Discord’s new CMO discusses racism, rebranding—and a more-vibrant 'blurple'
With an updated mascot, a fresh new typeface ... and a more-vibrant shade of its signature color “blurple,” Discord is hoping to move beyond just gaming and create a more inclusive community with a new brand refresh. Orchestrating the rebrand at the online chat platform is Tesa Aragones, chief marketing officer at Discord, whose track record includes top marketing positions with Nike, Volkswagen, and most recently VSCO.
The change comes at a critical time for Discord. While the online chat platform boasts 150 million monthly active users and rapid growth, Discord is facing competition from incumbents like Twitch and new entrants like Clubhouse, while dealing with problems like hate speech and finding new, larger groups of users to fuel growth.
Ad Age spoke with Aragones on Discord (naturally) about the rebrand’s new direction, her personal experiences challenging racism, and Discord’s place in marketing and tech. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
What prompted the Discord rebrand?
It was really important that we get out and speak to consumers to really understand how they are seeing the world post-COVID, and is there a way Discord could actually fit into their lives—30% of them said they had been using it for things outside of gaming. And when I did consumer insights in the fall, I found about 78% of people are using Discord for non-gaming or a combination of gaming and non-gaming. We are attracting different types of people who have different interests, and the rebranding really was in response to what we were hearing.
Why are people gravitating to Discord for their hobbies and interests, not just for games?
It is a place where they can come and have real connections around shared interests—and those interests used to be gaming, but we now have all kinds of servers, more than 19 million now. We see a lot more students connecting about global projects. We have people doing karaoke. There is an [English as a Second Language] group, and because they feel safe on Discord they come together and they practice telling jokes in English.
When people come to discord, it is because they feel that connection. It's not like a broadcast type of experience where you're putting your message out into the world. When they're on Discord, they're connecting with people and responding.
What is Discord doing to balance problems with hate speech against the freedom of expression that creates a vibrant community?
We have a zero tolerance for any hate speech. About 15% of our company is dedicated to trust and safety. We have moderators and we have the Moderator Academy that helps server owners for some of our public servers, so that they can set things up in a way that, as they scale, they can keep the communities that they run safe.
Talk us through the brand redesign, the more-vibrant blurple color and the feedback you’ve received.
[In the old logo, our mascot] Clyde was actually restricted in a talk bubble. We just wanted to celebrate him more. Our community is vibrant, we're growing as a company and what you can do on Discord is growing. We wanted to actually signal that change in a very positive way. These vibrant colors signal change and some of the great things still to come.
As Discord’s CMO, what are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?
Our mission is to create space for everyone to find belonging, and I think it's really important that people understand "belonging" is really what we fight for, because you can come on to discord and find people that you can connect with and not feel like you're on the outside.
Most of our audience is young, like Gen Z. This generation has a lot of optimism and confidence that they can do things to actually make the world better. So you will see us doing things for Pride, for Asian heritage month, for Juneteenth. We just released a music video to promote unity and solidarity between the black and Asian communities and to stop Asian hate. You'll see us showing up in moments that matter, not just for our brand but also for our consumers that we serve.
Speaking of, you’re one of the few Asian American females in a CMO post. How has your experience shaped your approach to marketing?
As a first-generation Filipino from Detroit, when I think about marketing I think about all the ways you can use it to connect with consumer pain points. I didn't see a lot of people like me as I was going up in my career. When I started on the agency side, one of my first clients was GM. All I could think about was going into a dealership and watching my parents trying to negotiate and buy a car. It was a little bit painful for me seeing that consumer interaction, so I pitched to GM to create their first website. Consumers could interact with dealers online, and it would help people like my parents actually have access to the information they needed to interact with people in a situation that might be uncomfortable. I was thinking as a marketer, “wow, I'm really solving a pain point. How could I do this for more people?”
I've taken that lesson, whether it was working on Volkswagen, going to Nike, VSCO, and today, at Discord: I worked on rewriting the mission and the vision statement for the company, because inclusion is really important and there's so much we can do in our brand messaging moving forward.
Is there enough representation of Asians and AAPI in the marketing and tech industries?
CMOs have the responsibility to hire diverse candidates, not only for their team, but also for their agency partners. It's not just because your team should reflect the people that you serve, it's also the right thing to do. I live in Oakland, so there's been a lot of unrest here, and just thinking about the vulnerability of the elderly is really very hard for me. I started to check in with my family and my friends and be like, “How are you doing? How can I help you? You're not alone.” I expanded to our employees, checking in with our ERG (employees resources group) at Discord and being more visible to let them know that we're all kind of feeling this, and offer allyship.
Does Discord have any plans to eventually integrate advertising or marketing onto its services?
We don’t have advertising right now on Discord and we never have. In our business model, we have a product called Nitro, which allows consumers to either boost or enhance their performance on the platform, to personalize it a little bit more. We don't have any current plans to start running ads.
Is Discord planning to compete with Slack, or voice apps like Clubhouse? Who’s your greatest frenemy in the industry?
I like the way you phrase that—it's really interesting because a lot of times people tend to try and understand Discord by comparing us to others. Social audio was already on our roadmap partially because that's how people use Discord. One of the features we launched last month was called Stage Channels, which is social audio. And we actually partner a lot with other companies, brands or platforms because that's where consumers like to interact with us. For example, Snoop Dogg was spinning a set on YouTube and Twitch and the community was talking about it on Discord. A lot of times people will watch people play games on Twitch, but they'll talk about it on Discord, or come together and watch things on YouTube and talk about it, or listen to music on Spotify together. That’s just the way consumers interact.