Bold claim alert: CMS replatforming will be the most popular project of 2021.
More on that in a minute.
Often, clients reach out to us to discuss the concept of replatforming their CMS, as opposed to undertaking a large-scale redesign effort. In recent years, we’ve seen more of these requests, as customers have an increasing dissatisfaction with their website’s management software but are not interested in going through a comprehensive redesign. Instead, they would rather plug holes in how they manage their website content going forward and focus on smaller, more nimble changes.
To some, this seems somewhat unfathomable – why replatform when you can wait until you redesign and do it all at once? Well, there are a variety of reasons why this may make sense.
Replatforming without a redesign is becoming a logical strategy for a modern marketer. First, redesigns take time, effort, and collaboration. You have to build high levels of internal consensus at every level of an organization. That means marketing, sales, executive leadership, and even IT need to discuss how to design a website that accomplishes the goals they are all interested in achieving. This is a gigantic undertaking that most of us have been through, one which almost no one emerges with a positive impression post-project. As such, most marketers these days would instead work on iterative design changes versus large-scale redesigns.
Marketing technology is evolving quickly. Marketers need to have better access to the tools and platforms that will enable them to move the needle. While a redesign is a massive project no one is ready to commit to, iterative design changes with a re-platforming initiative are much more palatable and natural to commit to at almost all levels.
Replatforming is also a more comfortable internal sale. Determining an ROI from an expensive design project is difficult for a CEO and risky in some cases. However, showing how software can solve challenges in analytics, conversion, or make remarketing easier makes much sense. Marketers can often overrule IT in terms of technology choices that can result in higher lead generation, and sales teams are prone to defer to marketing’s requirements provided nothing about their workflows change. Replatforming may be the solid strategy going into 2021, where risk aversion will be top of mind for almost every team member.
Benefits of Replatforming
The benefits of replatforming, as mentioned earlier, are consequential for the success of a marketer and their team. As we have been forced to reflect more and more on our online offerings this year, we realize that some technical gaps or incompatibilities have made it harder for us to adjust to the changing economic climate.
Faster Project Lifecycle
Replatforming is always a faster project at every stage of the process. It’s easier to scope – replatforming doesn’t open up a debate about content, navigation, or any of those sticky subjects, which often slow down a redesign project. It’s easier to define success – since replatforming is mostly a technology project, you will get less caught up in broad definitions of what success looks like. Finally, it’s less challenging to budget. Design projects often include gotchas along the way... From an agency perspective, a replatforming initiative is more straightforward to price because it is a migration more than anything else. All of these factors lead to a project that is quick, relatively low stress, and can be a quick win for a marketing department.
It’s a Buyer’s Market
Clients who have grown their business and now seek to utilize licensed commercial software solutions can benefit from current market conditions. So too for users of commercial CMS platforms who are looking to convert or upgrade to another platform for whatever reason. Right now, the CMS space is highly competitive, and CMS vendors are fighting for business. As such, the idea of a conquest victory, or stealing a client from another vendor is very appealing. Right now, clients who are shopping for CMS platforms are definitely able to sign discounted agreements as the market is definitely in favor of the buyer. There is no time like now to make the switch from software that is not working for you.
You Can Pick and Choose Focus Areas
Replatforming does allow you to focus on some areas of improvement while making the transition. Changing your CMS from one system to another doesn’t preclude you from design tweaks, or navigation enhancements. And frankly, most replatforming initiatives include some level of these tasks. It is a low-stress sale internally within your organization to say that you are replatforming instead of redesigning. Redesigns are scary and chock full of risk. Replatforming is more likely to be referred to as a necessary evil, especially if it can be backed up by solid reasons why it’s essential (IE, high license costs with an existing vendor, bad vendor relationship, growing out of the software, technological shortcomings, etc.).
Replatforming is Foundational
If you are seeking approval to replatform, you must position this process internally as being a foundational project. This means that replatforming is being performed to allow you to quickly iterate in the future and stay agile along the way. Oftentimes, website redesigns never get off the ground because of analysis paralysis. Everyone wants to do everything, and no one can agree on anything. It’s better to take the work you already have put into your website, transition it to the new system, and start minor iterative changes with the foundation you still have. These are experiments that may be difficult or impossible to perform today due to a lack of platform capability or stability. By removing the technical hurdles, you can now be accountable again for your website’s performance and ultimately move the needle for your organization, piece by piece.
But Isn’t This All Duplicate Work?
The astute C-suite executive may ask if replatforming and then subsequently later redesigning are duplicate work. To be honest, it partially is. However, that is only if a comprehensive redesign is something you want to tackle later. You could make iterative improvements as we mentioned above. In looking at this point in greater detail – while there is some duplicate work, overall, much of a redesign effort is additive to replatforming. When you redesign a site, you often perform data and content migration. This is something you can take care of during a replatforming project to avoid doing later.
Furthermore, replatforming is advantageous in that you can get a new baseline of site and marketing performance after the CMS has been deployed. When you combine a new CMS with a brand new design, it is hard to distinguish how much each change on its own contributed (or hurt) your relevant rankings and analytics. Taking an underperforming, yet somewhat design capable website and putting it into the right platform should enable you to solve some of your technical problems and drive better performance. Then, any subsequent redesign can be judged on the merits of the design itself and not the platform.
Finally, while some work may be replicated later, if a redesign takes you another year – what is the cost of inaction and remaining with your current stack? Surely it affects your overall marketing performance negatively, or why else would you want to replatform in the first place? Migrating now makes much sense to stop the bleeding while giving you a chance to contemplate your next steps in a more thoughtful and low-stress way.
How to Ensure Success
Much of what I’ve pointed out above indicates that replatforming is a relatively easy project. Well, that’s true. It’s easier to scope, it has no design component, and there is relatively little interaction needed until deployment is on the horizon. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any risks. Admittedly, there are risk-laden tasks that must be completed. Your existing code must be looked at, audited, and possibly refactored. Your content must migrate and often be cleaned in the process. And you must preserve SEO rankings. As such, there are many areas where a project such as this can be derailed quickly.
The best way to ensure success is to do a thorough audit and discovery. Audit means looking at your site and gathering together a list of complete requirements. Then, defining a specification for the project during a discovery session and the creation of an architecture document. We’ve spoken about discovery quite a bit, and it still holds true that a focus on initial discovery makes life easier later on.
I started this week’s post by indicating that replatforming will be the go-to project in 2021. I feel strongly that this is the case, not only for the reasons above, but also because the economics of our current situation will dictate a focus on performance, and performance can be incrementally improved and analyzed more via technology at this point than simply via design. Marketers will be under more and more stress and pressure to enhance results.