"How they launched it" is a recurring series of deep dives exploring how the world’s best teams launch products and features.
Launch: All-in-one marketing platform
Launch date: May 13, 2019
For 19 years, Mailchimp was known for one thing: email.
And they did it well. Really well. They built a great product and a strong brand. Whenever small or medium-sized businesses needed to send emails en masse to customers, Mailchimp was the defacto standard.
But 19 years is an eternity in the world of software. Over those two decades the landscape changed and competitors appeared. Products like Marketo and HubSpot arrived on the scene offering not only email, but so much more on top. Buy from one company to get your entire SMB marketing stack in a box - or so the promise went. These suites could not only send email en masse, but also build landing pages, host blogs, track sales leads, coordinate digital ads, schedule social media posts, and more.
To stay ahead of the curve, MailChimp piece-by-piece built out the other point solutions in the modern marketer’s toolkit: social media advertising, landing pages, and CRM.
In 2019, Mailchimp united these point solutions into an all-in-one product offering that they aptly named the “all-in-one Marketing Platform.” And they went to the market with a clear new story: ”We’re more than just email, we’ve got everything your marketing team needs.”
Here’s how they launched it.
To dive deeper into a specific area of Mailchimp's all-in-one Marketing Platform launch, feel free to jump to any of the following sections:
Every great launch has clear calls to action throughout. Each touchpoint includes a specific next step for people to take if they want to learn more.
For this launch, Mailchimp focused on directing people to two places: The first was a landing page about their new offering, and the second was an announcement blog post.
MailChimp’s blog sets the tone for the entire launch. This is where the most passionate and highest-intent visitors will wind up and therefore also where Mailchimp has room to step back and tell their full story.
For this launch, Mailchimp’s goal wasn’t simply to announce a new product, but instead to signal a major transitional moment for the company.
Tactics they used to achieve this goal include: having the CEO author it, relating to the reader, providing rich context, teasing what’s coming, proactively addressing objections, and simply stating what they were launching without including any technical details. And the URL path is aptly titled “mailchimps-evolution.”
Overall, what they published was personal and unique - both to their company and their mission. You don’t see any product screenshots or punchy new feature explanations. There’s no talk of pricing or plans. There’s barely a CTA. The only links to the launch landing page are buried in the body copy and don’t show up until paragraph five. In short, it’s a very unconventional launch blog. However, for this launch Mailchimp makes it work perfectly.
Let’s dig into each of these tactics.
The post is authored by the CEO and founder, Ben Chestnut, and written in first person. This signals the significance and gravity of the event. The first line takes readers all the way back to the beginning of the company.
Ben relates to the reader, and empathizes with those who are themselves also small business owners: “Dan and I made such good partners because we both grew up in families with small businesses; Dan’s father ran a bakery, and my mother ran a hair salon out of our kitchen.”
Then they include vintage photos of the founders, with their parents, in front of their families’ respective small businesses to strengthen that connection with the reader. The vintage photo thing might seem strange in a product launch blog, but it’s actually a particularly savvy example of Mailchimp knowing and relating to their audience. Mailchimp’s primary customers at the time were small business owners who would almost certainly be more drawn in by a classic photo of a real small business than a screenshot of a new product feature.
It’s nearly 300 words before Ben even mentions the new product. The first 40% is all about how the founders grew up around small businesses and how that led to them founding a company that could help these kinds of companies.
But the background info provides necessary context. Because when it’s time to mention the new platform, all that background makes the new technology feel purposeful and tied to the big picture. Here’s the moment where Ben connects the dots:
“Our customers have big aspirations, but are short on time and budgets. Our email marketing product has helped millions of businesses grow, but our customers have been asking for years for us to build something that would enable them to do all of their marketing in one place.”
Then, after all the big picture talk, one line succinctly defines the problem Mailchimp is solving and ties the post together:
“Small business owners and entrepreneurs don’t have time to manage three, four, or five different platforms that each serve one specific purpose, and they don’t want their data all over the place: They need a tool powered by data and expertise that will help them know where to invest their marketing dollars."
The post also teases functionality still to come: “Have you heard… landing pages are here and websites are on the way?” Some teams are afraid of mentioning features or products that aren’t live yet. But done correctly, previews like this build even more excitement and signals future momentum. Mailchimp not only sells where they are, but also where they’re going. And gives customers a reason to come along for the ride.
Before getting to the end, Ben takes a moment to alleviate potential concerns and get in front of expected objections: “Our current customers will be able to stay on their pricing plan as long as they like until they choose to upgrade. We even have an Essentials Plan designed for those customers who still use Mailchimp primarily for email marketing. We hope that one day all of our customers take advantage of our full marketing platform, but we’re not going to force you into it.”
