How guardrails and workflows power structured creativity

Gavin Estey, VP Technology at Appnovation, explains how the right guardrails can help marketers explore and use new content platforms with confidence.
January 9, 2024


Marketers and other less technical users can feel left behind when organizations adopt content solutions that require developer-level skills to use. Fortunately that’s changing with new solutions, like our Composable Content Platform, that give marketers access to powerful tools and features.

This post is part of a series that expands on our marketer’s guide to composable content. Gavin Estey, VP Technology at Appnovation, shows how the right guardrails help marketers explore and use new platforms with confidence. 

Can developers and marketers work within the same platform?

Let’s be honest, the shift from traditional CMSes to headless CMSes wasn’t entirely great for all marketers. Marketers went from the comfort of WYSIWYG page-focused editing to dealing with structured content at a field level, which made it hard to understand how content would display.

Instead of working hands-on with digital content, non-technical users ended up at arm's length, submitting tickets and waiting for developer support. The benefits of being able to share and reuse content across channels came at the cost of being able to work with that content easily.

Newer content platforms let teams have their cake and eat it too. There are exciting tools in the market that include features for marketers, content creators, and other non-technical users.

For example, the Contentful Composable Content Platform has a visual interface for people who want that page-centric, more WYSIWYG visual editing experience. These new solutions empower non-technical users to work within the same platform that their developer colleagues use.

Get the benefits of composable content without giving up the tools you love

Content is only valuable when it’s shared and reused across an organization, but orchestrating content developed by different teams across multiple channels is challenging. Composable content is a new approach that eliminates the clunkiness of orchestrating content across systems.

Democratizing content creation and management so that it is in the control of those closest to it helps organizations become more effective and efficient. Instead of raising a ticket to request a content change, they can make the change directly, and use workflows to approve and coordinate updates.

Composable content platforms structure content so content authors can easily find and reuse elements without copying and pasting. And when it’s time to change that content, it just needs to be updated in one place and when published, changes are pushed out to wherever that content appears in minutes.

Composable content helps marketers create and deliver personalized content across multiple devices and channels, expanding both the reach and value of the content they create. Learn more about the benefits of composable content.

The power of composable content combined with familiar features

You don't have to give up all of the things you like about traditional CMSes to move into this new, headless, composable world.

Newer platforms include visual editors, customizable workflows, and intuitive interfaces that provide a more familiar workspace for marketers and content creators.

These features can be customized with guardrails that empower non-technical team members to explore the possibilities a composable content platform unlocks, without fear of breaking anything.

Use guardrails to empower — not restrict — users

Composable content changes the way teams create and work with content. It connects silos, giving everyone access to more content. Of course, in most cases you might not want everyone to be able to edit everything. Users themselves might feel overwhelmed. This is where well-placed guardrails come in.

Strategic guardrails reduce the fear of breaking things so people can explore, experiment, and innovate faster. The goal is to give people confidence. You want enough guardrails that people can’t accidentally break critical things, but not so many that it feels restrictive. 

Good guardrails should …

Remove the fear of breaking anything. You want people to feel psychologically secure. They need the ability to explore, look around, and see what's in the new system without being afraid that they might bring the website down or break things beyond repair. This means implementing guardrails to prevent people from changing or deleting things they shouldn't and having additional sets of eyes to approve changes to make sure they are correct.

Make it easy to undo changes. You want people to feel comfortable making changes to see how the system works. When people experiment and make changes, it should be easy to undo those changes. 

How to choose the right guardrails 

We have a lot of clients who move to a new platform and want to start with all-encompassing workflows. My advice is to start with more of a crawl, walk, run approach. Give people a chance to explore the tool and see how it fits their existing workflows. 

Start with minimal guardrails

As you gain experience with the platform and have a better understanding of how you’re going to use it for your business, you can start applying guardrails where they make sense. If your site isn’t live yet and you’re frantically entering content for launch, this isn’t necessarily the best time to experiment with workflows.

For example, I had a client map out an ideal workflow state, but at the time they only had a handful of people working on the site. The person writing content would be the same person approving that content. At that point, an approval workflow would just slow the process down. 

Add guardrails when and where they make sense

As your business matures and you have a lot of people churning content out at a frantic pace, workflows and guardrails make sense. They help everyone work faster without missing approvals or accidentally deleting something critical. 

