are users doing with our digital property, based on the fingerprints they’re leaving on our – within their sessions. Most platforms leave that stuff, most CMS platforms leave that stuff to things like Google Analytics or third party platforms like Omniture. All of those are great analytics platforms, but they tell you in retrospect what’s happening with your user sessions, right?

Noz Urbina: OK.

Cruce Saunders: So, instead of in retrospect, what we’re doing with CEM platforms, CXM platforms, digital experience platforms is – they’re called a lot of things. It’s the same fundamental concept. They’re using session-based analytics in real time and it’s the real-time nature that is critical to CEM actually working.

Noz Urbina: Right. This is interesting because as you know, I do a lot of workshops on adaptive content. We talk a lot about – several other things we’ve talked about. You know, multi-touch point customer journey, multi-channel. But this session-based analytics piece seems to be the piece which you need to be able to actually drive some of the adaptation that we often talk about.

If you’ve got a customer who has followed through with several touch points or engaged on several touch points, you’re saying that with session-based analytics, you can use that within that session to adapt – to take from your content and adapt the experience you’re delivering according to what’s going on at that time.

Cruce Saunders: Exactly. With session-based analytics, we can personalize content based on user origin, activity on the site, repeated visits, behavior over repeated visits or other anonymous behavior that’s happening in real time.

So, we don’t need a user to be logged in to recognize what their behavior looks like over multiple sessions, right?

Noz Urbina: Can you give an example of how that might be used to deliver change in experience in practical terms?

What are some examples of CXM in practice?

Cruce Saunders: Sure. First, I will give a little algorithm and then I will tell an example about it. So if a user comes from X geography, searches Y phrase and visits Z pages. The next time they come back, I’m going to show them an XYZ-related content set.

Noz Urbina: OK. Let’s put that into a more concrete example: if I’m coming in from the City of London or if I’m coming from Manhattan and I look at over 10 pages in a session about different products in a range, then next time I come back, you’re going to show me special offers that are relevant to the particular products that I looked at last time or ways to engage or sign-up forms where I can join a forum discussion around that general platform of technology or whatever, you know, that particular type of fashion or that kind of food, depending on what product I was looking at. That kind of thing?

Cruce Saunders: Exactly, exactly. So, you kind of think about building a – I want to say a score card or it’s almost like a dossier. If you were an investigator and you wanted to understand more about your users, you can identify them anonymously. So, you’ve got a little – you want to create a little dossier. What do you know about them? Well, you know they’re coming in from London. You know they’re visiting these 10 pages in this order.

You know that on the site, they searched these terms, right? So, let’s say they’re looking for a particular phrase. We can store all of that and we can say, “OK. Well, based on the footprints around the site, we’ve got these footprints. We’ve got these fingerprints. We’ve got these identifiers of behavioral intent,” and we can store that and then with a cookie, we can – if that person comes back and re-engages with that content, we can add to that dossier.

So, in their first session, they visited these 10 pages and then they came back and they went deeper into this session that – and they spent – and their whole session lasted seven minutes, right? They’re really interested. I mean seven minutes nowadays is an eon.

So, OK, they’re really interested in this content. Therefore, I can surmise they’re in this segment, right? So, I can segment my audience based on potential interests and that might be by persona.

Then, if I’m working with a content strategist who says, “We think our users need six personas or seven personas,” OK. Well, based on their behavior, as a content engineer, can I help define for the content strategist his segmentation strategy that says based on X behavior, I can surmise the user might be in this persona group? Therefore, when they come back, I can associate that session with a particular persona group and give them banners and navigational – to follow their needs.

Noz Urbina: Or whatever other ways that you adapt your content because it’s not limited to banners and navigation. That’s kind of the low-hanging fruit, in my opinion.

Cruce Saunders: Exactly. Right. I mean you could get very, very discreet with it. But a lot of – I mean in the beginning, personalization usually needs to start with that low-hanging fruit, those chunky things. You know, and then we get more discreet and more intelligent and more cognitive over time.

Noz Urbina: Right, right, right. OK. So, I think that you’ve given us a good picture of what this thing does. What challenges does a company face when adopting a CXM?

What challenges does a company face when adopting CXM?

Cruce Saunders: Well, I mean ultimately, it’s not a technical challenge. The technology is all achievable. It’s truly – it comes down to culture and organizational structure that enables the CEM because what happens with customer experience management is you have to cross the marketing-IT divide. You have to bridge that.