For those wondering, “OK, but what exactly did Mailchimp bring to market?” What does the “all-in-one marketing platform” actually do? Here’s the explanation from the post (emphasis ours):
“For more than two years, we’ve been adding new features, like landing pages, Facebook ads, Google remarketing ads, postcards, social posting, and our marketing CRM tools that have become the heart of the Mailchimp platform. This week, we’re bringing it all together with a deeply integrated app experience for users.”
In other words, they turned a siloed group of apps into a unified platform. Readers can assume this means Mailchimp users will be able to access and manage the aforementioned apps with one login and eventually benefit from some kind of shared data layer.
The other central facet of this launch was a new landing: mailchimp.com/marketing-platform.
Almost all the marketing activity Mailchimp shipped during this launch (including the announcement blog) includes a CTA leading to this page. The announcement blog is where Mailchimp told the story about the new platform, while the landing page is where they show off the platform and what it can do. This is the destination for the highest-intent potential customer and the lowest part of the funnel across this campaign. Mailchimp’s goal with this landing page is to explain the benefits of the new platform, demonstrate how it works, and get customers excited enough to click the signup button.
Among other things, Mailchimp does this by reiterating the value prop, using different language to signal a significant shift in the product, leveraging gifs instead of screenshots, including a case study, and having a customer-centric CTA.
Let’s jump into each of these.
Even though this page is the place to show off the product, Mailchimp still keeps the big picture value props front and center: grow faster, market smarter, reach your goals. In short, they’re very consistent about highlighting value, value, value.
Visitors to the page are introduced almost immediately to the concept of an “audience,” a critical concept in the new Mailchimp platform. Previously, and as one might expect from an email product, the company focused much of their marketing on “subscribers.” But at the end of the day, these subscribers are really just contacts stored in a database.
By shifting the conversation to a team’s “audience,” Mailchimp is positioning themselves as the platform a brand can use to communicate with customers, and potential customers, through many channels — not just email. The word “audience” shows up on this page nine times (twice in a heading), whereas “email” only appears twice (and never in a heading). Visitors are even told that “With all your audience data in one place, you can create the content they’ll enjoy most.” This goes way beyond email.
Product visuals can be tricky, and the gifs here are a nice touch. Screenshots are easy to take, but it’s often hard to convey the full value of something using a static screenshot. This is why many landing pages with screenshots end up including a dozen different screenshots, and many with annotations and arrows scribbled on them (which often leads to more questions than answers). Short, punchy videos tell a product story and convey value in a clean, fast way. And Mailchimp takes advantage.
One of the most common objections to any new product or features is: “How can we trust something that’s so new and/or untested in the market?” Case studies are an effective way to proactively address these concerns, and Mailchimp embeds a customer case study, Simply Gum, directly on the landing page.
Case studies and customer quotes lend credibility and social proof to a product launch, but they’re often not included as a part of new product releases because customer stories are a particularly heavy lift that require a massive amount of coordination. Ahead of a big launch, they almost always get deprioritized.
The way Mailchimp gets around this is by:
When it’s finally time to ask visitors to take the next step, the page continues to focus squarely on customer value. Mailchimp uses “everyday,” “what’s in it for me” copy that will speak to their SMB audience:
Along with the new landing page, Mailchimp also made some important changes to their home page.
Here’s what Mailchimp.com visitors saw the week before the launch:
And here’s how that copy changed on launch week:
The Mailchimp team also updated the website’s title tag from “Marketing Platform for Small Businesses” to “All-in-One Marketing Platform.”
While this campaign was all about a company becoming more than email, there’s no denying that email is still one of the world’s most powerful marketing channels. And of course the team at Mailchimp knows a thing or two about email marketing.
On Tuesday, May 14, Mailchimp sent this email announcing the new platform with the headline: “Exciting updates coming to your Mailchimp account.”
Let’s take a look at why their email communication was so effective.
Like their announcement blog, this email goes against a lot of the conventional thinking about what a product announcement email should look like. Readers aren’t inundated with product screenshots and feature explanations and there are no giant, colorful CTAs or fancy email formatting. Moreover, only in the bottom paragraph are readers nudged to visit the blog post.
There are two main ways Mailchimp can grow their new marketing platform:
Attacking #2 first is not only the faster and easier option, but it could also be equally as lucrative given Mailchimp’s large customer base. Additionally, the company already has ways of reaching these people, and current users already know and trust the Mailchimp brand.
However, given the size and significance of this new release, going big with their current user base out of the gate can also be risky. Most of us are averse to change, and the last thing Mailchimp wants to do with this new release is give existing customers a reason to begin evaluating other options.
