Brandy Porter, Director of Marketing and Brand Design, Mailchimp

Brandy Porter, Director of Marketing and Brand Design, Mailchimp

What do you do when your product has outgrown its name, and is going through crazy changes? That’s the dilemma Mailchimp faced as the platform expanded beyond email to include Google and Facebook ads, landing pages, physical postcards and more.

Newly hired as Mailchimp’s Director of Marketing and Brand Design, Brandy Porter joined Mailchimp as the company was initiating a full redesign of both the Mailchimp brand and its digital experiences. Seeking to understand what made Mailchimp “Mailchimpy,” Brandy and her team pored over data and user interviews, producing user flows, personas and key suggestions to ensure nothing was lost in the redesign.

Fast forward to September 26, 2018, and the new brand went live to rave reviews. The culmination of months of work from the internal design team, partner agencies and a dozen different artists paid tribute to Mailchimp’s past while giving the brand plenty of space to grow. Hear the story behind the redesign, what’s new with Freddie and what Brandy would do differently if she had to do it all over again.


Carl Smith: Hey everybody and welcome back to The Bureau Briefing. With us today we have somebody who just came through what I would imagine is a pretty adventurous time in anyone's career. They helped to rebrand a huge company that is growing fast, both from a product perspective as well as a company perspective and they're getting all over the country and all this kind of stuff. So I am just excited to have with us today to talk about this experience, Brandy Porter, the Director of Marketing and Brand Design at a little company called Mailchimp. How's it going, Bandy?

Brandy Porter: It's going really well. Thanks for having me, Carl.

Carl Smith: Oh, I'm glad that you're here now. Mailchimp has been a huge supporter of The Bureau. I've known Mailchimp since back in when I was running my shop and we've used Mailchimp quite a bit. We had some other products we used in the past and came over to Mailchimp right when it was, I want to say it was like maybe 30 people.

Brandy Porter: Oh man. Not too long ago. 

Carl Smith: [crosstalk 00:00:57] to grow. when that fits it right. Like I knew rocket science and Aaron Walter when he was there and he was helping create that initial UX and all those things. So talk a little bit about your background because I know you came, you've done a lot of corporate stuff. I think Ford and Home Depot. So your background is not at companies like Mailchimp.

Brandy Porter: It is not, it's pretty eclectic. So I come from a background of a formal graphic design education at Georgia State—go Panthers—and I dove right into advertising. I really loved the storytelling aspect of advertising. I wanted to connect with customers and understand what motivated them to make decisions. And then that advertising that was in traditional media like TV and print turned into a digital focus and I was able to really dive into not only digital advertising but also building experiences. For instance, for the Home Depot through back when Facebook allowed you to build games on the platform back in the day. And then also I spent some time at, so really understanding the ins and outs of kind of an in-house design team as well as a digital platform like that. And that sort of shifted very naturally into user experience design and that common thread of storytelling and really understanding your end customer has been pretty consistent throughout my career, even if the mediums that I've been working with and the clients I've been working for were very, very eclectic. And so it's all come in very handy at Mailchimp.

Carl Smith: I have no doubt. It's interesting. I remember reading a story about Warner Bros and Bugs Bunny compared to Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse and that sort of thing. And they were saying that your Mickey Mouse is more like classical music and Bugs Bunny is more like jazz. And when I see these other companies that you were at, they feel so much more traditional. So then you come to Mailchimp about 14 months ago. Was it really for the purpose of this? Because it seems like something like this would take a good eight months or more. So when you first come into Mailchimp, what's the expectation?

Brandy Porter: I did not know that we were going to be going through a redesign. I don't know that Mailchimp knew at the time that we were going to be going through a redesign.

Carl Smith: That is so great. 

Brandy Porter: So I came to Mailchimp. One of the things that I always hear from people that I interview for Mailchimp is that they come for the culture. And that was a huge part of it. Mailchimp contacted me to help them grow the design team. The team was, it's really a brand new team. We only really pulled designers out of engineering and product about two years ago. And so as a result we had a lot of norm is to catch up on and I was brought on to help with that kind of stuff. And when I was hired there was this little bit of like a rumor that, "Hey, we might look at cleaning up the brand a little. We might look at kind of refactoring some things." And then that led to a full on redesign of not only our brand, but our digital experiences as well.

Carl Smith: So you get in there, you're getting your feet on the ground, there's rumors there may be this redesign. The product itself is outgrowing its name. It's not mail anymore. And I love Freddie, I love the whole history of the brand. But what do you do that, so you find out you're going to be redoing the brand for a product that is going through crazy changes. How do you approach that?

