CMO of the Week: Mixbook's Benjamin De Castro

CMO of the Week: Mixbook’s Benjamin De Castro

Benjamin De Castro joined photo book brand Mixbook in January as the brand’s chief marketing officer. With a varied background leading marketing at companies from financial services to eBooks, De Castro says there is one uniting thread in the brands he works for – those that drive emotion.

“Over my career, I find that I gravitate more to companies and products that have an emotional backbone to them,” says De Castro. “For instance, going back in my career ING Direct, believe it or not, was actually a very emotional brand. Don’t believe me, go ask someone to see their paycheck and watch their reaction to their finances. At Kobo, it was books that are so emotional. Go to somebody’s house, change, move a book in their bookshelf, watch their face go white. It’s just unbelievable. I was attracted to Mixbook, because there is so  much emotion in photos.”

In his new role, De Castro is on a mission to grow the Mixbook brand, which was recently ranked No. 1 in photo books by NYT Wirecutter. The company has also earned its mark as one of the best places to work for the small- to-medium business category. De Castro says the company has earned its ranking. 

“The culture here at Mixbook is really exemplary,” he says. “It is a culture where every opinion counts, where trust and accountability are at a very high level. And as a result, it is a very fun environment to work in. And we have very, very high retention rates. Very few people leave this company. After being here, just a few months, I completely understand why. It’s a great culture with great leaders, and I couldn’t say more and be happier about being here.” 

Brand Innovators caught up with De Castro from his office in San Jose to discuss his new role, his approach to leadership and how he is planning to grow the Mixbook brand. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What attracted you to the role? 

When I was in my early twenties, I saw some old photo books, and there was a photo of my dad back in Portugal, where he’s originally from, with his friends when he was probably in his twenties, my age at the time. I showed it to him, and he looked at it, and he just started to cry. And I sat there going, this piece of paper just made my father just completely become overwhelmed by emotions. That’s when I realized that photos have a lot of power.

Mixbook is at the heart of that. Their mission is about connecting people with the ones they love. That was what gravitated me towards this, I have an opportunity with them to really tug on the emotional heartstrings of people. That’s when I find that I’m at my best when there is emotion there. 

Can you talk about what your objectives are and what your mission is in your new role?

Essentially, it’s to grow Mixbook. It’s a category that is growing by leaps and bounds every year, people are taking more photos than ever. We’ve all become photographers with our phones. It’s about how we take your photos away from the phone. All our photos are trapped in these devices of ours, they’re imprisoned in them. How can we unleash them and find and experience the joy in them, because that’s why we take photos. We don’t take them to be trapped here. We take them so that we can experience them again. That’s what Mixbook offers. We offer them people an opportunity to experience their photos again in a physical product.

How are you getting that message across to consumers?

That’s one of the things that we’re working on for this year and the foreseeable future is getting that message of free your photos from your phones, but also how we are different from the competition. Our editor software is the best in the industry. We have won multiple awards for that and then letting people know about the different options and the great creative options we have out there. So when you build your photo books or cards, Mixbook has the most and best options for you and you can do everything in a flash. 

If you want to spend the time and create a work of art, great you can do that. If you feel pressed for time, we’ve even created some magic software where you just literally click a button, it’ll populate the entire project for you, then you just go in and edit, so you can save a lot of time. We’ve made it easy for people. We have the best designs for people and now we need to get that message out there. So we’re going to embark on finding new channels and new opportunities to get the message out in 2023. 

What key audiences are you trying to tell this story to?

It really cuts across a broad segment of people. It’s much more psychographic and demographic. It goes all the way from Gen Zs to Boomers. Everyone’s taking photos with their phones these days. But it’s really those that want to relive those moments in their photos. They recognize that photos have further meaning, and they have to unleash those. It’s about finding those key moments and key areas where these people engage with these photos.

How are you differentiating your brand in a market where companies like Shutterfly are offering deals all the time?

The category has become quite commoditized and it’s very much a discount category. In the face of that, it’s about, how do we stand out from that? That’s one of the things that we’re going to be trying to find solutions to. 

Can you talk about how your leadership roles at other brands has helped shape your perspective in your current leadership role?

At each one of those companies that I worked for, it was about taking a company from just an idea to a big multi-billion dollar company. ING Direct, Kobo and even Ergo, which we grew from nothing. It’s about starting a department from scratch. That’s exactly what I’ve been able to do is start with an idea, start with a core principle and then start to build out the team and the marketing functions and then the marketing tool set to grow these companies and get the word out and really represent a strong, fundamentally different brand out there than what was currently available. That’s my wheelhouse and that’s what I’ve been brought here to do at Mixbook, as well. 

What is your approach to leadership, as you’re building teams?

I believe in empowering people. I like to build teams where I give you responsibility. I look for expertise when I’m building these teams. It’s about creating a challenging dynamic and healthy environment where ideas flourish. And every idea is taken into consideration, no ideas are discounted, because you never know where the next great idea is going to come from. My job is not necessarily to come up with a great idea, it is to go find the great idea and know when there is a great idea there. The only way you can do that is by creating a team that has creative freedom. That doesn’t just mean ads and advertising or website design. Creativity could come from where are we going to get our next 1000 users? Where are we going to get the partnerships that really sync our brands together? It’s any kind of creative idea. I’ve really tried to create the environment to let those ideas flourish. 

With the economic uncertainty in the marketplace right now, what key trends do you think we’re going to be seeing in marketing?

That’s the big question on everybody’s mind. Everybody’s preparing for the worst. You’re sitting around going, when’s it going to happen? It very well may not happen. But I think we’re all prepared for it. It will be an interesting year. If the Armageddon does happen, then everyone’s ready and we’re just going to hunker down and ride it out. But if it doesn’t happen by mid year and the economy starts to improve, then you have to believe a lot of companies are going to seize that opportunity quickly and probably rev up the marketing machines out there. The next six to eight months are going to be pretty interesting.