How Mailchimp Got it Right: Visual Identity vs. Brand

There is a myth out there, probably perpetuated by someone lazy and underqualified, that brand and visual identity are the same thing.

Brand, in the simplest of words, is your reputation. It is the mark you leave on your stakeholders, the proverbial taste in their mouth. When we talk about brand, we’re talking about values, behaviors, and personality, applied internally and observed externally over the course of time. A well-established, authentic brand strategy requires research, discussion, consensus with your board, consultation, and more.

Visual identity, on the other hand, is merely one aspect of a brand. Indeed, the last and most superficial aspect.

Your visual identity consists of … you guessed it, everything visual. It includes your logo, colors, typefaces, patterns, all the things usually associated with brand, but that are really just the shiny frosting on what should be a well-developed, sturdy, and equally exciting foundation.

Which is why Mailchimp‘s recent visual identity refresh is a breath of fresh air.

Unlike Evernote, who made the mistake of conflating the two components mentioned above (and at quite a cost, too), Mailchimp acknowledged that their branding modifications were just that: visual.

Mailchimp 2.png

I logged into Mailchimp last week. Giving no pretense about the significance of their refresh, Mailchimp offered me the above notification, sharing the news, but they kept it simple, and let me move on with my day.

Are the new visuals cool? Sure. Do I like them better than the ones that came before? Definitely. But being that they have little to no effect on how I use the platform everyday, I really don’t need a self-serving shpiel about how their new colors will change my life. Mailchimp knows they won’t.

They know I have other things to do, and more importantly, they know I want to do them on their platform. So, they make space for that.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the knowing “Onward” button they added to the pop-up, as if to say, “we get that this means more to us than it does to you. By all means, continue your work.”


  1. Whether we’re talking about brand or simply a Vis ID, walking is always better than talking. Don’t spend time talking about your changes unless they have a real impact on your constituents.
  2. If your changes are merely visual, share the updates, have fun, but don’t waste your audience’s time.
  3. If you’re a business or productivity tool, respecting your audience’s time means being on-brand.

By understanding its users and leading with their values, Mailchimp was able to increase brand loyalty, because now I and my colleagues feel that our time has been respected and we therefore like them more today than yesterday.

Stay tuned for the next in this series, when we talk about Uber’s rebrand.

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