Brandy Porter: I approached it in a very research-driven way. I was actually able to bring a lot of my UX training to the table for this brand redesign, which was a very exciting gig moment for me. I was able to research the data that we had on our existing customers. I was able to pull information about our customers day to day, so how they accomplish their marketing goals or how they even view the things that we call marketing goals. Often our small business owners don't really see marketing in the same traditional way that we do. So through a pulling a lot of data and a lot of user interviews. I was able to sort of work with a team to produce basically user flows, personas and key suggestions for how we could influence what we're doing at Mailchimp to better serve those customers and what they're actually trying to accomplish on our platform. And a lot of that extends way beyond email.

Carl Smith: Yeah, no. I would say just from my day-to-day use and we've actually got somebody on board who's working with Mailchimp now, working with the product right now. Just the ability to have it managing Instagram, managing Facebook and there's so much more now. The list management has gotten so much better over the past few years. Just being able to say, send this message out to everybody, but this group…just little things that for me. So I'm an old-school advertising person too and now it feels like I can really do things and I can be in control. And one of the interesting things to me was when I heard I caught wind from some friends that this was going to come out and I was really hoping that it wouldn't be some effort to be a mature company. I was a little bit nervous that it was going to suddenly go the way of somebody that was trying to feel grown up and to see it still have that fun.

And so I don't know how many illustrators or artists must've worked on this stuff, but that doesn't come from research. Right? I mean it may be research saying that people enjoy the fun aspect of it, or people enjoy the unique nature of it. But that's internal too, right? I mean, you've got that internal group as fast as it's growing that you also have to please.

Brandy Porter: Absolutely. And having arrived at Mailchimp just over a year ago, one of my first big efforts was to understand why and how people were using the word “Mailchimpy.” So having been a fan from the outside I've often swiped Mailchimp materials for teaching materials in the past as I'm sure everyone has, but having that outside view and then coming in and learning from the design team, really understanding where their passions lied with the brand and how they were connecting with the brand and then understanding how our customers were connecting with the brand and kind of combing through people's perspectives on what Mailchimpy means was incredibly important to moving forward. And that was really landing on the fact that you really don't get away swag from us at conferences. We call them fantasies. We don't even call it swag. It's always something that's high quality, desirable. We always want to make an emotional connection with anyone that's connecting with our brand.

Whether it is a customer, a potential new hire. We want people to really associate the brand with a personal and high quality connection. And so we absolutely needed to bring that to this redesign. We knew that if we cleaned it up too much and if we pulled back too far on what makes Mailchimp unique and Mailchimpy, we would kind of lose something. We would lose a bit of a touch with our audience. And so the redesign, I am proud to say we were able work with not only our internal design team, but 12 different illustrators and artists from across the globe. 

Carl Smith: Wow. 

Brandy Porter: Yeah. It was an enormous effort and the reason it was so important for us to work with so many different artists to elevate the Mailchimp brand was because Mailchimp really is about elevating other people. Those small businesses, those unique and creative individuals that use our platform.

But we also knew that if we really leaned into one artist or one particular style, we would end up kind of truncating our ability to scale.

Carl Smith: That's interesting. 

Brandy Porter: We would create a bubble of a style that our internal design team couldn't really match or couldn't live up to or would grow quickly bored of. And so what we really ended up creating was when I call a chorus of artistic voices so that whoever contributes to this chorus of voices. If they follow a couple of simple rules with the system, it's going to blend in and it's going to elevate the rest of the messaging that we bring. So it was a really intentional effort to create a lot of space for our team to succeed in.

Carl Smith: I think you accomplished it. Not blowing smoke. 

Brandy Porter: Thank you.

Carl Smith: It doesn't feel like a style. It's more of an attitude, right? It's more of a feel. Everybody talks about looking field. This is the field side, right?

Brandy Porter: I think it's a harmony. I really enjoy using that word because harmony implies that you have a balance even if everything isn't consistent in exact.

Carl Smith: And Freddie makes the cut. We're all very glad…

Brandy Porter: Freddie made the cut. There is a lot of concern over that. 

Carl Smith: But he does look really clean. Like I can't figure out what happened. I saw somewhere somebody said that Freddie got a haircut. 

Brandy Porter: Yes.

Carl Smith: I don't even know what that was. But I'm just like, "He looks all polished. He looks great."