It makes sense to have restrictive permissions for sensitive pieces of content like your legal terms and conditions. You don't want anyone changing those, either on purpose or accidentally. Another example might be quotes from your CEO that are used across the site. You need to ensure that no one changes the wording after quotes have been approved.

You can use workflows and guardrails to prevent critical content from being edited or deleted. For example, platforms like Contentful use certain content types to structure content (for example, representing a taxonomy). Adding protection around those critical content types enables more people to use the platform without fear that they will break something.

You can also use tags to add restrictions to certain content items to enable very granular permissions. For example, making non-admins unable to delete key pages, such as the homepage.

You can also use tags to add restrictions to certain content items to enable very granular permissions. For example, making non-admins unable to delete key pages, such as the homepage.

Strategic workflows and guardrails unlock new capabilities

Customizable interfaces, workflows, and guardrails let non-technical users tap into the power of modern content platforms and unleash their creativity. Instead of limiting access to developers or a few trusted users, you can give more people the capabilities they need to create and deliver digital experiences.

Enable the people or teams closest to the content to manage it

The most successful content-driven companies are the ones where the people who know most about the subject are involved in creating content around that subject. 

A lot of companies manage everything globally, but ideally, content should be managed as locally as possible. When there are local or regional events, you want the ability to respond without requiring all hands on deck at a global level. This concept extends to different parts of the company as well, not just different geographic locations. With good governance you can empower people to experiment within their local market or area of expertise. 

See how KFC uses the power of composable content and good governance features to let local teams create secret menus, run promotions, and customize their sites based on country-specific ordering preferences. Read case study.

Make content more personalized and authentic 

Content should feel like a conversation. It should be authentic and personalized. It’s not fun when every interaction with a brand sounds like you're talking to corporate lawyers.

Guardrails give people the freedom to create authentic voices on the channels they manage while protecting core brand elements. You can allow a more casual tone of voice on Facebook or blog posts, and have stricter guidelines in place for content that appears on the homepage.

Reuse and orchestrate content across the organization

The more you share and reuse content, the more you need to think about the upstream and downstream impact of changing that content. For example, product page content might be used in multiple places like a featured product page, different product categories, customer recommendations, digital storefronts, etc. 

Guardrails help ensure the right people are involved in content changes, especially when those changes affect content that appears in multiple places. Giving people the ability to reuse content with confidence increases their productivity and the value of that content. 

Easily update content in multiple places

The advantage of reusing content, without copying and pasting, is that you can quickly make content changes across all relevant channels. If a product name changes you can update it in one place, use workflows to ensure the right people approve the change, and then push those updates out to all the places that product information is used. 

A composable approach to content streamlines content operations so companies can respond quickly to world events. For example, I still get emails saying “due to the pandemic shipping times are delayed and outside of our control.” This is the sort of thing that should be easy for companies to update.

Coordinate and schedule large campaigns and content refreshes

Approval workflows and scheduling are critical when you have a complex, content-driven calendar. Imagine a commerce site where you have to transition all of your content from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year. If you wait until after Halloween to start making your Thanksgiving changes, it limits the time you have to build a great experience.

With workflows and guardrails in place, you can have people working on these refreshes on a continuous basis. Teams can draft content, make it available for preview, and start getting comments and feedback without the worry that it will be published prematurely or without approvals. 

New platforms make composable content accessible to everyone

With composable content, marketers and other creatives can quickly assemble any digital experience. The content they create reaches a wider audience, maximizing the value they bring to the organization. The key is to make these powerful solutions accessible to everyone, not just developers. 

Solutions, like Contentful’s Composable Content Platform, do this with a mix of features designed for marketers and creators and granular governance that enables organizations to fine-tune guardrails for just the right fit. This empowers less technical teams to create and use content without fear of breaking the content infrastructure. 

Marketers, creatives, and developers can all work within the same platform collaboratively without the challenges seen in older headless solutions. This gives everyone the freedom to do their best work without jumping through hoops or relying on developers to push their work live.

Learn more about how composable content is for marketers in the marketer’s guide to composable content

Take a tour!

See Contentful in action with a personalized walkthrough.

About the author

Don't miss the latest

Get updates in your inbox
Discover how to build better digital experiences with Contentful.
add-circle arrow-right remove style-two-pin-marker subtract-circle remove