If you’ve got experiences that are worth anything, they’re going to cross silos. Those experiences – you can create some beautiful experiences in marketing only. But if they’re going to create transactional value for the organization, meaning they’re going to – they’re going to get that user to buy something, they’re going to get that customer to experience something that happens – like if it’s a travel or destination product, it’s going to translate to their offline experience. You’ve got to be able to make it more than just about marketing, right?

It can’t just be about talking about the substance. It has got to actually get into operations. It has got to be able to be delivered and integrated with other IT systems.

So, in order to make that work, ultimately what needs to happen is the organisation needs to build a structure to enable digital projects to work well.

To cross the marketing-IT divide but more importantly the rest of the silos, that each own part of the customer experience.

Noz Urbina: Yeah. This comes up for me like time and time again. That when you’re talking about all these different things, you were talking about – following people around effectively across multiple channels. Then you can’t for example drop the ball completely once they’ve bought something. You know, the pre-sales, post-sales divide is incredible.

We have organizations where they’re doing everything to feed people into the funnel and then once they actually engage and become a customer, the quality of their personalization and the digital experience or let’s say the online and offline experience just suddenly does a nosedive because all of the investment was frontloaded into making them become customers. But there was no thought into how we keep them engaged and happy customers and how to make them repeat customers.

Cruce Saunders: Absolutely. I mean, that’s beautifully said. We abandon our customers at – often once we have gotten them to our gates. I mean it’s sort of like we spend all the time and effort building attention, which is so difficult right now, right? We’ve got seven billion people. It’s not getting any easier to get anybody’s attention.

We front-load our investment in #digital into attention & feeding the sales funnel, then abandon new customers at the gate. After sale digital experience takes a nosedive. We must orchestrate beyond the gate. per @nozurbina &… Click To Tweet

So, we spend all this time and energy getting somebody’s attention. We give them an experience, a digital experience, and then we kind of abandon them, you know.

Noz Urbina: Yeah.

Cruce Saunders: So – and strictly because organizations aren’t internally orchestrating the experience past the gate.

How does CXM fit in with governance and departmental KPIs?

Noz Urbina: Right. So, if we’re talking about big challenges, we’ve listed these silos and these organizational issues. I talk a lot about the fact that we’re simply not built to properly do multi-channel as corporations and brands because we’re organized and budgeted by department and team and KPIs are organized by department and team and these KPIs are not lined up. So, there’s no motivation for any of the different teams in a traditional organizational structure to properly hand the baton to their peers.

Cruce Saunders: Exactly. We have a hypothesis for how to solve this that has been borne out of really only one client engagement where we help them solve this problem. But we call it the “digital management office” and so when I say digital management office, I’m thinking of a project management office-like structure that includes content strategy, content engineering, practices alongside project management, business analysts, QA and also folks that can maintain and manage essentially integration between data silos.

The functions overlap with IT. They should not report to IT because they’re about building essentially content asset value for an organization. So, we believe that this cross-silo organisation needs to exist and it’s too much for one podcast. But there’s – that structure is a hypothesis of how to solve that problem.

A lot of organizations right now are just delegating the resolution of the problem to either marketing or IT or a committee.

Noz Urbina: Right. Well, yeah. In my projects, we’ve often called what you would say a – created what you call a “content board” and that is a governance body which has representatives across silo, which is kind of the authority that sets certain experiential standards. Like they will have certain guidelines that they lay down for all UI work. They will have certain metadata guidelines they lay down.

Cruce Saunders: Yeah.

Noz Urbina: And major initiatives usually will come up to them for at least a review. So – and that has been quite useful because it’s a lot better than nothing. You know, even if you can’t – if you can’t get your organisation to sign off on the creation of real new roles, which I think is the way of the future. We’re talking about chief experience officers, chief content officers and so on. Then at least that kind of committee that provides a governance function is a really good first step that allows you to kind of break out of the old mold.

Cruce Saunders: Absolutely. Yeah, and – yeah, I think it – I think it was Jack Molisani who was talking about the United Nations of content and I’ve heard governance committees from Lisa Welchman as well, who’s a terrific writer on the topic of digital governance. It’s absolutely – I think that that kind organisation is the next step.

What my hypothesis is, what I am advocating for is that eventually, that a committee is not enough. The committee is a step in the direction of creating a conversation, that ultimately CEOs, COOs need to empower a permanent, budgeted office that is a cross-silo office that handles all of these core functions and that works with the committee. But that it – but that is actually accountable for the standards and the governance across the organization. I believe it needs to have exactly, as you said, a role, a specific role, right?