Brandy Porter: So I'll say we did look, we took a long, hard look in the mirror and we made sure that we were keeping Freddie as Freddie as possible for the right reasons. We really wanted to make sure that we were stepping outside of our fandom, our own fandom and making sure that Freddie had as strong of a platform as he really needed to have. And one of the big changes we made to make Freddie even more a connected part of our brand was to balance him with our new word mark. And so we gave him a little bit of a shave. He's a more simplified version and he's getting a little bit of a haircut. His smile is a little more emphasized so that you cannot mistake him for including you in on the joke. [inaudible 00:11:41] a little. We removed him from his hat. So it's more of a hat and [crosstalk 00:11:44]

Carl Smith: Oh I didn't notice that. 

Brandy Porter: It's the tiny little details. Yeah. So we cleaned it up so that it looks amazing no matter what size it is now too.

Carl Smith: Right. That's definitely a need, right? I'd say there's so many different places something's going to show up. And this is interesting because you were talking about ... You said it's not swag and I forgot what you said it's called.

Brandy Porter: Fancies.

Carl Smith: Fancies. So I was actually in the disco ball closet a long time ago. I don't know if it still exists. 

Brandy Porter: The Rainbow Room. Yes. It's still there. 

Carl Smith: There was so much stuff and I've actually gotten through organizing events and being at events a tremendous amount of Freddie. I can't believe I forgetting fancies. I got Freddie Fancies. There we go. A lot of the burgundy beanies, those were the real ones. It was hard to find the burgundy ones. I've got some, if you're opening a museum, let me know because I can probably help you out.

Brandy Porter: There are rumors.

Carl Smith: That's the thing, right? It's like people have an affinity and a relationship with Freddie. That was why for me and we mentioned Todd Domini earlier. When Todd was there and he was working on stuff and like FailChips. I remember handing out FailChips to 200 people at an event and they were trying to eat them and it was so much fun to watch. And then later they saw an outdoor board with FailChips and everybody got it right? So even that playing off of the name and then to see that come into this. Now, one question I do have is how do you communicate what the brand is? I mean, when I knew Mailchimp even a year and a half ago, I think was around 500 people. Maybe it was two years ago and now it's over a thousand and now. It's in Brooklyn and Oakland as well as in Atlanta. So how do you continue this internal communication to make sure people are in sync

Brandy Porter: Very carefully? It's incredibly important that our employees experience is just as high quality as our customers' experience. And we have an amazing communications team and amazing culture team. And we worked together with leaders in the company to create touch points for all of our leaders. So at key points in the journey when we made decisions about the way we were going to move forward in the brand, whether it was a rebrand or whether it was a redesign of the website, we created talking points for those leaders. We connected with them on a personal level and made sure that they had their questions answered and that they were prepared to talk with their teams about changes that were coming. And so we kind of mobilized communication in that way. And then we had a few meetings with different groups so we would actually kind of take a road show of the new brand to different groups within the company so that they could get a preview of what was happening.

They could really hear the story about why we were doing this from the design team. And then we of course had a big email that went out to everyone in the company. Not many people were surprised by that because we had done so much communicating beforehand. And then we had a huge party. We had this really great way of celebrating the new brand and kind of bringing everybody in on it and everybody of course got more fancies with a new brand on the day of launch, and so I just made an extra effort to work across teams to make sure that people's questions were answered, that they understood that change was coming and that they understood why that change was coming.

Carl Smith: Yeah. Talk about that for a second. Why was the change coming? What was the catalyst?

Brandy Porter: There was a definite shift in our business. We could tell that after years of building our reputation as an email platform, we also were adding more channels and those created a more full marketing platform. So for instance, Google and Facebook ads, adding landing pages, even postcards now we have physical postcards.

Carl Smith: I know.

Brandy Porter: It was so cool. 

Carl Smith: I was, "What are you doing? That's crazy." And it's so much fun because you can manage it all in the same list. So that was, for me, it was like one stop right here. Here we go.

Brandy Porter: Yeah. There's this really magical symbiosis that happens when you have your creative materials, your contacts, your stores and your websites connected to Mailchimp. And then you can create this hub that then sends all of your marketing efforts out from that hub. You can automate some of that, you can optimize it, like you said, you can choose certain lists to send to at certain times. There's really some magic that happens on this platform. And we knew that Mailchimp in our old brand was still well-known as being a powerful email platform, but we needed to interrupt people's understanding of what Mailchimp was capable of so that we could then say, now we are full marketing platform is always on for you. And so this was a really big way for us to accomplish that.

