Gene Lee, chief experience officer at Mailchimp, compares the company’s 20-year history to a play. For its first 15 years, the Atlanta-based company established itself in the email marketing space. That, Lee said, was Act I. Over the last several years, “our platform has grown to encompass more tools than just email,” Lee said. “So we decided to shift our brand and strategy to position us as the leading all-in-one marketing platform for small businesses — our ‘Act II.’” The move to Act II, as well as last March’s acquisition of Courier, a London-based media company, made Lee and other executives realize that Mailchimp was ready for a rebrand.
What’s a Rebrand?
No matter how small or how extensive, rebrands require much research and even more work. To get to the heart of a successful rebrand, we talked to Mailchimp’s Gene Lee; Dee Blohm, senior vice president of marketing at Merit B2B, a digital media firm that recently rebranded from Merit Direct; Armen Petrosian, chief marketing officer and cofounder at DISQO, an audience analytics software company that rebranded from Active Measure in 2018; and Amy Jennette, senior director of brand marketing at GoDaddy, which rolled out a new logo, website and slogan early in 2020.
What prompted your firm to rebrand?
Amy Jennette: In the early days of the internet, GoDaddy sold domains, but we expanded our services to websites, marketing and all the tools a customer would need to exist and thrive online. Our old logo was no longer a good representation of our mission, which is to empower the everyday entrepreneur and to make opportunity more inclusive for all.
Armen Petrosian: We rebranded to DISQO in 2018 because Active Measure pigeonholed us as a measurement company when we were much more than that. We wanted our name to give us room to grow, and to capture the agility, growth and progression we’d been driving for the company. Additionally, our prior name didn’t accurately describe us culturally. DISQO has amazing energy, which is characteristic of our team. The name better connects with our ambition for a world where people are valued for expressing their individuality and points of view, and where our clients make smarter business decisions with breakthrough knowledge.
Dee Blohm: AtMeritB2B, our business was built on data, and we had long been engaging in multi-channel connectivity and digital to drive growth for our clients. We continued to develop solutions, offering the B2B marketing community more data, more analytics and more advanced technology, yet our business name seemed to limit our capabilities. Ultimately, leadership felt that it no longer represented our core value proposition or the audience we served.
Gene Lee: Mailchimp was always known for having an innovative and imaginative culture, which showed up in our unique visual language. The challenge was that this differentiated visual language didn’t have a system behind it to create consistency and connection. For example, our website design contained ferns and blobs which had nothing to do with the branding or company identity. Meanwhile, we had our mascot, Freddie, and a beautiful script logo that each — separately — served as our identity, but they couldn’t be combined as a logo lock-up. We needed a strong design system that allowed us to scale and be consistent, but also allow the creative freedom that was part of our design DNA. The last motivator, which I would say was kind of unique to us, was to connect and inspire our customers. We asked ourselves, “How do we convey what we do as a brand to inspire other small businesses to really push the envelope to help them differentiate and grow their business?” We called our design strategy “chaos in a container,” based on our unique brand archetype of being “expert absurdists,” with “absurd” describing the lens through which customers and partners might experience our style, and “expert” describing our tools and content. We hoped these brand choices would help our customers think outside the box too.
What was the goal of the rebrand?
Petrosian: Because we were putting people first in creating a new version of the age-old market research model, and bringing to market a true innovation combining first-party opinion and behavioral data, we wanted a fresh way to represent ourselves and bring a new level of energy to the industry. We wanted our name to reflect the change we were driving in the market.
Jennette: The goal was to expand and represent our expanded offering in the market, as well as to broaden our brand impression and our brand affinity. Our awareness is relatively high already.
What did you consider before embarking on a rebrand?
Lee: The biggest consideration was the impact to our customers — both current and prospective. We work with a global community made up of entrepreneurs, creatives, developers and agency partners and had to make sure our rebrand met all their needs. Specifically, we focused on how our brand language would resonate with each segment, shifting perception away from just email marketing to supporting their needs across all features and content.