Some people call these chief digital officers. But a specific accountable party with an organisation that includes content strategy and content engineering functions across the whole organization.

Noz Urbina: Yeah. I agree, definitely. I think that we have come to a point where it’s becoming pretty known. I think people in this field know that roles have to change, that organizations have to change. But the conversation we’re having is the one that spooks the horses. A lot of organizations want to adopt this because they want to do it for their business. They want to do it for their customers. But to have this conversation we’re having right now, I can tell you will freak out – a lot of people will want – because nobody wants to be the one to point to the emperor and say there have no clothes.

So, it’s very difficult. I think it’s very important to have kind of interim steps and say, “Well, how are we going to accomplish our business goals this year and next year? What is the long-term vision for a rare organization?” I’m one to say you often can’t get change until you have proved change. You have to actually do it by hook and crook or do it by any means necessary in the old structure and then say, “OK, look at what we pulled off. Let’s do this properly.”

’With content strategy and governance, you often can’t get change until you’ve proven change.’ Grass roots proof of concepts are often needed to even get an #omnichannel conversation going. per @mrcruce & @nozurbina Click To Tweet

Cruce Saunders: Yeah. I completely agree. You’ve got to connect the dots and really anybody with a change orientation from any aspect of the organisation can make steps, right? Being a content engineer, I think that content models are a great place to start because you can build one anywhere, right? In marketing, in IT, in operations. You can model what’s going on there and then you can have a conversation with other people that have stakes in that model in the organization, even if you’re not budgeted to have that conversation or you don’t necessarily even have a formal structure in place.

Look, I have member data in marketing that I need to be able to tie together with what you’re doing over there and in tournaments. So, can we get these to talk? I want to make sure that when I build my model, that it’s working with your model.

Noz Urbina: Absolutely. OK. So, beyond the organizational thing, assuming that you can put some sort of structure in place to make this kind of system happen and finally to adopt it, what do you need to actually do to content? You know, I have my own opinion of adaptive content and so on. But how do you think that content needs to change if an organisation moves to CXM?

How does the content needs to change if an organisation moves to CXM?

Cruce Saunders: Well, really customer experience management can’t happen without intelligent content, right? We’re both speaking at the Intelligent Content Conference. That’s a good vehicle for marketers to really understand the role and impact of intelligent content, especially in marketing content. But really of course this goes into all content types across organization.

But it has got model, metadata, markup, schema and taxonomy. At ICC, participants will understand what those are. There’s a really good – there’s a new book called Intelligent Content: A Primer that’s out there from XML Press. There’s other good materials to kind of understand what intelligent content is. But ultimately, adaptive content is everything. You cannot personalize customer experience without the content having structure, allowing it to adapt.
Ultimately, adaptive content is everything. You cannot personalize customer experience without the content having structure, allowing it to adapt. per @mrcruce Click To Tweet

That’s why your work in educating people around the world about adaptive content is so important to digital transformation because those audiences are gaining the perspective to understand the whole next generation of how we’re going to integrate with knowledge, how humans will integrate with knowledge in the future.

It depends on that adaptive content structure that you’re teaching. So that really is the essence of customer experience management. It cannot happen without structure. It’s impossible. We cannot sling lumpy punches of content around. It becomes a messy food fight and it becomes a lot of rework and a lot of copy and paste.

Noz Urbina: Yeah.

Cruce Saunders: And it’s not targeted.

Noz Urbina: Or you end up just doing the really, really low-hanging fruit because I’ve seen the CMS vendors get up there and say – or CXM vendors or the solution vendors get up there and say, “Look, you can change the background image to show a guy playing golf, if you know that this persona might be into golf,” and I’m going, “Uh!”

Cruce Saunders: Right.

Noz Urbina: Well, I think we can do a lot better than change a couple of banners and some background colors and so on or background artwork although that’s part of it.

Cruce Saunders: It is.

Noz Urbina: It’s really not adequate. The customer is not – the consumer or user, whatever, is not coming to the site to enjoy your background splash images.

What does an ideal CXM experience look like?

Cruce Saunders: Right. We want to ultimately recreate customer experience management. We want to ultimately recreate that feeling of walking into a store back in the 1950s.

Noz Urbina: Thank you so much.

