Episode 11: Empowering Inclusivity With Erika Putinsky

BIDC 11 | Empowering Inclusivity

If you want your business to succeed, you need to produce inclusive content. Put closed captions in your content, produce videos for people who learn better through video, or just diversify your team so that your content can feel inclusive with different experiences and backgrounds. Inclusivity needs to be empowered, especially when you’re trying to build your audience. In this episode, we are joined by the Vice President of Customer Education at Mailchimp, Erika Putinsky. Tune in so you can learn how to build an inclusive culture in your business. Find out how you can better get in touch and relate with your customer. Understand why your content doesn’t have to be perfect and it’s okay to be weird and experimental. Start meeting your customer where they are today!

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Empowering Inclusivity With Erika Putinsky

In this episode, I am thrilled to introduce Erika. Thank you so much for joining us.

I'm super excited to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Erika is the Vice President of Customer Education for MailChimp. Tell us a little bit about you, how you got to MailChimp, and what your day-to-day looks like.

I started my career in non-profits, which has been a different trajectory than most folks in digital marketing take. For me, it's always been how we tell a story and create opportunities for folks to get the right resources at the right time to be successful, however they measure their success. I take that still to heart. That's how we approach customer education at MailChimp. The goal is to make sure that we're empowering our people. One of the mantras we always say is we're trying to empower the underdog so that underdog can be a small business.

It can be somebody who's just starting out in their role in a marketing firm or something like that. We want to be able to help them out. In my day-to-day, we do all the outward-facing customer education to help our customers be smarter and better. We also turn the lens inward and do all of the empowerment of our people so they know how to talk to folks in a way that's inclusive so they can explain the product and the outcomes in a way that we're trying to help everybody be better and more successful.

That's awesome. How does some of the education and making people better and awesome apply to your growth strategy at MailChimp? Some of it seems obvious, but how do you play in the larger structural organization goals and mission?

One of the great things about customer education is it is a good opportunity to meet customers where they are if they're frustrated or they can't figure something out, or they want to be better and figure out, "How can I grow my marketing program?" or something like this. We're very fortunate. We've got a very strong operations and data team. They can help us track and show the impact of our educational content and how that help customers feel more successful.

One of the great things about customer education is that it's a good opportunity to meet customers where they are.

We've got tight ties and links with our sales and CS teams. They send lots and lots of our educational content out to customers to either bring them on so they can see a non-biased and non-salesy approach to how the product actually works. Our customer success team sends out our content to customers as well who might have questions or where they see an opportunity to unlock different portions of the app.

We also do a lot of live webinars, which we love. We've got that chance to come at it with a topic, work with our customers, and get all their questions coming at us. Sometimes they're off-topic, but we're there, and we can be that lifeline and help support them in a fun way. Also, our customers are awesome. They asked random weird questions. We did one before. One of the presenters has beautiful long hair. One of the questions was, "Cody, how do you take care of your hair?" We popped it up because that's the thing. The more we can have fun and help folks be smarter and better at the same time, that's where we're having success.

That plays into why people show up and are your customers anyway. They feel a part of the conversation. Clearly, you have created a safe place where a customer can join a webinar and ask about hair care products from your speakers. Most people probably wouldn't think to ask that or feel comfortable asking that. It plays into the environment you guys created with your customers and feeling included in the conversation where they feel like they knew Cody and could ask him about his luscious hair. I love that.

One of the things that we are fortunate about with the MailChimp brand, like any of our advertising in the way we approach things, is a little weird sometimes. We've got a dancing rug for one of our latest campaigns. That helps our customers feel like they can be themselves whenever they're asking us questions or looking to engage with educational content. In our communities, they can have that vulnerability to say, "I don't understand it. This is what my boss wants from me. How can you help me figure out these data or metrics so I can report back?" We're very fortunate to be able to have that at the outset to be able to approach folks in that way.

Weird used to be such a naughty word, and I have fully embraced my own weirdness and even have a sign in my office that says, "Weird is a side effect of awesome." To your point of vulnerability, that's what inclusion feels like, where everyone can come with their vulnerabilities and come with their story and their weirdness and show up and feel included and part of the conversation asking about hair care or how to beat best practice in marketing, or, "My boss came to me. I have no idea. I've never done a QBR before. What should I be looking for?" It's things like that. I love it. When you think about some of the education programs you're creating and delivering out there, where you talked about doing webinars, how do you have an inclusive lens when you start thinking about content development or even content delivery? What does inclusion look like in that for you?

I'm very grateful that one of the things that are core to who we are is DEI and belonging. A lot of organizations miss the belonging part. Whenever we're recruiting or looking for folks that will work at MailChimp, it's paramount to how we're bringing folks in. We have different voices. We have folks from different experiences and backgrounds from all over the world that are working at the company. By doing that, we have folks that are coming in and thinking about things in a different way. That's important to be able to listen to a webinar or see a piece of recorded content. You can see someone that looks like you, sounds like you or something like that.

