Forge 2023

Forge 2023: Exploring What’s Possible for Customer Engagement When Technology Goes Right

Todd Grennan By Todd Grennan Oct 18, 2023

You don't have to be a marketer to know what it looks like when customer engagement technologies go wrong—every consumer out there has their own stories of broken experiences and the frustrations that followed. But while it's essential for marketing, growth, and engagement teams to find ways to prevent these sorts of issues, it's just as important to shine a light on the positive side of technology and what it can mean for customer engagement going forward.

To help brands dig deeper into what's possible for customer engagement with the right technology at their fingertips, Braze brought together more than 70 speakers—including thought leaders, senior executives, innovative marketers, and customer engagement subject matter experts—at our annual Forge conference, held October 16–17 at New York City's Metropolitan Pavilion. Across more than four dozen sessions, innovators at brands like Disney, McDonald's, Intuit, the NBA, Grindr, Panera Bread, Activision Blizzard, Equinox, Peacock, KFC, Clorox, Etsy, and many more discussed the ways they're using technology to see success in today's challenging, fast-moving customer engagement landscape.

    With an event this big, there are always too many interesting conversations and striking presentations to cover them all, so let’s take a minute for a quick run-through of the conference’s major themes, and the key sessions that brought them to life:

    Big Swings in Customer Engagement

    As digital experiences have moved to the center of customer/brand relationships for most companies, the number of messages being sent has grown, and the amount of noise and competition for limited consumer attention has become intense. To stand out, even leading brands have had to take a hard look at their customer engagement programs and assess what their big bets are when it comes to leveraging technology, data, and teamwork to really connect with customers.

    During a session hosted by Scott Dzialo, VP, Customer Success, Global Strategic at Braze, representatives of five different divisions of the Walt Disney Company—including ABC News, ESPN, Disney+, Marvel Entertainment, and National Geographic—walked attendees through the ins-and-out of their customer engagement programs. Despite their shared parent company, the panelists emphasized the distinct targeted goals and programs that they each oversee, matching strategies like A/B testing and orchestration tools like Braze Canvas Flow to their unique audiences and customer journeys.

    Focusing on the building blocks of exceptional customer engagement, Astha Malik, Chief Business Officer at Braze, and Allegra Krishnan, Chief Loyalty & Engagement Officer at McDonald's, took an in-depth look at the role that data plays in supporting the kinds of highly relevant experiences that today’s consumer has come to expect. To keep up with shifting consumer preferences and behaviors, Allegra argued that brands have a responsibility to ensure that they have the tools and strategy required to adapt to the digital age and shape meaningful connections with their audience. In the session, she discussed how McDonald’s has approached that work, from reimagining individual marketing programs to building a connected ecosystem across diverse touchpoints and deepening their use of personalization.

    But while data and technology play a foundational role in customer engagement, the way that people work together—or don’t—continues to play an essential role in the success or failure of today’s marketing efforts. In their session with Myles Kleeger, President and Chief Commercial Officer at Braze, Melissa Worthington, Senior Director, CRM Lifecycle Team Leader - Digital at the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Matthew Donovan, VP of Marketing Technology and Ops at FanDuel, discussed how each of their organizations have worked to envision and build out customer engagement programs that drive better business and customer outcomes through real-time interactions with users, robust analytics, and ongoing experimentation. From the NBA’s strategic decision to bring more of their customer messaging in-house to FanDuel’s innovative decision to spin up (and down) teams focused on specific KPIs and goals as needed, the session gave marketers actionable insights into how they can build or evolve their teams and approach to collaboration to drive better outcomes.

    Powerful Tech for Professional Growth

    For many brands, getting their hands on a built-for-purpose customer engagement platform is just the first step toward delivering exceptional customer experiences. In order to help brands make the most out of their marketing efforts, Braze recently launched a new edition of our Braze Inspiration Guide (BIG), which highlights 50 different customer engagement use cases inspired by actual Braze customer campaigns, providing a roadmap for more effective engagement.

    At this year’s Forge, Erin Bankaitis, Lead Strategic Business Consultant at Braze (and one of the co-creators of the BIG) partnered with Ashley Travis, Sr. Director, Digital Experience and Product Growth - KFC Global at Yum! Brands, to showcase how KFC uses the BIG as a recipe book for customer engagement success in more than a dozen markets around the world. Spotlighting exceptional campaigns from Trinidad and Tobago to South Africa to the United Kingdom, the session was a masterclass in what’s possible with Braze and customer engagement today.

      2023 Torchie Award winners

      Building on that theme, attendees heard from Jackie Hill, Head of Lifecycle Engagement, and Maxim Radoczy, Lifecycle Marketing Specialist at Canva, as they highlighted the nuts and bolts of “Time to Try,” an innovative approach to encouraging deeper user engagement that was the recipient of Campaign of Year at this year’s Torchie Awards. Canva is used by millions of people worldwide and the company has launched hundreds of new, unique product features in recent years. But this impressive product velocity created a new customer engagement challenge: With so many impactful capabilities rolling out, how could they make sure their users knew about these new features and were adopting the ones that added value for them? Canva’s solution: Leverage the Braze platform and its Canvas Flow environment to create responsive, triggered product education and adoption campaigns across the full spectrum of features.

      Be a Braze Expert

      To make exceptional customer engagement outcomes happen, sometimes you need to take a look under the hood. During Forge 2023, attendees took part in onsite Braze training and certifications, deep-dive workshops exploring AI, the Braze Audience Sync feature and its ability to tie together paid and owned channels, and the role of data agility in supporting brilliant customer experiences.

      But the exploration didn’t stop with existing features and capabilities: During his showstopping product keynote on day two of the event, Jon Hyman, Cofounder and CTO at Braze, highlighted a whole suite of new and upcoming Braze tools and functionality that Braze customers will be able to use to drive stronger outcomes for their marketing programs. Those capabilities include: Feature Flags, which allow marketers to partner with product teams to turn features on and off within their app or website in concert with cross-channel messaging campaigns, supporting a richer, more cohesive experience for every customer; native landing pages that can help marketers drive conversions with less reliance on technical resources, thanks to easy drag and drop customization; and AI-powered recommendations that can drive more—and more valuable—conversions by generating personalized suggestions for every user, allowing marketers to easily serve up relevant products, content, and more to each and every individual they’re messaging.

      For more technically minded attendees, Aland Failde, SVP, Marketing at Second Dinner, and Juliana Lam, Manager of Analytics at Equinox, provided a deep dive into what’s possible with one of the Braze platform’s most powerful and versatile messaging channels: Braze Content Cards. When brands need a seamless, flexible way to communicate with their customers inside of their product experience, this channel is their secret weapon. These persistent, highly customizable messages make it possible to build communication right into the app or website experience with minimal engineering support, empowering marketers to iterate faster, personalize more effectively, and drive better customer outcomes. From Equinox’s innovative use of Content Cards to bridge the gap between their digital and in-person experiences to Second Dinner’s decision to build their hit game MARVEL SNAP around multiple Content Card feeds, the session showcased the full breadth of what’s possible when it comes to this exciting customer engagement tool.

      Final Thoughts

      This year’s Forge conference is over, but the lessons learned here won’t soon be forgotten. To dig deeper into some of the key topics and areas of discussion from this year’s conference check out:

      Todd Grennan

      Todd Grennan

      Todd Grennan is a New York-based writer and editor. When he's not writing about mobile marketing, customer retention and emerging technologies for Braze, you can find him trying to read his way through every Wikipedia article related to World War II.

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