Blohm: Timing, resources, costs, customer impact. We carefully considered the impact a name change might have on our current customer base as well as new engagements and what it might mean to them. There’s always risk.
Petrosian: One of the things we considered was the risk we ran in moving to a completely new name. We needed to tackle how to best convey our rebrand to stakeholders and clients alike. We extensively planned for telling our revamped story, and our sales team was prepared to call clients directly — rather than simply publishing an umbrella PR statement or one-pager. In this way, we ensured key stakeholders understood the changes and were on board for the new and improved DISQO.
What elements figured into the rebrand?
Petrosian: Everything you might expect to be included in a rebrand — a new name, logos and design. The most important elements were our team, our panel members and our clients. Respect for our panelists has been a core value since inception, and has been the key driver of our success in building a diverse and responsive research community. This directly drives the quality data we deliver to clients. We also talked directly with our research clients to ensure we were well aligned with what they needed. Inwardly, we realized we needed to invest in our people operations organization and to roll out official company values that now ensure every employee can serve as a brand ambassador with our clients and our members. To establish our values, people ops interviewed every person in the company, one-on-one, and uncovered six values that resonated with employees across the organization. With the rebrand, we codified our values and strengthened our people as a unified team with shared commitments.
Jennette: GoDaddy had been making some strategic shifts to adjust our positioning in the market — how we show up to our audience — over a couple of years. In late 2018, we shifted our tagline to “Make Your Own Way.” We introduced a new brand campaign in early 2019. This set the stage and set us up for the new brand logo, colors and identity, which we launched in early 2020.
What were the essential steps?
Lee: Discovery, strategy and execution. In our discovery phase, we examined our business strategy and goals — which was to evolve from just email to a full marketing platform. We also took a deeper dive into our audience, positioning and messaging. Part of that discovery required a thorough brand audit of all our touch points, ranging from external marketing campaigns, websites, apps and branding of swag to even our internal office environments to see where we were starting our rebrand from. Within the strategy phase, we looked at our competitors, our value proposition, messaging strategy, and voice and tone. It’s within this phase where we defined our design strategy of “chaos in a container” and our unique brand archetype as “expert absurdist.” The execution phase is where it all comes together to create what internal employees and external customers will experience. I recall the logo taking months of refinements, because we strategically decided to build equity around Freddie, our mascot, so that one day he could stand alone without the “Mailchimp” word mark (like the Nike swoosh does for Nike). Our in-house brand strategy also guided our approach to any necessary existing and future sub-branding, like Mailchimp Presents (our streaming platform with entrepreneur-focused content) and Mailchimp & Co (a network for our agency partners).
Petrosian: Because we only rebranded in 2018 and are essentially still a startup, the process is ongoing. We challenge ourselves to be better than we were the day before. It’s never an overnight change and we always start by listening. As I mentioned, we talked to everyone inside the organization to become as self-aware as possible about our company and our culture. This gave us data on which to make decisions and this is how we make all strategic moves. After the listening phase, we identified our differentiators and core values. Last, and perhaps most important, was using the feedback we collected to execute against a well thought out launch plan.
Blohm: We accomplished our rebrand completely in house. Our first step was to get internal buy in from leadership — there is always resistance to change and you want to manage all stakeholder concerns to ensure a smooth transition. That buy-in includes continued messaging and positioning as well as changing logos. Next was establishing a checklist of what needed to be accomplished and a work back schedule for launch date — and being realistic about the timeline. There was much to be considered: a content audit and update, social media skins and profiles, partner profile pages, association memberships, sponsorships, signage, trade names, contracts, not to mention every corner of our website. My mantra was “I would rather be late to launch than unprepared.”