Carl Smith: So how has it gone in terms of the education side? Have you done any ... Okay. Let me back up. When would you say the official launch was? 

Brandy Porter: September 26th at 3:00 PM eastern time. 

Carl Smith: [inaudible 00:17:04] mean on the noon. How was the response, not just from how-it-looks perspective, but have you done any post-research to see how much the education has helped in terms of, are you seeing more activity in those other sections of the app?

Brandy Porter: Oh yeah. We have a really incredible online community that isn't afraid to talk with us and communicate with us. And when we launched, we launched from our Atlanta location out. And so the team that launched has the most smooth rollout that I've ever seen, it was incredible. And as the world kind of absorbed this brand, we were kind of we're definitely waiting for the Internet to respond. We were waiting for our customers to respond. We knew that we were huge fans of the brand and we hoped that the world would be as well, especially our customers. And because like worst-case scenario we moved their cheese and they’re confused. So we're definitely keeping an eye on our community in that way. And they ended up responding incredibly positively. FastCo ran an article on September 26th kind of orienting people around the change and then brand new [inaudible 00:18:21] wrote about the changes in an incredibly positive way from a design perspective.

We were stoked to hear that he was really understanding what we were trying to accomplish with this brand and how it was so correct for our unique brand. And then we started hearing from customers. One user on Twitter said, “I feel 33% more calm using this new app scan.” So it was really great to hear that our customers were receiving it positively. One of our employee's mother said that the bird animation on our homepage is her new meditation focus. So that was a very high complement as well. She understood the metaphor of growth and she understood the metaphor of change there. And so that was really exciting. And the good news and the good words have continued to pour in and our users are continuing to engage and adopt more features that they didn't know that the Mailchimp platform they were already using included.

Carl Smith: Yeah. I think that was the eye opener for me is to realize that and to realize that even more stuff about the reporting, more stuff about the ways that we can slice and dice. And so from that perspective it definitely worked me ... I was probably paying a whole lot of attention and maybe a lot of people were, I don't know if I was 33% more, but I love that percentage. I think it's great. 

Brandy Porter: It was very specific. I really appreciated it.

Carl Smith: I know. So now you look back and especially in the digital space, we're so excited about retrospectives, we're so excited to take that look back. So if you were to ever have a challenge like this again, would you feel is like a once-in-a-career kind of thing, but if you were to ever have it again, what are the things you learned that you think you might do differently?

Brandy Porter: Oh man. It was first of all, incredible to be a part of it. I'm incredibly fortunate in the fact that Todd Domini hired me at Mailchimp at the time that he did. The stars aligned for me. And I'm very appreciative and grateful that I was a part of this. And if we were to say, all right, we want to do it again, no matter where I'm working, I would definitely beef up on operational support early and often. Operations really made this happen, that team, both the design ops and marketing ops teams as well as the engineering operations teams made this smooth and made it happen. So they also allowed a lot of communication to happen very smoothly. We also brought in trainers, so this is a very new illustration style and our designers were very used to cleaner, more vector-driven illustrations, that can be done in illustrator.

And so because this is such a different style, we wanted to make sure that they understood how to recreate art or how to shift their style into this style. And so we brought in several different artists, some more physical artists, some are digital artists, and we provided things like iPad that had procreate with Apple Pencils and just have workshops every week and brought in not only artists but also writers to add conceptual layering to what they were trying to illustrate. So I would absolutely do all of that again. I almost want to say maybe redesigned the website and then redesigned the brand because that was a lot at once.

Carl Smith: Yeah, I knew, tremendous amount.

Brandy Porter: But honestly, the impact was so strong and so successful that I think that it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Carl Smith: Well. Congratulations. I think your first 14 months have been great. There's a lot of expectation what you going to do next. So maybe take a little vacation.

Brandy Porter: Yeah, November was a very quiet month for me. I'm really looking forward to jumping back to January with really new ambitious goals. So I have not done yet.

Carl Smith: Well, Brandy, thank you so much for being on the show today and for sharing this Mailchimp. I don't even want to call it a redesign. I just want to say this Mailchimp metamorphosis, this change in this new era. Thank you so much for sharing the experience and the intent and also the love of this brand with the Bureau community. I appreciate it.

Brandy Porter: Thank you so much for the love. We really feel it and we really appreciate your community as well and thanks so much for having me and letting me gush about the brand that I have been living and breathing for the last year. I really appreciate it.

Carl Smith: Well, you are welcome and thanks everybody for listening and we'll be back next week. We'll talk to you then. Bye.

Image via Mailchimp