The Case for Content Management

Jun 01, 2004 9:30 PM  By

Years ago, content management system (CMS) software started as “document management” systems for large corporations. In the past few years, as the Web has become the focus for much corporate content, CMS has evolved into a Web-centric field, with CMS programs often doubling as “portal management” applications.

By itself, this doesn’t have much to do with catalogers. But catalog companies have their own content management challenges. There was always a distinct “cultural divide” between those who managed product data for the purposes of catalog layout, those who managed it for the call center, and other key players such as merchandisers. Add the Web to this mix, and a retail environment, and you have something like chaos.

This is not a trivial issue. For any SKU, there is probably content in the following places: hard copy files in a merchandiser’s filing cabinet, PDF files on the merchandiser’s hard drive (or on a network), spreadsheets on the network and on individual hard drives, text files in the creative department, image files and copy on a page layout/publishing system, image files on a Web server, and multiple data sets in the order management system for display in the call center. And believe me, that’s a barebones version of the truth.

Not only is coordinating the data and managing updates laborious, but it is an even bigger job to track data for historical analysis, which is the foundation of decision-making. Of course, there is usually some baseline mechanism in place to track results, such as square-inch analysis…but tell me, reasonably quickly, where that SKU appeared, with what copy, offers, and promotions during the second week of November last year, in what catalogs, on what Web pages, in what store promotions, in what space ads. Chances are you can’t.

Now granted, these are not questions you need to answer often, but that’s not the point. What a content management platform permits is streamlined management of the entire process as you assemble, coordinate, approve, version, and strategically employ all images and copy (including prices, discounts, and offers) for each SKU across all channels, in all instances (catalog pages, promotions, ads, e-mails, Web pages, the call center).

So what’s not to like?

Such a platform does pose two little problems: While there are dozens of so-called CMS applications, almost none of them are intended for multichannel use. And the tiny handful that are don’t come cheap. When you are looking at north of $100,000 to implement a solution (though it can be cheaper), return on investment starts to get harder to calculate. The numbers are there, but the risks of failure appear to be much higher.

The systems that are likely to meet the needs of multichannel marketers come out of the print publishing domain. Two of the leaders, Pindar ( and Stibo (, have such roots. It is companies like these, which understand the catalog production side of the business, that are most likely to speak your language.

When shopping for a CMS package, be sure to evaluate how the system tracks users and roles (who has permission to use the system), use permissions (which employees can use the system as read-only information compared with employees who are authorized to change data), internationalization (can the system display the information in other languages and account for changes in currency formats, such as converting $1.00 into 1,34 euro, using the comma instead of the decimal point), and most important, workflow. The workflow component alone is probably worth the price of the system.