CMO of the Week: Mailchimp's Michelle Taite

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Overseeing the brand’s new chapter is Michelle Taite, a four-year veteran of Intuit who led marketing for QuickBooks before taking on the role of chief marketing officer at Mailchimp in November.

2021 was a milestone year for Mailchimp. Not only did the email & automation marketing platform celebrate its 20th anniversary, the company was acquired in November by global fintech leader Intuit in a deal worth $5.7 billion in cash.  

Overseeing the brand’s new chapter is Michelle Taite, a four-year veteran of Intuit who led marketing for QuickBooks before taking on the role of chief marketing officer at Mailchimp in November. Taite had a chance to familiarize herself with the Mailchimp brand when QuickBooks began piloting integrations between the two platforms in July 2021, and is already relishing the chance to flex and strengthen the company’s unique muscles. And that includes showing up as a brand for the first time in mainstream, consumer-facing channels like live sports, which Mailchimp began advertising in late last year.

“We’re connecting in a way that is very much us in that channel,” says Taite, noting the company’s ad buys in the MLB’s “World Series” coverage, the NFL’s U.S. telecasts and rugby and cricket in the UK. “We’re a company that specializes in helping people build their businesses and brand, so we want to lead by example and stand out very authentically in that space. We recognize we’re somewhat rebellious and fiercely individualistic. In a world of blues and greens and other brands that are working through similar channels, we’re yellow. And where other brands may shout we might wink.”

The broadened media strategy coincides with Mailchimp’s ongoing expansion of its product suite, which during the pandemic-era of the past two years has grown to include website and domain services in addition to the company’s core of email marketing. “Not only can you launch a website but also a virtual storefront. You can book appointments, and we’ve even launched some ecommerce features to help our customers transact online,” Taite says. “So now in addition to just growing your business, you actually can start and build it with Mailchimp. And that’s been really exciting for expanding our business.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Taite from Palo Alto to learn more about her first priorities for her new role, the power of podcast sponsorships (as well as producing podcasts in-house through the newly launched Mailchimp Studios) and the importance of giving back to the small business community. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You just joined Mailchimp as CMO in November following four years in other senior roles at Intuit. What are some initial priorities or initiatives you've identified for the brand in your first weeks on the job?

I’m a product designer turned marketer, so the customer has always been at the heart of what I do. And so working on a brand that provides millions of customers or small businesses this all-in-one solution for marketing and commerce and helps them grow is just super humbling. As I think about my role and what we’re doing, to me the sweet spot of marketing is really where creativity meets performance – that bold intersection of culture and conversation. It’s such an amazing reason to have joined the Mailchimp team and I’m super excited about it. 

As I look at my role, if you can mix that magic that the Mailchimp brand brings to Intuit with Intuit’s customer-centric performance that it's known for, then we can run one of the most successful SAAS businesses in the world that is both high growth and hasn’t lost its soul. As I think about our priorities in the next year, that means to deliver a truly connected customer journey using all of our assets very deliberately and unleashing what I look at as compounding value for our customers. What does that mean? As we look at our jobs as marketers it's really to connect to customers and that connection is built both left and right brain — culture and creativity and what we would call brand love and innovation and true product benefit at the right time in the journey. 

How might you bring some of that vision to life in the coming months? 

In the next year, you'll see us really amplifying those connections between our platforms and products on the Mailchimp side. And that goes from Courier, which is our small business editorial offering, it hosts a bunch of inspirational content and tools for modern entrepreneurs. To Mailchimp Studios, which is our original entertainment platform – think Netflix for entrepreneurs – with short films and podcasts that inspire our audiences to really utilize the best of the tools that they have to grow. And on the product front, we’ve made so much progress in terms of expanding our offering to empower small businesses so you’ll see us continuing to expand the perception of the brand and what it means to be Mailchimp. We’ll make sure our prospects know that we’re more than just email, we’re a suite of marketing tools that utilize smart, simple, automations like building web sites, landing pages, targeted ad campaigns, or social media ads — everything they need to really grow their business. 

And the final piece is we have an incredible global presence, and we’ll look to amplify that in the next couple of years very deliberately. In the last month we launched a full-funnel campaign in the UK, and you’ll see us going big in some other additional countries soon.  

How big – and global – is the Mailchimp audience currently, and any growth metrics you can share from the past two years that may have been accelerated by the pandemic?

We have about 13 million active users around the world. We send about 1 billion emails per day, and over 50% of our business resides outside of the U.S. in about 190 countries. 

Over the last two years we’ve seen tremendous growth because businesses and consumers are really looking for virtual solutions to be able to run their lives and their businesses. And we've seen an influx of businesses getting online and shifting to omnichannel to really survive and thrive. 

What does Mailchimp's target audience look like in terms of B2B vs B2C, and what media mix are you planning for 2022 to reach those different targets?

