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What is the difference between digital experiences and CMS?

They're used interchangeably, but what is the essential difference between digital experiences and CMS?

Digital experiences and content management systems. They’re two terms that come up a lot when we talk about how businesses can optimise their digital presence, but what’s the difference between them? And what role can they both play in growing your business?

What is a digital experience?

From your ecommerce shop and landing page to your company website and chatbots, a digital experience encompasses all the ways your customers and team engage with your digital content. Created and managed using a CMS, digital experiences form an important part of the customer journey—affecting how people shop, browse, and connect with your business—both online and offline.

Remind me again: What’s a CMS?

The official definition of a CMS is “a computer software system that manages and organises the creation, modification, and publication of digital content like documents and images, often in a collaborative environment, for presenting to a website.”

In other words, if digital experiences are the end-user solution, a CMS is the toolbox that lets you build it in the first place, and keep iterating without a hitch for years to come.

See also: Which features make a great CMS?

Why do we separate the two concepts?

As a business, you can produce loads of different digital solutions, both for your customers and employees. Put them together, and they should create a holistic digital experience that’s streamlined, smooth and compelling.

A CMS, on the other hand, is the engine that creates these experiences. Whereas a digital experience is the end-user solution, a CMS is the behind-the-scenes motor that keeps everything running.

Why is a CMS the engine behind it all?

It all starts with content. Ranging from blog posts and product descriptions to website apps and images, these different types of content extend across every touchpoint, forming the building blocks of your digital experiences.

As a content management system, it’s a CMS’s job to create, modify and manage these types of content. Like an engine, it powers all of the moving parts that go into a diverse digital experience.

Read more: 8 reasons why your digital projects are slow - and how to solve them »

Digital experiences: the lowdown

A holistic digital experience stretches across a number of touchpoints, and includes components like:

  • Website – the heart of your digital experience, an optimised website will contain responsive and up-to-date content and services that are easy to navigate and manage.
  • Intranet – your company’s intranet might only be available to staff, but it still plays an important role in a holistic digital experience.
  • Apps – web apps are the building blocks to a great website, offering extra functionality and interactive content.
  • Chatbots – online chatbots can optimise digital experiences for customers and staff by offering convenient customer support.
  • E-commerce – for businesses with an online shop or booking process, a streamlined e-commerce platform is an important element in their digital experiences.
  • Beacons – forming part of a omni-channel experience, beacons are becoming a useful tool in location-based marketing.
  • IoT (Internet of Things) – with devices becoming smarter and more connected, IoT will soon form an important part of digital experiences.
  • Social media – even though you have no control over the design and workings of a social media platform, the presence there is still a part of your total digital experience toward your audience, and you should make sure that your social media accounts follow brand guidelines, tone of voice, etc.

Make your CMS the hub for your digital experiences »

What is a digital experience platform?

When reading about digital experiences, you might have seen the term "digital experience platform," or "DXP," thrown into the mix. Don’t worry, this isn’t another new concept to wrap your head around.

Forrester defines a DXP as “software to manage, deliver, and optimise experiences consistently across every digital touchpoint”. In essence, it’s simply a more accurate name for a CMS, which takes into account the software’s continual growth into a fully integrated experience.

What is a digital experience cloud?

Now that you're familiarised yourself with DXPs, there's yet another term to get acquainted to: DXC—or digital experience cloud. So what's this beast, then?

A DXC is really just the same as a DXP, with one fundamental difference. Where a digital experience platform can be either hosted and operated on premise or through a third-party cloud, a digital experience cloud takes the service to another level and offers a fully managed platform.

This means that operations, deployment, back-ups, upgrades, scaling, and some security are left to cloud vendor experts, while you can focus on developing your core business instead.

See also: How a digital experience cloud can lift your business »

Headless CMS

One key ingredient for delivering seamless digital experiences across any channel, platform, or device, is yet to be mentioned. I'm of course talking about headless CMS.

Headless is essentially a database with structured content and an API that can deliver said content to any required channel. Digital experiences encompasses many touchpoints, from the regular desktop and mobile app to more unusual channels like wearables and digital signage.

If you want your content on all of these touchpoints of your customer journey, it mustn't be tied up to a specific look or organisation. This is exactly what headless addresses.

Learn more: 7 (not so secret) secrets about headless CMS »


The difference between digital experiences and CMS is simple: while the latter is the engine, the former is the end-user solution. And really, it’s almost impossible to have one without the other. Whether your digital experience consists of a simple website or beacons, IoT and chatbots, a CMS will be the toolbox that makes it the best it can be.

Originally published on 5 September 2018. Updated on 9 March 2020.

Guide: How to Future Proof Your Digital Experiences

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