Fast Forward New York: Taking a bite of the Big Apple

This time last month, we announced our vision for the future of digital content management and updates to our platform  from the virtual stage. We’ve been steadily focused on our vision since — we’re continuing to sing the praises of composable content and the benefits of a composable content platform.

We did do something dramatic following Fast Forward Live, however. We pushed our cameras aside and hurled over our desks and kitchen tables (while gently nudging the dogs sitting at our feet safely out of the way) to hand-deliver more details on composable content to our partners, customers, and prospects in four select cities. 

We kicked off the first leg of the Fast Forward Roadshow in Berlin at the beginning of November. The thought-provoking panels, energized attendees, and music-filled mixer made for a hard act to follow. But follow it we did.

Fast Forward Roadshow stop #2, in New York City on November 17, was equally stimulating. More than 83 customers and partners across 59 brands attended! What content strategy secrets and digital experience predictions were shared at our NYC event, you may ask? Here’s an exclusive look.

Welcoming guests to the Fast Forward Roadshow in New York City on November 17.

Partner panel: Building for “best-of-need” over “best-of-breed"

In the name of teamwork, we kicked off our New York event with a panel hosted by Jason Holmes, Contentful Revenue and Field Operations President, which featured several Contentful partners. The session loosely centered on the shifting balance between digital and in-person commerce experiences, the importance of content efficiency, and building (and backing) an ecosystem of tools selected with purpose. 

In the last few years, companies have put extra emphasis on building excellent digital-first experiences. But the panelists collectively agreed that the channel through which customers receive these experiences is moot.

As Todd Harris, SVP of Global Strategic Alliances at Valtech put it, Gone are the days of ecommerce…it's just commerce. People want what they want when they want it. They want it to feel, look, show up consistently. And they want [that experience] to feel like it's their own, even though they're one of millions shopping.”

And that consistency is key as shoppers aren’t always sticking to one channel. Holden Bale, Global Head of Commerce at HUGE, elaborated with a personal narrative of his own mother’s evolved purchasing habits. As he and others are finding, older generations are trending toward online shopping out of necessity and convenience while younger generations find solace in physical stores.

The panelists agreed, then, that the key to pleasing every customer is investing in content. Will Rowlands-Rees, Chief Product Officer at Lionbridge, believes companies can take that investment further by making strategic decisions about the technology they plan to bring in to support it. According to him, a company’s capacity to be vulnerable is the largest determinant of success when pairing content and technology.

“You actually have to acknowledge what you're not having success with today. And then, understand that the way to solve that is through joining [content and tools] to create uniquely personalized experiences and being deliberate about when you're going to localize [it].”

Bale also acknowledged the important role technology plays in business agility. But, he left attendees with a warning to not follow the crowd. Just because a certain type of technology is really hot among developers or a certain market doesn’t mean it's right for the problem you're trying to solve.

“The pundit industrial complex has made us believe in ‘best of breed.’ [But,] it's about ‘best of need’ for your use case,” he shared. How’s that for a bumper sticker?

In the name of teamwork, we kicked off our New York event with a panel hosted by Jason Holmes, Contentful Revenue and Field Operations President, which featured several Contentful partners.

Customer spotlight: Laying a composable foundation for multisite architectures

After a short break and demo of new Contentful features, Ravi Reparl, VP of Digital Products at Saadia Group, and Daniel Hill, SVP Platform Engineering at The Stable, came together to discuss their experience with our favorite category of content and architecture: composable. 

As a family-owned fashion group that boasts 14 widely-known brands under its umbrella, Saadia Group saw value in introducing a multisite architecture where, according to Ravi, “each brand can plug and play to get to market fast.” Our partner, The Stable, was in charge of defining and laying that architecture. 

When building this architecture, Dan and his team kept one beloved builders’ expression top of mind, which he shared with the audience: Measure twice, cut once.