Mailchimp uses direct and transparent communication to clear this hurdle. After explaining what’s new and what’s changing, the announcement email directly tells current customers what the change means for them specifically. For example:
As a current user of our Forever Free plan, you'll now be in the new Free plan as long as your audience size is 2,000 contacts or less.
We looked through our Gmail archives at the last three years of emails from Mailchimp. All emails arrived on one of three days: Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
This is a common pattern from many companies who send marketing emails. On Mondays people are playing catchup from the weekend and trying to organize the week ahead. And by Friday people are busy trying to wrap things up before they leave the office or have already checked out for the weekend.
In Mailchimp’s case, the rest of their “all-in-one Marketing Platform” campaign launched on Monday. But the company didn’t break their pattern of ensuring their emails landed on Tuesday. While it’s always tempting to maximize for the largest possible splash on launch day, Mailchimp opted for a one-two punch across two days since they knew Tuesday would see a higher open and engagement rate on their email.
This campaign launched on a Monday. From our experience, early in the week is generally better for big product announcements, and mid-morning is better than afternoon. If you can, it’s also smart to avoid summertime launches (July and August) and the winter holidays (anything after December 15th and before January 7th).
Earned media is notoriously difficult to attract for new product launches. Unless you’re Apple or Google, press generally isn’t willing to report on your every move, which makes the massive amount of press that Mailchimp landed that much more impressive.
The launch was widely covered with long write ups in publications like TechCrunch, Fast Company, and PCMag.
Let’s take a look at how they did it.
Almost all the coverage of Mailchimp’s launch was published on launch day. This is great for Mailchimp because it creates a “moment” where the news feels even bigger to readers as they see it in a number of different places, all on the same day. It also increases the chances of follow-on coverage, where smaller publications pick up on the story and cover it without any incremental effort from Mailchimp.
Landing this much coverage takes a ton of planning and coordination, meaning Mailchimp’s PR team must have reached out to a series of targeted publications,pitching and briefing each at least a week or two ahead of the launch (on the condition they not publish until the morning of launch day).
Additionally, in the PR world relationships are especially important, and Mailchimp’s PR team clearly targeted outlets where they had existing relationships. A quick Google search reveals that each of the media outlets that ended up choosing to cover the “all-in-one Marketing Platform” release had written about Mailchimp at some point in the past, meaning that Mailchimp successfully leveraged these previous relationships to increase their chances of landing the maximum amount of press on launch day.
Another tactic Mailchimp successfully utilized was divulging something a little extra for a specific media outlet. In this case, providing TechCrunch with numbers on the size of the business that they didn’t appear to share with other publications.
And it worked. On launch day TechCrunch published the following article: “Mailchimp expands from email to full marketing platform, says it will make $700M in 2019”
A snippet from the article: “[Mailchimp] has now grown to around 11 million active customers with a total audience of 4 billion (yes, 4 billion), and is on track for $700 million in revenue in 2019.”
What MailChimp did here was not only smart because the exclusive hook would ensure TechCrunch picked up their launch coverage, but by specifically targeting TC with this information they increased their chances of getting the information into a stellar headline like this and getting it in front of the publication’s enormous audience—an audience where there are undoubtedly some potential new Mailchimp users waiting to be found.
Generally speaking, this is how the press prefers to get their stories:
Exclusive interviews with company leaders are the most enticing because reporters know the information they’re getting from the executive won’t be shared with any other publication, or appear in any other story. So the best way to ensure exclusivity, while also maximizing reach, is to make different executives available to different outlets.
This is exactly what Mailchimp did, and it paid off. Mailchimp’s Senior VP of Product spoke to PCMag, their VP of Product Marketing spoke to Fast Company, and their CEO spoke to TechCrunch. And all three stories landed on launch day.
Thanks to some new ad transparency tools—specifically Facebook’s ads library—it’s possible to take a peek behind the curtain on some of the digital ads Mailchimp used during their launch.
The above screenshot shows data from a Facebook ad Mailchimp ran on launch week. A few things that stand out:
However, this wasn’t the only ad that Mailchimp ran promoting their new all-in-one Marketing Platform. Throughout the rest of 2019 and into 2020 Mailchimp continued promoting a steady drumbeat of ads focused on their new all-in-one Marketing Platform, and the platform’s new capabilities. Here are some examples:
Mailchimp also rolled out a campaign of out-of-home and print media ads, working alongside agency R/Ga, to accompany the launch. Here are some examples:
And here’s a great explanation of the creative from copywriter Jessica Norris:
Our idea came from the realization that, for every milestone your business reaches, there’s a “now what?” moment that happens shortly after. Whether it’s the launch party or your 1000th follower, Mailchimp can help you know what to do next; it’s the only full-service marketing platform with the tools and resources to help your business launch AND grow.
