Fast Forward Day 1: Rewinding digital leadership shared at Contentful’s annual conference

Illustrated graphic with the fast forward logo
November 17, 2021


In recent months, there’s been an air of excitement, anticipation and determination within Contentful. What for? Fast Forward 2021 of course!

During the first week of November, Contentful’s annual, three-day conference arrived. For the second year in a row, the event dedicated to sharing tactics and insights to build better, future-forward digital experiences, took a note from its own book — it went entirely digital.

Still, globally dispersed participants and speakers traversed the digital landscape to listen to amazing keynotes, ask riveting questions in Q&A booths, enjoy music from in-house talent, participate in a treasure hunt and, finally, enjoy the calming creation of celebrated latte artist Melannie Aquino. A whopping six hundred attendees logged on each day.

If you missed out on this year’s Fast Forward event but are curious about the latte art — and the actionable tips for building leading digital experiences and teams — this post is for you. In it, we break down all of the action from day one of the conference. We’ll cover day two in a later post.

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Literal keynotes: Contentful’s CEO, CTO and VP of Product highlight key tactics and technology to lead successful digital teams into the future

To warm the audience up for a jam-packed day — Contentful’s very own in-house band, The Content Types, held an actual jam session, performing their rendition of popular hits. This performance served as an introduction for Fast Forward’s keynote address, given by Steve Sloan, CEO of Contentful, who painted a picture of the digital future, foreshadowing themes to be further discussed by day-one speakers. 

Steve built upon the builder ethos and the mindset leaders need to support it, pointing out how the end digital products must go beyond considering customer experience, considering employee and partner experiences as well. Steve also addressed how, with digital being the primary channel through which customers interact with products and services, there are growing pains that the right technology, infrastructure and culture can mitigate.

Illustrated grap by McKinsey & Company showing an increase in average customer interactions being digital

Paolo Negri, Contentful’s CTO, followed with a segment on challenges common when creating content-focused digital experiences. He shared how global companies must change their approach to work and reach for sustainable processes across all roles.

Benjamin Keyser, VP of product at Contentful anchored the leadership keynotes to discuss how content platforms adapt to help builders produce new projects faster. He showcased the tools and features builders using Contentful can use to streamline digital experiences and production processes. He also unveiled new features including AVIF image support, which is available now, and the ability to natively build or paste tables in rich text fields, which is coming soon.

While Contentful’s leaders had a lot to say, so did the Contentful customers featured throughout the remainder of day one. 

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Customer cut: Rogers Communication on every company being a tech company

Traditionally brick-and-mortar companies are moving to digital platforms and seeing benefits. While this trend might be heightened by global events, many speakers, including Shawn Mandel, SVP of digital at Rogers Communications, believe it’s the beginning of the future.

In his session, Shawn told Contentful Director of Platform Strategy Andrew Kumar that he sees all companies as tech companies. This viewpoint stems from the notion that digital experiences are products that can be tied to goals. To Shawn, there are four buckets of KPIs every successful digital company should track, which include:

  • Internal team health

  • Customer health

  • Business KPIs 

  • Tech KPIs

Shawn also shared a platform-first approach to developing digital experiences, his experience working with builders and the value of agile, MACH architectures. Others spoke on this topic too, including Dron Sharma, senior product manager with Staples Canada, who used digital storefronts during the back-to-school season, and Anthony Neil and Sam Cherry of FIFA who leaned on digital fronts to support the largest football cup in the world. 

Illustarted icon of a person interacting with agile process flowchart

Customer cut: Wayfair on using content governance to simplify processes

While some brands might see dollar signs from digital investments, many have learned the hard way that sustainable processes (thank you, Paolo) should be considered early on — namely omnichannel content governance.

Megan Nixon, content strategy lead at Wayfair, centered her discussion around challenges that arise when requesting content governance buy-in. Taking content from the draft stage to the end of its life cycle is menacing to maintain. The headache intensifies when new delivery channels are introduced and additional team members are looped in. Wayfair became familiar with this struggle while migrating its teams from 16 digital experience platforms to a single content platform. Megan described the ways to approach the task with success.

“Make sure you have the right people — this allows you to find and solve problems, see what’s important across teams and share the impacts.”

First, she recommends assembling a stakeholder group that includes builders of all backgrounds: writers, editors, engineers and designers. Next step? Make sure everyone sees the big picture. Centralized processes extend productivity. Knowing there’s often pushback from internal teams who want to do things their own way, Megan suggested asking teams to take a chance and following up with them to offer tangible, data-derived results to determine whether to continue or cut those processes.

Ty Magnon, director of marketing at UiPath, echoed these sentiments during his Fast Forward segment as well. His team transitioned from 20 digital experience solutions to one content platform — Contentful. (But more on that in a moment.) Megan left one tidbit of information for conference attendees: In centralizing content and establishing governance, you can save time and money. 

Colorful Russian dolls

Customer cut: UiPath on building up its builders

Digital experiences are a new genre of product, yet success with them depends on the same, often overlooked, aspect of physical product creation — the innovation, talent and drive of the teams behind them. It comes as no surprise then that UiPath’s stage time was devoted to describing a two-dimensional approach to designing digital experiences that addresses the needs and work of internal teams.

Ty shared his belief that digital experiences should consider not just end consumers but internal stakeholders. Whether that person is a writer, editor, publisher, engineer or something else, customer-pleasing digital experiences should be easy for builders to work on.

Connor Rowland, software engineer at UiPath, and Brian Loyd, chief strategist at Apply Digital, noted that offering proper tools and ample time to experiment are two ways to support builder innovation. Conner sees the benefits of this within his own engineering team. Intuitive tools tackle tedium and boost experimentation, keeping morale high. 

An illustrated icon of a robot's head

Customer cut: Staples Canada on being personable

With caffeine wearing off and stage lights dimming, Fast Forward day one came to a close — but not without a segment from Staples Canada on a topic near and dear to the hearts of shoppers and ecommerce experts alike — personalization. Personalizing content for individual users has enormous benefits for conversion, something Dron discussed in depth. He anchored day one by showcasing the success the brand achieved in experimenting with two personalization approaches: segmented and individual.

With segmented personalization, Staples Canada was able to bucket consumers, and in many ways their website, into three categories. The brand catered to the needs of the general buyer and browser personas, serving personalized banners directed at wants and needs identified internally. With individual personalization, Staples could go beyond these predetermined buckets to address individual buyers based on collected data from past purchases. Making recommendations based on past purchases was a snap. We have a feeling many attendees left the session (and day one) inspired to look into personalization options and integrations.

Final thoughts

That’s a wrap for Fast Forward day one. We know a lot of ground was covered. We invite you to soak it all in on your own time.

Check out our library of recorded Fast Forward 2021 sessions spanning days one and two. 

Stay tuned for a follow-up post covering day two speakers and exciting happenings. 

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