Fork in the road

Choosing between Kentico Xperience and Kontent.ai

Most CMS or DXP vendors are synonymous with the products they produce, but Kentico Software took on a unique 'dual rail' product strategy, with two distinct flagship products serving different needs. What are the key differences, and when should you be looking at one or the other?

Andy Thompson pulling a funny face

By Andy Thompson, 28 June 20227 minute read

Kentico Software is one of the old guard of traditional Content Management System (CMS) vendors. Founded in 2004 by current CEO Petr Palas, it has produced updated versions of its flagship traditional CMS platform year after year for the better part of two decades, maintaining a position as one of the market-leading platforms as it evolved from simple CMS to modern-day Digital Experience Platform (DXP).

Kentico CMS underwent a couple of name changes over the years as it evolved. Enterprise editions became known Kentico EMS (Enterprise Marketing Solution) around 2011 when features such as segmentation, personalisation, A/B and MVT testing were added. Today in 2022, the latest edition of Kentico's flagship DXP is known as Kentico Xperience 13.

While the Kentico Xperience juggernaut continued, the tech brains at Kentico Software saw another trend coming. The rise of API- and cloud-first, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms, as well as an increase in the use of additional marketing channels beyond simple desktop websites, led to a new category known as the 'headless CMS'. Petr Palas and his brains trust were quick to invest in the area, creating an entirely new product line within Kentico Software to meet this emerging market demand. Initially created as Kentico Draft, in 2016 at the 404 Conference in Las Vegas, USA, the new product was launched to the market as Kentico Cloud. The new product line also underwent a branding change and is now known as Kontent.ai.

Dual-rail product strategy

For several years, Kentico Software was quite unique among vendors; it had two distinct, flagship products, serving similar needs (at their core, content management) to some of the same customers.

Two separate companies from 2022

As of 1 July 2022, Kontent.ai has grown up and flown the coop! It is now its own fully-fledged company, completely separate from Kentico Software, and with a very healthy investment in growth capital to boot.

Choosing between Kentico Xperience and Kontent.ai

So as a marketer or IT professional, how do you know which one of these products is best suited for your needs?

It's not as simple as being offered a Mars Bar or a Snickers Bar, with a vendor hoping to increase the chances that you'll end up buying a chocolate bar from them one way or another. Think of it more like a choice between Excel or Word. They're not mutually exclusive products – you can create a table of data in Word, but if tabular data is your primary focus, you probably should be looking at Excel. They're different tools for managing content in different contexts.

Kentico Xperience

Kentico Xperience is a popular all-in-one, unified DXP targeting the middle to upper-middle markets. It has been recognised in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms six years running (at time of writing).

We regularly see Kentico Xperience competing head-to-head against other 'traditional' or 'monolithic' DXPs such as Optimizely, Sitecore, or Adobe AEM. So much so in fact, that we have written in-depth comparisons between a number of these platforms:

The typical application for a unified DXP like Kentico Xperience is enterprise website platform development for medium-to-large organisations with a broad set of requirements covering content management, marketing, and/or commerce. The platform is commonly customised to meet complex requirements, and integrated closely with other systems such as CRMs. The DXP is the core of the solution architecture, and handles nearly everything including the core task of generating and serving dynamic web pages to visitors across multiple devices and channels. While many vendors offer a managed cloud (sometimes referred to as 'SaaS') option, traditional DXPs are large and powerful software applications that must be hosted and maintained.

Luminary has implemented literally hundreds of websites using Kentico Xperience over the years. Our customers typically go with it when they have a primary focus on website publishing and digital marketing. They enjoy having access to a broad range of marketing features such as visual page and form building, personalisation, A/B testing, email marketing and automation, all in a single place. For our customers Churches of Christ in Queensland and Save the Children Australia, Xperience provided a single platform that could cover nearly all of their website requirements in a single, easy-to-use, unified DXP.

Churches of Christ website - on tablet and mobile

Churches of Christ

Churches of Christ engaged Luminary to lead an evidence-based digital transformation to bring more clarity and customer-centricity to its website.

Little girl

Save the Children

Facilitating story-driven content and a smooth user flow to maximise donations and streamline content administration.

