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Contentful shifts focus to empower the entire digital team with new products and capabilities

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher October 4, 2023
Summary:
Content Management platforms don't have to be built for ‌developers or marketers. It is possible to support the best of both worlds, and that's what Contentful, a composable content management platform vendor, aims to do.

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Contentful has historically been a developer platform, but increasingly customers have been using the platform in a broader set of use cases. 

That said, it hasn't been easy. CEO Steve Sloan says that in the last 12-18 months, the company has heard many customer comments about the challenges and frustrations of digital teams as they are scaling up.

These customers are asking Contentful to help their content architects and marketers work more effectively in the platform, he says: 

So, what we have today with the launch is really a little bit of the first reveal, if you will, for where we're taking the company in order to address the needs of the broader digital team, as opposed to really just serving the needs of developers.

Sloan shared three ways the firm aims to do this.

Connecting data sources

The first piece is all about orchestration - creating a comprehensive content graph. Contentful is connecting to other content sources, like commerce platforms, PIM, DAM, and so on, to bring that content into view in the CMS. 

This connection is not about aggregating content in the platform but instead connecting to it where it lives and giving customers access to that content live in Contentful. Content architects and marketers can then model and organize all the content in the content graph into spaces in a consistent and reusable manner. 

Sloan explains that orchestration helps create consistency in how external content is used and experienced.

Helping marketers build consistent experiences

The second update comes to the Content Studio. A new Experience Builder gives marketers a visual canvas to create consistent, on-brand experiences. 

Marketers were asking for better tools. Many work today using different tools to create different experiences; the result is often experiences that are very different and do not always follow brand guidelines.

Sloan argues that marketers didn't want "just another tool." They need something to connect them with developers who manage the platform and help them manage the content and experience once it's in place. And that's what Experience Builder is designed to do. It connects structured content and the brand style guide with simple marketing tools.

Expanding the Contentful ecosystem

Contentful has an expansive ecosystem that provides many capabilities within the platform. That ecosystem is growing even larger with new partnerships that include pre-built integrations to make it easy for digital teams to connect with the content in those partner systems. These new integrations are with companies such as AWS, BigCommerce, Cloudinary, commercetools, Ninetailed, and SAP. 

And let’s not forget generative AI

Every software provider needs an AI story these days, and Contentful has its own. Sloan says:  

It's the getting started that's the hardest part. And so that's what we're doing…where we think in these early innings of generative AI, we can use these tools in order to get people kick-started and get them up and running. We still think that people are going to be central to both the creative process, but also the final eyes on the approval of something to ensure that it is, in fact, in the best interests and it aligns with everything else you're trying to do. But we can get people over that initial hump.

Contentful’s generative AI capabilities underpin the new product and partnerships announced today in three ways, he adds: 

  1. Creating structured content - Creating structured content is challenging for most marketers because they haven't been taught to think of content that way. So, Contentful is introducing a new AI-based tool that will build a structured content model for the marketer. The tool understands how existing content models are designed in the platform, and it takes prompts from the marketer to propose a structure. Example prompts are provided and the resulting output helps marketers understand how to use the basics of structured languaging in their prompts. The marketer can then publish the new content model or send it through an approval workflow that includes a content architect or developer. 
  2. Moving past the blank page problem - Using generative AI for content generation is a common use case, but there are other use cases that Sloan suggests are even more impactful, like improving personalization. Contentful has a built-in integration with Ninetailed for AB testing ‌and personalization. But how does the marketer come up with all the variants to test? That's often the hardest part. Generative AI can give marketers more options to test over time, which should result in creating better, more personalized experiences.
  3. Generating better images - A third way Contentful is leveraging generative AI in the platform is for image generation. Sloan describes two use cases they have seen as customers try the new capabilities - image cleanup - taking an existing image and making small changes - and creating new images aligned with written content - for example, taking a base image and adding something to it to create an entirely new image.

The big question Sloan thinks customers will ask themselves is which content they use to train the AI models. This is why orchestration is essential; you can train the models on your own content that lives across all your source systems, and you know that content is trusted.

My take

I asked Sloan if Contentful was surprised that marketers used the platform when it was designed for developers. He says what surprised them was that so many were using the tools. Last quarter, new signups to the platform were split 50/50 between marketers and developers. It's why the company is leaning in hard and fast to deliver these new marketing tools

It's that 'everybody' dynamic you're talking about, which is, it has to work for all of us. But as a developer and a marketer, we kind of work differently. You know, as a developer, we work in these two-week sprints, and it's very structured. And for marketers, in so many cases, their timelines are incredibly short, and they have these demands of showing the performance of the things that they're building. I mean, both of their lives are very, very hard, but they're different. 

So [it’s important to have] a platform where we can recognize and help people with those differences in mind, but still have a shared platform where they can work together. Where you can store, manage, and deliver your content, but you can also create it. And then the third part of it is then you have the workflows that establish how we can all work together that, again, recognize that there are some differences in the way we work. When you can bring all of that together, you can actually serve the whole team in a way they have never been served in the past.

Composable platforms have always been discussed as developer platforms. But they don't have to be. A composable architecture is a better way to build applications because it makes connecting content and capabilities from other systems easier. Monolithic platforms are the past, but we also don't need a lot of smaller solutions that can't work together without a lot of effort. 

It makes sense to me that Contentful would continue to evolve in this direction, ensuring it can support all parts of the digital team. As companies work hard to create consistent customer experiences across multiple channels, they need a backend architecture that makes that process easier for everyone involved. 

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