Jennette: We started with data. We wanted to understand our current customers, how they felt about us, how our potential or future audience felt about us, and then where we sat within our competitive set. Then we evaluated and researched trends in the industry. Where were we in the industry? Where did we want to go? We partnered with an agency that helps clients create and facilitate research, as well as to help us and partner with our internal GoDaddy brands team to develop the new branding components. We pre-tested the concepts to predict how the new work stood against the current brand and to make sure the new design communicated what we wanted it to. One thing we did was look at global research. We are a global company so we wanted to research and test our message and logo through a global lens. Certain designs or colors might work well in one market but not resonate in another.
How did you soft-test the rebrand?
Jennette: We conducted focus groups in the U.S. and globally, then we measured the options at the top of our list against where we were currently and then against each other. We wanted to make sure that the new brand didn’t leak to the public before we were ready. We partnered with a really good firm that had great success in this area, and they were able to facilitate that within a protected environment.
Blohm: Internally, we communicated the change and provided our entire company with a handy FAQ doc so that they all had consistent messaging about the name change when speaking to clients. We also included tactical information, for instance where to find new materials, decks and contracts, so that there was no confusion and operations stayed in place. We shared all announcement materials ahead of the launch so that they had easy access.
How did you introduce the world to the new brand?
Lee: We launched a campaign across every marketing medium you can think of — owned channels, PR, billboards, radio, print, social, events, speaking series, you name it. Particularly notable was an out-of-home campaign we conducted in New York City, with a billboard painted on a skyscraper that really stood out — especially because our primary brand color is yellow. We also hosted an interactive booth at the Collision Conference to demonstrate the new brand and platform capabilities, and took over public transit stations in New York City, Atlanta and San Francisco.
Jennette: We worked closely with the full cross-functional team within GoDaddy — products, marketing, PR, the brand team — to ensure strong coordination across the entire organization so we could release all new materials at a specific time, and nothing was missed. The other big thing to remember was our internal employees. This was a big change for them and we wanted to make sure they were ready to answer questions from customers about the change. The change was made January 14, 2020.
Blohm: Outwardly, we prepared a promotional video that announced our name change, why we did it and what it means and naturally shared a press release. We also had our CEO write a blog post so we put together a social media program that alternated that blog and video content; we also deployed emails to our customers and prospects about the change. We encouraged our staff to use the announcement as an opportunity to engage and check in with clients and prospects and get out the news organically.
What does success look like?
Lee: We used a wide variety of factors to gauge success, including print and online media coverage — we had some great features in Fast Company and Brand New — and even the comments we saw readers leave on those articles. Social media was a big reception indicator as well, and, later down the line, awards we received for the rebrand. Internally, we saw really positive feedback across the board from our employees, as well as from our customers and our agency partners. We gave our partners a sneak peek of the changes we were making before it was officially announced, and the reaction was strong. A recent brand tracker study we’ve conducted also shows that the public perception of Mailchimp is successfully moving from email to marketing platform.
Blohm: It’s only been a few weeks, so it’s too early to measure revenue changes but we are seeing more traffic on our website, higher engagement and inquiries, as well as increased activity and reach on our social media pages. Also, anecdotally, the feedback from clients, prospects and partners has been very positive.
Jennette: Our awareness numbers are already pretty high so the logo change didn’t have a huge impact on awareness. However, we’ve seen significant shifts to the better for our brand affinity and our brand impression, which translates into a real impact on our overall business health. Sales have been pretty strong through the pandemic, and our brand-health metrics have increased to a five-year high.
Petrosian: In conjunction with the rebrand to DISQO, we received a Series A funding round of $13.5 million to bring first-party data at scale to decision makers. We’ve also since tripled our size, based on the number of employees. The DISQO brand has been a platform on which to build a vibrant business that is getting noticed for its award-winning work culture.
Lee: It was hard work! Many long hours were put in by our employees — bringing us even closer together as a unified team. Especially because it brought so many different disciplines and parts of the company together — engineering, design, marketing, support — it created an incredible camaraderie, and a sense of us all being one Mailchimp.