In a nutshell, Kentico Xperience is an all-in-one, unified Digital Xperience platform. It is typically the primary or core (often only) platform chosen, and aims to satisfy as many of your marketing technology requirements as possible with a single product.

Kontent.ai

Kontent.ai is a pure SaaS headless CMS, sometimes termed Content-as-a-Service, targeting the enterprise market. It is regularly included in industry expert reports such as the Forrester Wave for Agile CMS.

Kontent.ai usually competes head-to-head against other pure-play headless CMS products such as Contentful, Storyblok, or Strapi. Sometimes we do see it being compared with a traditional DXP, however usually only in certain contexts – either as the content-management part of a broader suite of products being compared, or against the specific headless capabilities of a 'hybrid' CMS product that can meet both use cases.

The typical application of a headless CMS such as Kontent.ai is as a centralised, multi-channel content hub. Its role is much more narrow than a traditional CMS or DXP that you might be used to. The headless CMS has a very specific role, which is simply authoring and managing high quality content in a highly structured and efficient way. Rather than spitting out web pages like the CMS you're probably used to, this content is then delivered via Kontent.ai's REST or GraphQL APIs, in the form of JSON data. The huge benefit of this is that it opens your content up to being integrated with pretty much any other system on the planet. This could include mobile apps, online stores, digital signage, syndicated news feeds, or of course your own website!

The most common implementation we see is using Kontent.ai as the core CMS at the heart of a composable DXP architecture, or a suite of complementary marketing technology products, connected together using APIs in a microservices architecture. In contrast to the typical traditional DXP implementation I described above where the DXP is the core of the platform, a headless CMS is typically just one of a number of systems your website (and any number of other platforms) will integrate with. Even the core role of actually rendering your web pages and serving them up to your visitors is not handled by a headless CMS such as Kontent.ai. Although one of its great benefits when it comes to web development is that it opens up limitless options for how you might build your website, such as the Jamstack.

Two good examples we worked with to build Kontent.ai-powered websites are Healthylife and Pet Culture. Both of these projects combined headless content management with headless commerce (via Shopify Plus), a multi-channel Enterprise Data Platform for cross-channel marketing, and enjoyed the benefits of an extremely rapid MVP launch.

HealthyLife website

Healthylife

Healthylife – part of the Woolworths Group – is a digital startup that provides customers with health and wellness advice, services and products.

Cute dog looking wistful

Pet Culture

Backed by Woolworths and pet insurance specialists PetSure, PetCulture is a new online destination for pet owners.

In a nutshell, a headless CMS such as Kontent.ai is brilliant at doing one job (managing content), but it is always combined with other services as part of a broader martech stack for website projects.

Side by side comparison


Kentico XperienceKontent.ai
ProductUnified Digital Experience PlatformHeadless CMS
TypeInstallable web applicationOnline SaaS subscription
Feature setContent, marketing, commerceContent
Tech stackMicrosoft, .NET, C#Any, via REST and GraphQL APIs
OutputWebsitesJSON data
Use caseAll-in-one website platformMulti-channel content hub

They're different!

At their core, Kentico Xperience and Kontent.ai are very different pieces of software. One is a highly customisable .NET development platform which aims to satisfy as many requirements as possible for middle-market customers needing to produce websites. The other is a cloud service for managing and delivering highly structured multi-channel content via APIs.

There is certainly some overlap, as both products of course do what their creator Kentico Software knows best – content management. This can lead to confusion at times, as there are situations when two technical approaches are being considered (a traditional DXP implementation or a composable DXP architecture which includes a headless CMS), but in that case it's not a simple 'apples-to-apples' comparison. If you're after a headless CMS such as Kontent.ai, you'll need to select other software to flesh out your broader composable DXP architecture, if you're looking to compare directly with a unified DXP such as Kentico Xperience. Of course, a digital agency such as Luminary is well-placed to guide you through these difficult waters. 😉

Therefore, the question to ask isn't so much 'should I choose Kentico Xperience or Kontent.ai?'. Rather it's 'do I want a traditional, unified DXP, or a headless CMS'?

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