Mailchimp’s ad blitz not only massively increased the reach and effectiveness of their new product launch, but also served as an amazing opportunity to extend their brand and their suite of product offering to entirely new audiences.
With more than 100K Instagram followers, a quarter-million Twitter followers, and nearly half a million fans on Facebook, Mailchimp’s organic social media channels are an enormous lever for the company to reach and excite users and fans. And they leveraged these channels to the fullest during the launch of their all-in-one Marketing Platform.
Regardless of the specific social media channel, there were three themes interwoven throughout Mailchimp’s social media activity that tied it nicely to the recent launch moment, as well as Mailchimp’s brand as a whole.
The very first Twitter post about the all-in-one Marketing Platform launch was actually a retweet from MailChimp’s founder. Throughout launch week, not only did Mailchimp share the news from company handles, but dozens of Mailchimp employees shared the news on their personal social media accounts as well. Mailchimp then used their official accounts to amplify posts from these employees.
This launch is a great example of a business leveraging the “social” component of social media to achieve far greater reach. All while bringing individuals into the conversation and furthering the highly personalized feel Mailchimp created in the announcement blog.
Mailchimp had a warchest of great creative for this launch, and it’s clear each channel and tactic had a specific set of creative assets. A variation of the illustrations and designs used throughout the ads and landing page were also created for each social media post. Ensuring consistent creative across every channel is the most powerful way to tie a marketing campaign together, and Mailchimp pulled out all the stops to ensure this consistency even flowed through into each social media channel.
Across the social posts Mailchimp included interactive elements like polls and videos. They were also heavily engaged in conversations, actively answering questions, and starting new conversations. Each a small touch, but another example of using their massive social media reach to the fullest.
After the launch, Mailchimp took their show on the road. Literally.
Just a week after the launch, Mailchimp visited the Collision Conference in Toronto with a huge, interactive display. Their CEO, Ben, also gave a talk at the event.
Timing a product launch around having physical presence at a major industry event is a luxury that many teams don’t have. However, as a part of this launch Mailchimp successfully leverages it as yet one more very powerful touchpoint and tactic to sustain a steady drumbeat of launch comms, get the word out about their new platform, and engage on a personal level with potential customers. Even in the current environment where many events are being held virtually, timing a launch around a big event is ideal.
One sign of a great launch is that it lays the foundation for continued marketing efforts far beyond the initial launch moment. Even today, almost a year after the initial all-in-one Marketing Platform launch, Mailchimp continues to roll out a consistent drumbeat of marketing activity promoting the new platform.
The Mailchimp team has not only leveled up their paid ads and landed several more PR stories, but they’ve continued to swap in fresh creative assets and complete several full case studies.
There’s a ton to learn from this Mailchimp launch. It was large, well coordinated and executed, especially thoughtful, and made a heck of a splash.
Here are a few key, big picture takeaways from this launch.
People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves (and their companies). This launch put people and benefits over features and technical jargon. The centerpiece is a blog from the founder and very personal stories about small businesses. The illustrations and creative all feature people. The case studies highlight individuals and their personal successes. Even the social media activities heavily feature the voices and sentiments of individuals.
It’s easy to pigeonhole launches into a short time window. Some people think about launches as something that should happen in a single day, or over a few days. While most of the Mailchimp launch activity happened on day one throughout week one, a significant amount of material shipped in the following months. Even now, a year, later, Mailchimp is still actively talking about their new marketing platform.
Of course every launch is different, but for Mailchimp this strategy makes perfect sense. A company rebrand and a significant pivot in the core offering of your business, especially after almost two decades doing one specific thing, is going to take a long time. Changing one’s perception of your company and product is no small or quick task. Mailchimp planned for this.
“Spray and pray” is a common approach for getting press. Write a press release, send it to as many journalists as you can find, and hope someone’s interested enough to pick up the story. That’s not a strategy. This launch features a PR strategy that was thoughtful, well planned, and perfectly executed.
“Mailchimp’s more than email. They’ve got everything you need for marketing.”
That’s the story Mailchimp wanted you to walk away with. It’s clear, it’s concise, it’s powerful, and it resonated through every touch point of their launch and campaign.
What’s really important: it’s crisp enough to remember, share, and repeat. It’s not about repeating exact words in a specific order like you would a tagline. Stories that are well written and delivered are not only memorable, but leave you with a lasting impression. And ideally it’s something you can repeat later at a different time, in different words, or even in a different language, and it would be just as impactful.
Aftering engaging with this Mailchimp campaign it would be easy to repeat the story and the importance of it to your boss, your customers, or even your Uber driver. After all, simple stories that are easily shareable are the original viral marketing.
Have a product or feature launch that you’d like us to do a deep dive on? Drop us a line at hey[at]launchnotes.io and let us know!