While the expression laughing elicited measurable laughter, Dan elaborated: To support composable content, future needs should be more than considered — they should be built for. The idea is to always have more flexibility and modules than you need at present. Because the mark of successful companies is the opportunity and ability to scale, such “extras” are bound to come into play eventually. 

“We were building a [general] structure to eventually hydrate with content and that structure itself had to be able to be reused within that same brand or future brands so that scaling this opportunity and implementation from site to site didn’t become a cumbersome, ground-up process for every implementation."

From this composable architecture, marketers from any Saadia brand can quickly build out content — no need to fuss with design, layout, or how things are connected on the back end. “We can meet customers in the spur of the moment, before the train has passed,” shared Ravi. 

According to Ravi and the marketers, developers, and everyone else using Contentful across Saadia Group, “Having a composable architecture [to support content] is a must.”

Attendees mingling at Fast Forward NYC.

Customer panel: All things collaboration and content ops

Before letting attendees loose for our end of the day mixer, we invited several big-name customers to the stage to share how Contentful is improving cross-functional collaboration, setting up guardrails, and optimizing content operations with positive outcomes (higher conversion rates anyone?).

Sara Sullivan, VP Solution Engineering at Contentful and panel host, began by asking how each of the companies claims agility in the face of their ever-changing markets. Agility was quickly equated with collaboration, as the panelists agreed that no one person has the full skill set needed to create compelling digital experiences shippable at pace — nor does any one individual want such a workload or responsibility.

According to Sonal Mehta, Director of Engineering at Mailchimp, even pieces of a project labeled “engineering” are a group effort. “My team creates the vessel. But how do we create it? We [sit] with our marketing team, product team, and designers partners, and come up with the solution together. In the end, collaboration is the key.”

Knowing this, companies are investing in technology that connects tools on a single platform while supporting parallel workflows — like Contentful. The difficulty for business leaders is measuring what success looks like to rationalize such investments.

To Doordash Marketing Engineer Josh Santomieri, the value of technology that supports collaboration can’t be measured — but it is visible. For his team, the evidence is being able to deliver on requests. It’s saying “yes” to more projects and hitting deadlines. 

“Everybody's working for the same effort, right? Everybody kind of does a little bit of everything and it ends up in a much better polished product. That's what makes Contentful so awesome — everyone can see what they need to do. And as an Engineer, I don't have to go in and make a code change to fix some.”

But, just because a lot of people have a hand in content creation, doesn’t mean they should all have access to edit it.

”From personal experience, it makes me nervous when someone slacks me and asks for publishing rights. Like, you have to go through training on the platform first! It’s really important to create guardrails,” quipped Michelle Sabado Producer, Web Presence Tooling and Infrastructure, at Stripe.

According to Michelle, these guardrails aren’t meant to restrict but rather to provide a level of clarity that enables teams to work within the realm of their role and take ownership over their piece of the project pie.

To continue the food analogy, Michelle pointed out; “Too many cooks in the kitchen sounds negative but, if every cook in has their own station, there’s accountability. [Content operations] become more seamless at that point — everyone knows what they're responsible for.”

Bartenders kept the rounds of “Contentful Collins” and “Sustain the Drive” coming as attendees connected over the information shared throughout the day.

Closing out with Content-themed cocktails

We’re suckers for well-thought-out word play (our name, Contentful, wasn’t a happy accident, you know), and seized an opportunity to mobilize it during our post-event mixer.

Bartenders kept the rounds of “Contentful Collins” and “Sustain the Drive” flowing as attendees connected over the information shared throughout the day. The Contentful Collins involved lighting a lemon peel on fire. Luckily, no one got burned!

New York has wrapped, but the Roadshow goes on! Next up:

📍 London, November 29

📍 San Francisco, December 6

And for a high-level view on all the major announcements stemming from Fast Forward Live, check out these posts:

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Editor’s note: statements made by speakers have been edited for clarity.

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