That's a great connection point. We're always trying to be very mindful that we want to be able to meet our customers where they are, whether it's closed captioning or making sure that we can release a written transcript of whatever it is. Some folks want to watch a video. Some folks have no care for video. They just want a written text list of what it is. We're also thinking about what ways people like to consume content. We're working through some opportunities to think about doing live educational content on TikTok. That's real different. That's fun. It has an opportunity for folks to see it in different ways, experience it in different ways, and pick and choose what feels good for them and what helps them be successful.

The message of meeting people where they are is critical to success moving forward. The pandemic completely changed the way we consume and think about digital like, "What I'm willing to sacrifice for my company, travel, going to that event, or watching that webinar?" You have to be diverse and inclusive because not everyone is approaching it the exact same way. I love that. Let's talk a little bit more about some of the methods you're delivering. You mentioned TikTok. I will admit I am an old Millennial. I am not on TikTok. My mother sends me TikToks all the time about new stuff I should be learning, which I didn't even realize.

I thought TikTok was basically the new vine where people are putting up ten-second clips or doing this or whatever. I'm like, "TikTok is not for me. I'm just not going to engage in there. That's not my space." My mother is exclusively on TikTok now. It has abandoned all other forms of outreach, engagement, and education, even more so than YouTube. I always think like, "I'm going to go to YouTube. That's where I'm going to go to learn something new. I'll go to Reddit and think about what I'm going to learn new."

Now there are all these new channels of private communities within MailChimp or TikTok communities for education. Thinking about inclusion and building your audience or community, what are some of those channels? How many places are you connecting with your audience? There are a lot of options out there. How do you approach all the different outlets to be an inclusive brand?

A big part of it is being open to experiment. With TikTok, we're not far down the line with it, but we're willing to experiment with it and think about how we can engage in this way. There are some folks on my team, and that's where they go. They're like, "I've fixed my car, cooked dinner, and created something else based on what I learned on TikTok." To be able to meet people where they are is so important. We think about that. We do a lot of YouTube videos, so that's always there. I will say that's one of the very easy spots for us to be able to create localized content. To have content that's in multi-language is something that's important to us. It's easier to learn in your native language sometimes. It's to be able to create content in that way.

Empowering Inclusivity: If you want to build and connect with your community, you have to be open to experimenting. If you've never done TikTok, experiment with it. Meet people where they are and engage with them.

It's what you were saying about meeting people where they are and being inclusive. Not everyone's learning the same way. Some need videos, and some need text. It shows you as a brand wanting to engage your people, allowing them to be vulnerable by offering it in language, like close captioning language services. All of that is part of inclusion to me.

We're getting a lot more requests from our internal teams and honestly from folks externally about micro-content like, "Give me an educational reel on Instagram to tell me how to do this thing. I've got like two minutes where I can learn something. Let me spend my time there." For us, a big thing is listening to what our customers want, also being able to open the aperture, be weird, do goofy things, and feel okay if it doesn't work.

That speaks to the culture you guys have built in the community and allows people to be weird, vulnerable, and experimental. That's how the light bulb gets discovered. That's how the internet gets built. We all have to experiment. If we knew what we were doing from the onset, big innovation moon shots probably wouldn't happen without experimentation. That's how you find out how to meet people where they are. Not everyone's the same, so you have to balance it and produce it in different ways.

Thinking about that, what were some of the challenges you had to overcome to create this awesome inclusive environment you guys have? You've been very experimental. You're doing a lot of different types of content between digital and in-person on different formats. Thinking about micro-content, what are some of the challenges or roadblocks you hit along the way to this awesome culture you've built?

To be able to embrace that experimental culture does take vulnerability. Especially as content creators, everybody always wants to put their final draft in front of you. It's hard to release something where there might be a mistake, or it might look a little weird, off, or something like that. I remember we had a live webinar that was going on. We're in the office, and we're shooting it. For some reason, the internet started to slow down, so we had a gap in the live feed.

The host was like, "We're a big company. We just had a gap because WiFi went out." For us as content creators, it's to be able to have that vulnerability and be able to know that it doesn't have to be perfect. Our customers are okay with that. Sometimes we all try to overproduce whatever it is, and it looks a little too contrived or created. We all make mistakes. Sometimes it's okay, and it's good to show up with a little bit of a blip in whatever you're producing.

As a content creator, not everything has to be perfect. It's okay to show up with a little bit of a blip in whatever you're producing.

Especially coming out of the pandemic, we've realized so much that we're all human. That's the risk you take in getting experimental, doing different things, or trying out-of-the-box concepts. They're not always going to work. They're going to have mistakes. There are going to be blips, and extending that grace is part of being vulnerable. If I'm going to be vulnerable and show up to this community that I feel included in, I will hope that people will give me the grace that I'm going to ask a dumb question. I'm probably not going to know. We can't all become experts in one day. It takes training, error, and experimentation to finally get it right. We all have to extend that grace.

