Text and media were stored separately, lengthening content creation processes
Content requests demanded development, forcing marketing to prioritize projects
Manual caching of static and dynamic content removed developers from other tasks
A rigid CMS didn’t support experimentation or prototyping projects
An organized, universal content hub makes content, images and videos more accessible
Content models and an easy-to-use interface means marketing can publish content
Cloud-native servers and webhooks support automated caching
Sandbox environments support prototypes and save resources
Visit a cafe, day or night, any given day, and you’re sure to see a hive of activities: teens tethered to their phones, university students with noses deep in books, neighbors trading gossip and an array of busy-looking people typing heavy-handedly on laptops.
Cafes are ground zero for startups in cities around the world. The stickers plastered across the MacBooks in those cafes tell the fortunes of new software applications, budding programming languages and promising political candidates. Swag, particularly stickers, is a booming business these days. And no one knows that better than Sticker Mule, the company responsible for stickers becoming a staple in startup marketing.
Unlike many of its startup customers, Sticker Mule was not born in a bustling coffee shop. It was born out of personal frustration. While founder and CEO Anthony Constantino was cutting his teeth in the manufacturing world, he became frustrated that the absence of direct customer relationships put manufacturers at the mercy of partners and intermediaries. He noticed that a direct-to-consumer online model could create faster, more enjoyable experiences for customers and manufacturers, which is how Sticker Mule came about. The desire to create faster, more enjoyable experiences later nudged the brand to trade its legacy CMS for a more modern option.
Publish fast, publish often
Being the internet’s favorite sticker printer comes with its challenges. Not everyone can differentiate vinyl decals from front adhesives, much less visualize how a 5″x5″ graphic will look on a Mac. The Sticker Mule team gets that. The company’s primary goal isn’t to simply build an ecommerce store but to create a great experience for those ordering online — which means considering how they shop. “Where the sticker will be placed — a laptop, surfboard, window — is how consumers weigh our products. They rarely consider the specs,” says David Traver, vice president of marketing.
To steer visitors toward the right product, Sticker Mule churned out content for specific sticker uses, which its legacy CMS struggled to accommodate. Sticker Mule created a workaround, manually creating new pages to support its growing content ecosystem. Rollouts at this time were slow and expensive. As developer Andre Oliveira explains, “Even a simple request from the marketing team required us to spin up new tables, wire them to views and add a form for editing content.” In this context, marketing had to prioritize initiatives and ration promotional campaigns.
Contentful changed all of that. In introducing the content platform, previously time-consuming content rollouts are now two-minute tasks that the marketing team can handle independent of developers. This breakthrough in productivity can be attributed to how the content platform defines content structures. With content modeling and content types, developers can create a framework for content-heavy projects and let the creatives carry it over the finish line.
Contentful’s ample cloud-native storage presented a bonus for the highly visual company. It allows Sticker Mule marketers and designers to embed high-quality photos and helpful videos — a core part of nearly every page on the brand’s site — without leaving the space.
Doing away with technical debt
Like other software engineers, Sticker Mule viewed its development speed and technical debt as two sides of the same coin: tighter deadlines came with messy code. This was especially true for their old CMS, which tangled core modules, open-source libraries, custom-built extensions and security patches. Each minor tweak the company made could balloon into an application meltdown.
With an API-first content platform like Contentful, Sticker Mule is leaving those knots behind. Developers can fetch, post and modify application content in simple steps. The platform’s defined structure and language-specific SDKs make it possible to integrate Contentful into specific front-end frameworks with just a few lines of code, completely changing team dynamics.
For Sticker Mule, the biggest benefit of this shift is that developers are no longer battling deadlines to deliver high-quality features. “These days, we get a working prototype up and running in 30 to 60 minutes,” Andre explains. From there, the business team refines prototypes into well-designed features. This saves Sticker Mule from prematurely committing sizable resources and time to projects still in their early stages.
Caching in a more carefree way
If real estate’s mantra is “location, location, location,” then ecommerce’s mantra is “ranking, ranking, ranking,” as search rankings make or break online retailers. Sticker Mule follows SEO best practices and prioritizes page speed optimization, imposing a limit of 300 KBs on website images and adding fields for meta-data. Still, the biggest gains in performance come from architectural adjustments, which Sticker Mule hoped Contentful could direct.
The Sticker Mule website consists of two types of pages: pages rendered on the fly where visitors interact with the website (e.g., order forms and shopping carts), and pages rendered just once that display static content such as product descriptions and shipping rates. With their old CMS, the Sticker Mule team had to make sure stored copies were flushed and the latest version copied throughout the content delivery network (CDN) every time an update was made. In instances like these, Contentful’s API-first architecture pays dividends.
“We rely on Contentful’s webhooks to ensure that cached content is invalidated the moment a new version is published,” explains Andre Bernardes, software engineer with Sticker Mule. “So far, the process works like a charm! In fact, once we saw the results from the new pages we published, we decided to move all of our static content to Contentful.”
An expansive future full of experimenting
In recent years, Sticker Mule has gone through a period of rapid growth. The company added new products, entered markets abroad and expanded its marketing. Adopting Contentful was instrumental in driving these efforts forward. It helped the company resolve internal dependencies, lowered development costs and improved SEO capabilities.
More recently, Contentful has inspired experimentation at Sticker Mule. Tricky questions are settled with light prototypes and quick testing. In pushing the envelope, Sticker Mule will surely continue to be the internet’s favorite sticker printer.