Building Braze

Creating No-Code Tools for Marketers: Embracing Iteration to Uplevel Braze Email

By Elijah Stevens Dec 27, 2023

When it comes to ROI, email marketing is a powerhouse, driving a potential 38X return for every dollar spent. But to see that sort of return, brands need to keep their email program strong, something that can create a significant time and bandwidth burden for marketers. One common issue? Many email marketers specialize in strategy, not coding, and lack the time or technical expertise to create an engaging email program via HTML, the standard language of email.

To reduce this resource burden, the Braze Product team has made a point of continuously optimizing the email editor experience to help strategic and technical marketers alike quickly create engaging emails. Now, Braze customers can easily get emails out the door by using our drag-and-drop email editor and drag-and-drop Content Blocks to easily build seamless content experiences across campaigns. They can also take advantage of our drag-and-drop email preference center to complete the email lifecycle journey.

Read on to better understand the strategy behind the Braze platform’s suite of drag-and-drop email products and how these tools can support stronger marketing outcomes.

Ease of Use and Email: Why It’s Essential

While email has been a core part of direct-to-consumer marketing since the very beginning, the difficulties associated with building those emails have been around for nearly as long. One thing that has made email a challenging—albeit rewarding—channel for many brands over the years is the common mismatch between what marketers in the space are focused on and what it actually takes to build an email campaign.

Many email marketers leverage this key channel to boost acquisition, drive more monetization, and increase retention. The experience and strategy it takes to accomplish these goals is a feat of its own. However, since email as a channel is notorious for requiring knowledge of HTML (which essentially functions like a coding language), many marketers find themselves lacking the technical chops it can require. For many, an email editor that doesn’t require the use of HTML can become a significant pressing need, making a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) solution a significant benefit in an ESP or customer engagement platform.

Even technically savvy email marketers may have their reasons to prefer a more streamlined approach to email creation. Billions of emails are sent every day and someone has to oversee the creation of those messages—so, even if you are more than comfortable with HTML, an ESP with WYSIWYG email editor can make it easier to scale the production of the emails needed to carry out your brand’s strategy and reduce time-to-value.

The Braze Product Philosophy and How It Influences Our Email Product

At Braze, our product philosophy is built around the principle of constant, ongoing iteration. That makes it possible for our team of engineers, designers, and product managers to test out hypotheses, solicit customer feedback, and evolve our product in progressively more impactful ways over time.

“With the Braze product organization, we value some level of agility when we’re building products,” said Gurbir Sukhija, Vice President, Product Management at Braze. “And the primary reason is that we want to be able to validate that the things we’re building are adding real value for our customers. If you set out to build the be-all, end-all version of a product from start to finish, you’re running a very real risk—namely, that what you end up building isn’t actually what your customers need, leading you to waste a lot of time and resources.” By doing research, building a minimum viable product (MVP) and then implementing it, deploying it, and learning from the way your customers are using it, you can get a clear picture of what’s working and what isn’t, which can allow you to create best-in-class products faster and more reliably than if you tried to it all in one go.”

When Braze initially launched support for email in 2012, the first version of our email editor was a very simple plain text editor—enough to allow some of our more experienced customers to add email to their cross-channel engagement mix, but basic enough that the Product team knew we’d need to upgrade it over time. But given the amount of bandwidth and investment required to build a best-in-class email product, it was essential to find ways to make sure that what our engineering team was building was what our customers wanted and needed over the long haul. To get there, the Product team embraced a multi-step iterative process that was heavily informed by product research and feedback from our customer base.

From Plain Text to HTML

First, Braze upgraded the original editor to give customers some basic WYSIWYG tools. Then the Product and Engineering teams replaced the plain text editor with an HTML editor that was able to correctly label HTML and enable autocomplete. “So, if you’re an actual HTML expert, you could utilize that tool pretty quickly, because it has a lot of shortcuts and things like that built-in,” Gurbir said. That update was well-received, opening up significant new functionality for many uses. “We knew we addressed it for a particular type of customer,” Gurbir explained. “Customers who are familiar and happy with HTML, they’re happy with the HTML editor. But we knew that the HTML editor wasn’t a solve for everyone.”

Following the launch of the new HTML editor, the Product team carefully monitored feedback and sentiment from other customers, looking to understand what needs had been handled and which ones remained pressing. They knew that supplementing that HTML editor with a drag-and-drop editor was the next step for the Braze email product—the question was how to ensure that it had the right mix of functionality to support simple, scalable email creation for the full range of email marketers.

From HTML to Drag-and-Drop

Ultimately, by studying how Braze power users were leveraging the new HTML editor, the Product team was able to gain significant insights that informed their research and future-state planning. One big finding? In order to support key use cases, the Product team discovered that they needed to add a suite of additional email features, including support for link retargeting, adjustable role and permissioning controls, and a media library. Based on those insights, Product prioritized those key features, along with support for Content Blocks, and began working toward implementing a full-featured email drag-and-drop editor.

“We kicked off the process by asking Braze customers about their ideal email editor—what did it look like, how would it work,” Gurbir said. “We also looked around at other email editors on the market and researched their strengths and limitations, looking at how we could potentially fill a gap in for customer engagement teams. We knew that, no matter what else the editor ended up looking like, it had to be able to support fast, scalable email creation and sends, and have the flexibility to allow for different customers to carry out their email programs their way.”

Given the sheer diversity and variety of the Braze customer base, the Product team knew that whatever they implemented wouldn’t necessarily be exactly what every customer wanted or needed at launch. But by starting with an MVP and taking an iterative approach, they were able to validate that the core features of the drag-and-drop editor were useful for customers while preserving the agility needed to change direction when necessary.

From there, Braze added and refined features focused on giving email program managers the highest ROI and flexibility with the lowest operational impact (aka make it EASY!). By focusing on one feature at a time in connection with the drag-and-drop editor, the Product and Engineering teams were able to implement, deploy, and gather insights in ways that supported continual improvement and a better outcome for our customer. Today, the Braze email drag-and-drop editor boasts dozens of time-saving and workflow-optimizing features that are both foundational and cutting edge, from promotional codes to in-depth liquid logic and AI copywriting assistance. Our continuous development cycle lets us keep adding complexity to the product and make it the best possible.

Final Thoughts

All in all, this process made it possible for us to take the Braze email product to a category-leading level while staying true to our Product team’s iterative, MVP-centric approach to product development. The result? A tool that enables customers to design engaging, customized emails in about one minute with a few simple drag and drops.

Want to learn more about the Braze approach to building agile software? Check out our article on how Product reimagined our software management process.

Elijah Stevens

Elijah Stevens is a Product Marketing Manager at Braze.

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