Our audience is small businesses. We see them being driven by emotions just like consumers, because they are consumers who decided to work for themselves. Our marketing approach always has and always will have a very human feel to it. And we just want to make sure we connect with them in the most authentic way wherever they are. Everything's changing right now in the marketing industry. And in the face of COVID, we’ve been forced to reassess how we meet our audiences. More people are at home right now so you’ll see us deliberately shifting our out-of-home campaigns to digital and live channels. And you’ll see a lot of experimentation on social media, specifically with TikTok and local influencers as we test some local personalized messaging. 

You’ll also see us shift to use more of the talent and tools we've built in-house with Mailchimp Studios and Courier in editorial as we think differently about education and discovery at the top of the funnel. Mailchimp Studios really looks for new ways to celebrate content that celebrates our customers and the underdog, whether it’s through a podcast collaboration with Shirley Manson or when we sponsored the shorts for South By Southwest when they went virtual. Or even the “Bloom Season” initiative we just launched, which is a wonderful community connected digital initiative that looks to share a collective of tools for entrepreneurs of color at all stages or their business journey and rewrites the playbook for how they thrive with both video resources and written format. It’s a little different but at the end of the day it’s really around connection. 

What are some brand pillars you've identified for Mailchimp? 

When you ask our teams, you’ll hear we're the expert absurdist. We’re a brand that goes against conventions. We support the somewhat radical, strange and compelling with expert ingenuity and skillfulness and resourcefulness. We have the business acumen but we don't really take ourselves too seriously. And that combination means we really have the audacity to take risks and build what I would call the extraordinary experiences for our customers. 

And we get small businesses because we were a small business not long ago. And that means we can relate to customers and their challenges and passions and speak to them in a familiar and conversational way. We’re warm and accessible and inviting, we celebrate with all of our platforms their unorthodox ideas. We spotlight their stories, we showcase their idiosyncrasies, and we speak to them in a casual and really supportive manner that creates that genuine connection.

So you’ll see us continue to amplify our unique brand moments in ‘22, and lean into the connection with pop culture that we have. I would be remiss not to talk about Freddie our logo, as you think about brand pillars, I would think about the wink. It really sums up the brand’s posture. We’re in this adventure with our customers, we know how hard it can be, and so we’re helping them do amazing things. So yes our logo’s a chimp, which shows you we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

What are some ways Mailchimp has given back to small businesses amid so many challenges brought by the pandemic, and how might you continue some of those efforts into 2022?

We just stayed true to the advice we've given to business which is to stay connected to your customers during these difficult times. From the onset, we’ve been supporting them, we’ve offered free standard accounts for public service organizations, we gave over $10 million in existing services to customers with financial needs. We also helped businesses get online by offering custom domains for free for five years. We invested in our community with marketing tools and webinars and educational content and workshops. We also developed an ongoing local business directory, where people can support products and offerings in their local communities with small businesses. 

After SXSW was canceled, we actually created a digital home on Mailchimp Studios for the incredible slate shorts that we slated to premiere there just to give them a stage, and we did that again in ’21. And in January ’21, we launched “Big Change Starts Small,” which was a campaign to inspire a change in perspective on corporate citizenship. That was based off of the success we’d seen in Atlanta in the last six years with the help to drive real investment and action towards supporting small world changers –  supporting small, local emerging organizations with sponsorship, social innovation and real-time advocacy.

Mailchimp famously was an early sponsor of the current boom in podcasting, with support of key programs like NPR's "Serial." Is podcasting still a medium that moves the needle for the brand, and why or why not?

The short answer is yes. We started sponsoring podcasts in 2010 as an experiment to grow our developer network, and we learned quickly that it was just incredibly powerful, and that podcasts as a medium for our brand were really successful. So we continue to invest in them.  

“Serial” was a watershed moment for this brand and what happened there was a happy accident. You can't really recreate that magic, although I would love to. But you can stay true to your brand and hope that you bet on a hit. Podcasts are still a medium that moves the needle for Mailchimp, and we’ll continue to sponsor podcasts. But since 2019, we’ve actually been producing our own podcasts, too. We've been experimenting with different ways to activate the goodness of podcasts. So we have our own like “The Jump,” “Going Through It” or “Call Paul,” and you’ll likely continue to see that experimentation from us on new topics, new production approaches and different awareness building.

What are some of your personal guiding principles as a marketer that you've taken from role to role? 

For me it comes down to authentic connections and world-class craft. I think about Maya Angelou’s quote that people will never forget how you make them feel. To me, that comes to life around how we connect to our audiences and brands, but also and more importantly how we connect to the teams that we lead and day in day out are bringing those businesses and brands to life. And on the craft side, it’s getting better everyday and balancing the unthinkable and often creating the things we wished existed for our customers on our own. And that's a win win, we create outsize value for our customers while doing the best work of our lives – as corny as it may seem, it’s true.

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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