You would think after having the good fortune of sponsoring Serial, the podcast that became so popular it almost single-handedly defined the genre — MailChimp could have counted on some pretty strong name recognition. The company’s ads, however, tended to reflect a some common mispronunciations, with people walking around calling it “MailKimp.”
According to Tom Klein, CMO of MailChimp, the firm didn’t panic or start a massive campaign to ensure its moniker was pronounced properly. Instead, it started a series of billboards, TV commercials and stunts that used even more playful variations on its name. There was the MaleCrimp, for instance, which was designed as an evolution of the man bun, and FailChips, a product it actually designed based on the crumbs that are normally left at at the bottom of a bag of potato chips.
“It was intensely purposeful and artful,” Klein said during a panel discussion about the evolution of modern marketers at the C2 Montreal conference on Thursday. “Being yourself makes all the difference — that was actually the tagline. In that sense, we were modeling that behavior for our customers.”
In other words, the small businesses that use MailChimp for their newsletters and other e-mail needs often struggle to stand out and market themselves in ways that are true to their identity. Klein said those elements are even more important now in a sea of competing digital-first brands.
For Frank Cooper, CMO of investment firm BlackRock, being true to yourself as a brand starts with having a solid understanding of your purpose and building the marketing plan around it. Blackrock, for instance, is on a mission to make people connect the concept of wealth with well-being.
While the public might place a priority on physical fitness and mindfulness, for instance, the way they manage their money “is often left on the side,” he said. “We think (wealth) is more of a process than a destination. It’s how you earn, how you spend, how you save and how you give.”
The challenge is slightly different at National Geographic Society, where Emma Carrasco became the organization’s first-ever CMO about two years ago. While many consumers are well aware of the National Geographic magazine, her firm is a non-profit that provides funding for explorers and those conducting various kinds of wildlife missions.
Carrasco said her role has come at a time when brands everywhere have had to shift to what she called “a consistent curatorial voice and perspective.” In other words, while National Geographic Society continues to support the work of professional photographers, she pointed to YourShot, a community the organization runs that crowdsources the work of amateurs. “We’re going way beyond asking people to simply observe the work,” she said, adding that weaving in user generated content reflects the evolution of marketing from simply creating ads. “We have to lean in to what audiences are looking for — an emotional connection to a bigger purpose.”
Cooper, who came to Blackrock after stints at Pepsi and Buzzfeed, agreed. “There was a time when brands were observers,” he said. “You could sponsor something and get credit for that. Now we’re seeing almost an expectation to evolve into more of a creator-brand.”
Mailchimp, meanwhile, is in the unusual position of marketing itself to other marketers, Klein observed, though the fact they’re small businesses means it’s essentially to make whatever insight the firm shares as accessible as possible.
“Even the word ‘brand’ can be mysterious to them,” he said, though the influence of social media may be providing some subliminal education in this area. “The whole world feels like they’re marketing as they’re creating Instagram posts.”
All this has made CMOs rethink their own purpose and mission within organizations, the panelists said. For Cooper, marketing represents the “soul” of the company but must also be focused on profitable growth. Carrasco said she saw marketing as the “catalytic driver” that ensures the whole organization is adhering to its strategy.
“As a result, I’m getting involved in a lot more non-marketing conversations,” she said.
C2 Montreal wraps up Friday.