Taking the handbrake off for content designers - Contentful rolls out upgrades to make life easier

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher October 28, 2022
Checking out the latest offerings from Contentful.


At its Fast Forward Live 2022 conference, Contentful introduced some new features and capabilities to its composable content platform. I dropped by the event to see what’s new and to hear how it’s helping Contentful customers build better customer experiences.

Steve Sloan, CEO of Contentful, kicked off by talking about how content is the hub of customer experience, saying, “Content sits at the center of the relationship of every customer interaction.”

To make it work, that content needs to be composable. But that requires changes to how business typically creates and manages content. At the same time, he said, we need to empower people to work the way they need to. And for most business people, content creators, editors, and many marketers, complicated content management processes aren’t going to cut it.

CMO Amy Kilpatrick continued the story by talking about how the definition of content has evolved and how it’s still locked in silos across the organization. It’s a challenge for developers and business users alike. Contentful is working hard to ease those challenges.

How Contentful empowers a global brand

Kilpatrick brought Stuart Barr and Stuart Hobbs to the stage from partner Splendid Unlimited. Splendid is a design and development agency in London that helps companies create their digital experiences. They talked about their work helping BMW/Mini re-platform their websites.

They explained that BMW/Mini had a network of 150 different retailers, each with its own website. Retailers are experienced in selling cars, not maintaining websites, so they needed a simple interface to make changes. But they also needed advanced functionality for experienced marketers. Over nine months, they re-designed the BMW user experience, evolving the UI.

When they moved on to Mini, it was a completely different brand experience (Mini is more playful and fun). However, they found that what they created for BMW could also roll out across Mini in weeks. It was a completely different design, but used the same templates. Barr and Hobbs agreed that using Contentful gave them the flexibility to stretch the design to support the brand.

Splendid focuses on user experience first. Barr said the firm starts by getting to the heart of the problem, then looks at the technology. In this case, Contentful allowed them to develop experiences for BMW and Mini that allowed the brand to control the brand identity but had the flexibility for each retailer to create their own offers and provided a free element for retailers to play around with.

Headless takes the hand brake off the designer

Barr noted that websites regularly need refreshing, either the brand or the technology. But brands also build up a lot of re-usable content inventory, and you don’t want to lose that in a re-design effort or a technology change. Contentful, he said, lets you refresh the front end without losing all the content - this is a value of a composable platform.

When he said, “Headless takes the hand brake off the designer”, I thought that was interesting. When you work with a CMS that includes the delivery framework, you are often tied to creating the front-end design in a specific way, or you are doing some heavy-duty customizations that might break the next time you update the CMS. So headless (or composable) gives you that flexibility to create an experience that stands out.

It’s also right to point out that flexibility is a double-edged sword. Brands need to be mindful that with that freedom often comes complexity in integrating other capabilities, such as personalization, e-commerce, and marketing automation. Contentful does help in this area with its App Marketplace, which includes a number of add-on solutions to integrate. The company announced a few new integrations at the event, including Writer.ai for editorial, Commercelayer for commerce, and Ninetailed for personalization.

What’s new in Contentful

Contentful announced three new things at the Fast Forward event. The first was content orchestration. It included “cross-space references,” allowing one team to select and use the content created by another team in a different space.

The second was the Content Studio which helps streamline workflows, content development, and publication. This is where the integration with Writer.ai comes into play, providing grammar and enforcing editorial guidelines. The Studio provides a single-page editing experience for content creators and editors who don’t need to see or understand how the content is actually stored and managed. There’s a configurable workflow and a dashboard that shows the status of content in progress. Also new is the ability to release (publish) a set of content. Editors can add a page to the release package without knowing all the references that make it up, and there’s a validation element that ensures all the content added to the release can be published.

The final piece covered App Framework and Ecosystem updates, enabling companies to create business-specific UIs. For example, a North American gaming company built a catalog app on their website, and a global media company added video highlights from sporting events to their site). In addition, a new version of the open-source design system Forma 36 provides accessibility features, and App Actions provide the ability to link individual apps together for complex workflows or business needs.

My take

These are all important updates to Contentful. While headless - or composable - content management is essential to creating re-usable content across digital (and sometimes print-based) experiences, the backend admin experience cannot be complex. Business users - writers, editors, marketers, and even customer support and success people need a way to create content and experiences efficiently and quickly to keep up with changing customer expectations. Contentful is building out these capabilities with the Content Studio and the integrations with other compatible solutions.

CMS vendors build headless solutions because they recognize the need for omnichannel content strategies. Acquia also announced its new headless starter kit for Drupal at Acquia Engage. They also introduced the Next.js Starter Kit, which helps developers build front-end applications using the headless API.

There are a lot of headless CMS vendors out there to choose from. Using G2 and other research, I found over 40 vendors of different sizes and capabilities. So there’s a lot of choice in this market. But it’s the vendors that make it easy for business users and developers that are going to rise to the top - and that narrows the list a lot.

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