How RBI uses Sanity to power content for 20 million users
The parent company of Burger King, Popeye's, Tim Horton's, and Firehouse Subs needed a solution that would enable teams across different regions and brands to deploy their own content.
Restaurant Brands International (RBI) manages some of the biggest names in food service—Burger King, Popeye’s, Firehouse Subs, and Tim Hortons—representing a whopping 30,000 restaurants in over 100 countries. RBI’s internal applications serve content to over 20 million monthly active users, and they can’t afford for any of it to be stale. Thanks to their decision to move to Sanity and adopt a structured content approach, content is as fresh and fast as their menus.
Let’s start with a definition. Structured content is content broken up into its smallest reasonable pieces and stored as data. The content is easily queried and format-agnostic, which makes it easy for teams to repurpose any element for different platforms, regions, and users.
Before switching to a structured content approach, the teams at RBI weren’t satisfied with their speed of deployment. The stakes were—and are—very high. RBI needs to stay agile to respond to market changes and user preferences. How could they equip content teams working across brands, platforms, and regions to efficiently and safely manage and deploy their own content?
At Sanity’s Structured Content 2022 conference, Mitchell Posk, a software engineer with RBI, shared how RBI adopted a structured content approach to move faster, while significantly improving the experience of diverse internal users and millions of global customers.
Watch the video of Mitchell’s talk:
Prior to adopting the new approach, the content team faced an uphill battle every time they wanted to make an update. They would have to fill out an Excel sheet, which they would send to an agency who then often sent it to a sub-agency to finally implement the change. The process took days or even weeks—and at the end, there was never any guarantee that the content would look, feel, or behave the way the content team intended.
Disillusioned, the content team stopped pushing updates as often as they wanted. Application content became stale and outdated. It was time for a new approach: structured content.
To serve their content stakeholders, a team of product managers and engineers at RBI had an ambitious goal in adopting structured content: to be able to deploy new content in under three minutes. And, they wanted to achieve this goal in under a year—a bold target for a lean team of just 15 people.
RBI decided on four must-haves for their new content platform experience. It had to be trustworthy, rigid and flexible, interoperable, and scalable.
Before Sanity, the main pain point for the content team was that they couldn’t trust their tools. “They’d say: ‘If I’m updating content, I don’t want to have to guess what it will look like or how it will behave when I deploy it to production’,” explained Mitchell.
RBI wanted their platform to consistently produce content that looks, feels, and behaves as expected. This maximizes the content team’s control, creating a streamlined and engaging user experience.
To help eliminate guesswork, the team built real-time content validation directly into the application. When a member of the content team inputs something that won’t work from a technical or presentation standpoint, they immediately receive an explanation of what’s wrong, how it would affect the front-end, and a suggestion for how to fix it.
By providing actionable feedback to the content team before they submit their work, the engineering team empowers the content team to work more autonomously (and reduces requests of the engineering or product teams). With Sanity, editors are confident that the content they push to end users is clean—and that it behaves as intended against their goals.
While this might seem like a paradox, both rigidity and flexibility are important parts of a structured content approach. The RBI team aimed to strike a balance between effective core features and custom functionality, so they could easily tailor content to the unique needs of each brand and market.
To build rigidity into the platform, the team created one-to-one mapping between content and the frontend. The front end is organized by unique pages and reusable components, so they adopted that structure for their content editing platform as well.
Engineers designed the content editing experience to be as familiar as possible to content teams. For example, a multi-step front-end workflow like navigating a menu was engineered to appear the same way when someone was making content updates in Sanity. The implications were game-changing, providing editors with a more intuitive (and therefore efficient) experience.
On the other side of the coin, having a flexible content platform meant RBI could cut down on complexity and confusion for content teams. Like a lot of companies, RBI’s markets are unique, with many different regions and brands.
For example, the “Roll Up the Rim” campaign at Tim Hortons in Canada isn’t applicable to Burger King in the US. When scaling to hundreds of markets, these nuances can be confusing to the content teams working in different markets. RBI was able to hide irrelevant folders and options for various brands and markets, reducing the noise. Similarly, they reduced the noise in smaller data chunks themselves—for example, by hiding Google food ordering for Tim Hortons, where that isn’t an option.
“One of the beautiful things about working with Sanity is that we have the freedom to structure our content however we want,” explained Mitchell.
The RBI content team handles a wide variety of data housed in multiple sources of truth: point of sale data, restaurant data such as operating hours and location addresses, and menu data like the items available for sale and nutrition facts. As such, it is crucial that their structured data platform be interoperable, meaning it can interact with multiple external data sources.
For teams at RBI, agility is the name of the game, so they can stay competitive. At the beginning of their structured content journey, they had the goal to be able to spin up new markets with new content and make edits in minutes, rather than days. And they didn’t want to put a strain on their lean development team.
The key to Sanity’s scalability lies in three important features: real-time content validation, global mass content updates, and autonomous content editing.
First, since the platform lets users know whether something is working and why, documentation is provided in real time. Content teams don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time they sit down to add new content.
Second, the platform enables fast, seamless mass updates because it treats content as data, whereas an unstructured approach requires teams to manually update each piece of content by hand. For example, RBI wanted to make the content on their sites and apps more accessible by adding alt text for images. They dynamically updated thousands of content pieces in minutes.
Previously, updating content was a time-consuming, cumbersome process that didn’t easily scale with RBI’s new markets and products. With Sanity, the team quickly identified the repeatable steps that the content teams follow when they launch a new market. In just a few clicks, they built custom tooling that relaxed any stress points along that journey, turning the process into a series of repeatable workflows.
Third, updating content is non-blocking. The content team can get to work right away while other teams, like Product and Legal, work in the background. Since the content team can own their own data, there are no dependencies; everyone can work independently.
“In a non-structured-content world, this would be a manual process and take a lot of time and effort. But we were able to treat our content as data and dynamically update thousands of content blobs in just a matter of minutes,” explained Mitchell.
Set your content free
With the Sanity Composable Content Cloud, RBI treats all content as structured—from images and text to actionable data and metadata.
This structured content, which comes from a myriad of dynamic sources, is aggregated into Sanity Content Lake and made readily available for teams across RBI’s many brands and regions.
The net impacts of structured content powered by Sanity is improved scale for internal teams and more accurate, fresh experiences for customers.
A structured content approach puts content in the driver’s seat. Rather than trying to fit content into an arbitrary container, teams can focus on what matters: forming meaningful connections with users.