Cruce Saunders: You know, getting to know Bob behind the counter who knows everything about you, right? And your family is interested in helping you and it’s more human – it’s a more human connection, right?

Noz Urbina: Yeah. So, you’ve just stolen the thunder of the blog post I’m working on right now. So, let’s talk about that. So, I couldn’t agree more. What I’m kind of saying is that adaptive content and what I’m getting from you is that you’re adding that the customer experience management system that delivers it are just giving the ability for brands to be normal again, as opposed to this memory list schizophrenic being where you talk to them and then you come back via another channel two minutes later.

They don’t remember who you are or you talk to them on – you know, you talk to a person who is a representative of the organisation and they will tell you one set of facts and then you will look on their site and they will tell you a contradicting set of facts. So there’s no consistency or you pick up a print magazine and their ad has one visual brand and personality. Then you look up the websites that are mentioned on that – in that print magazine and the digital components, which are handled by a different team, are completely off on another channel.

Every touch point has its own roving personality and voice and brain. Creates this completely disjointed thing and exactly that. You just want to walk in and talk to a dude who can learn your name and not forget you and not start speaking a different language and diction every other sentence.

Cruce Saunders: Exactly. What’s so interesting to me is you hear people talk about how creepy personalization is and it’s funny to me because – I mean I think it’s the opposite. I think that what you’re describing is – that schizophrenic organisation that never remembers who you are and you come back and it tells you the same thing over and over is creepy, right?

Noz Urbina: Yeah, exactly. The thing where you – OK. I just bought a new TV and so then you’re trying to sell me another TV like 10 minutes later.

Cruce Saunders: Right.

Noz Urbina: Because I’m someone who’s interested in TVs. So, I buy one every week.

Cruce Saunders: Right, right.

Noz Urbina: That’s creepy.

Cruce Saunders: Right, it is. And just to never adapt the message to who I am as a customer is bizarre. I mean it’s like I am more and more expecting my digital touch points to be more personal, especially with the advent of intelligent agents like Siri and Cortana and Google. You know, the Amazon one. I forget her name.

Noz Urbina: I didn’t know there was one.

Cruce Saunders: Yeah, yeah. They’re all at – you know, and Watson, right? So there are all these intelligent agents that are cognitive, that are starting to influence customer experience with devices significantly, right? We’re starting to be able to ask our devices four things and get them, right? So, if I can’t do that with a company in 10 years, that company is probably less interesting to me in 5 years really. If I can’t do that between now and 2020 with an organization, those organizations that cannot give me a signal when I interact with them, that’s relevant, relevant signal to me. But I’m thinking are going to start looking like the Yellow Pages looked in 2005, right?

Noz Urbina: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think giving the brand an ability to have a brain is I think the promise that adaptive content and customer experience management seem to give and that’s kind of the idea here is we want to bring normal conversation to web scale.

Cruce Saunders: Yes, yes, yes. That’s it. It is. It’s – I want to have that relationship with my customers one-on-one even if I’m – you know, I’m scaled from the 1950s where I could handle maybe 100 customers a day, right? To 2015 where I – and beyond where I’m dealing with thousands potentially of customers a second, right?

So, it’s – but it’s that heart that I still want to be able to have of understanding that customer and caring for them and helping them along their journey. The more heart I can express, the better of a customer experience that our customers are going to have with our organizations.

So that’s the ultimate aim is humanizing the digital experience and right now, it’s not and we need to get there.

Noz Urbina: Yeah, absolutely. OK. Awesome. I think that’s a good little introduction that we’ve got there! Thank you so much, Cruce for your time. I really, really appreciate it. I’ve had a good time. I hope that the listeners did, too.

You can also follow Cruce on Twitter. He’s on @mrcruce and I’m on @nozurbina. So, thank you all for joining. Have a great day and I hope to see you next time!
Cruce Saunders: Thanks, Noz.

Noz Urbina: Thank you, Cruce.

About Cruce

Cruce is founder and principal at [A] and author of Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World, Cruce brings more than 20 years of experience focused on content delivery technology and intelligent content. His team has delivered more than 300 successful digital and content engineering engagements. Cruce regularly speaks on multichannel marketing, content engineering, content asset valuation, intelligent content, machine learning, AI, cognitive systems, customer experience platforms, and digital maturity. [A] operates in the US, Mexico, and Latin America and serves large corporations, governments, associations, NGOs and other complex institutions.

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