Interview with Sara Spivey, CMO at Braze

“Loyalty and retention are the key to long-term success, not acquisition. Prioritizing convenience and cost during the pandemic, consumers have opted for new products and services, meaning brand loyalty is at an all time low.”

Hi Sara, please tell us how you started in martech and the journey in marketing and sales.

Sara Spivey: My first job in martech was in 2008, so I am in over a decade now.  I really wanted to market and sell a product that I actually would use. I think having the customer’s perspective anytime you are selling something is critical to how well you do your job. It’s been crazy to see how martech has morphed and changed and died and grown, almost on a daily basis. The competitive landscape is always changing, such as how partners become competitors and competitors become partners, almost overnight. It’s never dull!

What’s the biggest marketing lesson you learned in 2020?

Sara Spivey: Loyalty and retention are the key to long-term success, not acquisition. Prioritizing convenience and cost during the pandemic, consumers have opted for new products and services, meaning brand loyalty is at an all time low. While this means an influx of new shoppers, brands need to make sure they stick around. To do so, brands must leverage first-party purchasing and browsing data to provide a tailored customer engagement strategy.

In the growing demand for automated CRMs, how do you plan to upgrade your martech stack?

Sara Spivey: This year, we will focus on two areas: 1. New investment in personalization tools to tailor the prospect journey with Braze throughout the funnel, regardless of channel. 2. Ensuring the technology that we have is being used to its fullest potential before buying more tech. We’re in the intermediate stages of a lot of our current investments and getting to more sophisticated use cases of those technologies, in addition to optimizing for interoperability with our overall tech stack is a priority for us this year.

Tell us a little bit about your martech-focused remote collaboration apps? How did these tools and solutions help you stay on top of your marketing communications?

Sara Spivey: Like everyone else we live in Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Slack. What they lack in personal touch is made up for in efficiency. We did start some “fun” channels for people to blow off steam and recreate the water cooler and those have been a welcome distraction.

How has Braze evolved in the last 2-3 years? What’s the most inspiring digital marketing campaign you have been part of, or have witnessed from afar in 2020?

Sara Spivey: As the ongoing global pandemic forced consumers into a digital-only way of life, direct connections with consumers became essential for brands, fueling unprecedented demand for Braze technology. We’ve also been disciplined in our approach to building our business with an eye on the long-term and aligning our business with customer needs.

In December, Braze announced a greater than 60% increase in year-over-year revenue in the first nine months of this fiscal year. Our company also hired more than 250 new employees, opened two new offices in Chicago and Tokyo, and added more than 300 new customers, now totaling over 1,000.

In the tech and VC world there is inequality for Black-led companies. Braze wanted to address these inequalities in a real way, which led to the creation of Tech for Black Founders. Braze in addition to some of our partners, including Amplitude, Branch, mParticle, and Radar, decided to come up with a program to give our respective technologies away to Black founders who have bootstrapped or raised less than $30M in venture capital and with fewer than 150 employees.

Since launching this initiative in June, there are now more than 40 companies that have joined Tech for Black Founders and are giving their technology away for free. Braze has had 103 applicants, and nine companies have gone through our onboarding program and are now using Braze. We’ll be adding more in shortly in the quarters to come.

As a CMO, how do you define customer experience and customer service benchmarks? Which technologies are absolutely essential to meet these?

Sara Spivey: Customer experience is the sum totality of every activity that touches a customer — product, support, success, education, finance, and more. No individual technology solves a great customer experience, although many claim to. The secret sauce is how well integrated they are, how well deployed they are, and how people use the data inside those technologies to continually improve the customer experience.

Any advice to every young marketing and sales professional?

Sara Spivey: It’s becoming clear that marketing has become a fluid and more technical discipline. If we look at Braze users, they are a cross-section of growth, product, and marketing. Anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in marketing should learn more technical skills, such as data analytics or even coding. These skills will be valuable to use on the job, but also when working with other departments within an organization.

How do you see AI/ML transforming the future of marketing and sales?

Sara Spivey: AI and machine learning has the potential to drive meaningful impact for businesses. As it relates to marketing technology, think about the improvements AI or machine learning would have on automating A/B testing or improving product recommendations. With each test or recommendation, your conversion rates would increase, and so would your bottom line. We’re still a few years away, and companies need to focus on having clean, first-party data available to work with AI and machine learning.

Your prediction for martech in 2021?

Sara Spivey: Unwavering brand values is key to driving customer loyalty

Consumer decision making has changed as customers’ desire to open their wallets to brands and companies that share their social, political and moral values continues to grow. Braze data found that a quarter of consumers said that they would drop a brand if they were polluting the environment and almost 20% said they would do the same if the brand took a political stance they disagree with. In the midst of a pandemic and the aftermath of an election, this has never become more apparent.

Authenticity will be a major differentiator for brands moving forward, and we will continue to see brands move in two, and potentially opposite, directions: 1. take strong social and political stances; or 2. publicly announce their intentions to be apolitical, similar to what Coinbase recently did. For the former, demonstrating brand values through action will be paramount as 2020 has set the foundation for brand activism. For the latter, ensuring that your company values are consistent with this approach will be crucial to a company’s success. No matter which direction brands take, it’s important they stay committed to their decision, communicate clearly to their employees, and understand the potential risks, as well as gains, to customer retention.

Originally published on

Phillip Malone

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