Sometimes mistakes are okay. There is that famous Edison or whomever, saying like, "I found 99 ways to fail and one way to succeed." Failing is part of the process, and being vulnerable and figuring all that out. I love that you guys are experimenting with it. As a digital event producer in my past life, where I hate the internet and the glitches and so much you can't control, I totally feel you on that.

Most of us go into events and event production because we're all a little bit of control freaks, want to know all the details, and we're going to control all of it. You then get into this digital world where you don't have control of it. I don't have control of your internet, computer, microphones, or headphones. I have to rely on so many outside factors to make some of that happen, which is very scary for control freaks like me.

I love the way you said that. It is about giving yourself some grace. It's about giving your customers and process grace, too, to know there are opportunities. We can learn from anything, whatever it is if we give ourselves the grace and the space to take a pause and think about what happened, "Was it okay that it happened?" There's that underlying value that sometimes we miss because we are just running fast toward, "We want it to be super shiny and perfect."

Speaking of that, you've talked a lot about listening to your customers, and you seem to be a very active listener. What are some of those ways those play out? How are you listening to your customers? What kind of feedback channels are you looking at or listening to that then you can go act on and make sure that you're meeting people where they are and delivering the content they need?

We're grateful to be able to have an incredible customer care group. For us to be able to know where questions are being asked and where our customers are getting confused helps us fine-tune our content and helps us understand where to pull our socks up and do a better job. Maybe we didn't explain it the right way, or maybe we need to have a variety of opportunities to be able to present that. We listen there. We do a lot of seeing how content is used and where it's used in the customer journey. Now we're experimenting with lifting content at specific points where it looks like a customer might be getting stuck or when we know this is a little bit of a harder portion of the app like, "Let's pop up a piece of education that you can snooze and make it go away," or you can take a minute and watch it at that moment.

That's awesome. Thinking about as someone who may be in their first career doing customer engagement or some type of community engagement, what's the first place they should go or think about when they are thinking about having an ideal customer engagement and making sure they're building that inclusive, safe space?

One of the things that I'm very excited to hear often with our parent company into it is to think about everything with a day-one mindset. If you're new in your career, obviously, you're all day one. To be able to flip that back around and think like the customer that I'm working with or the thing that I'm working on, there's somebody else that it's their first day. How can I connect with them? How can I have some empathy for where they're coming from, use my feelings, expand that, and think about, "What am I missing?" For me, it's to be able to listen to yourself. All the answers don't show up exactly.

Empowering Inclusivity: Go into everything with a day-one mindset. There is always somebody else on their first day. So you have to know how to connect with them and show some empathy for where they're coming from.

You're not going to be able to find all the YouTube videos on it or take that perfect LinkedIn learning class or whatever it is to propel you through your career that's going to be the single one thing. Listen to folks out in the world. What are they consuming from a digital content perspective? How are folks engaging with marketing? I'm getting so many catalogs now. What's that about? With prints, how do we think about that and engaging that in our customer journeys with the digital aspect? It's by opening up your mind and being willing to know that you don't have to hammer through everything and push super hard. There are times when you have to take a step back, think about it, and take the slow road.

I love that. You're totally right about print. They're single-handedly keeping USPS in business. You're absolutely right. Taking a step back and thinking about that journey, where you're meeting people, where they're coming from, and how they're connecting with you is important. One final question for you. As you look at your roadmap ahead going into some TikTok education, what has you excited thinking about customer engagement and that customer community and what education you're providing to them? What has you excited for the next couple of years or the year ahead?

One of the things we're fortunate with at MailChimp is that we've got an incredible group of partners. Those are folks who are also using MailChimp and helping other small businesses use it as effectively as possible. I'm excited to work with our partner communities and the educational content that they're creating on their own. We've got these super-duper smart people that are doing cool things. In 2023, we're looking to leverage that content and help lift that up and put it in front of customers' eyes to get to that point to be able to say. Sometimes you're not always the best at whatever it is. There might be somebody else doing it awesome too that has a different voice and the ability to connect and attract other folks that we can't. I'm excited to expand it, bring more folks in, help elevate that content, and reach more people where they are.

I love that. It goes to what you said at the beginning of our conversation about meeting people where they are, providing different types of content, and at the end of the day, telling that story and bringing those stories to life that can help your other clients, other customers, and partners. We don't know what we don't know. By you storytelling that is going to have a huge impact on a lot of the customers that you work with. They probably don't even know how much impact you're going to have on their businesses and the growth at MailChimp and with your clients because you guys are doing all the right things. I'm going to have to tune in to Cody's next webinar. I need to be in this awesome environment you've created where I can ask people about their hair.

We try and have fun along the way. That's the key to success. If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right.

We'll leave it right there because I completely agree with you. I had a lot of fun in this conversation. It was such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for joining us in this conversation about building digitally inclusive communities.

Great. Thanks so much.

Thanks, everyone. Have a great day. Thanks for reading. We'll see you next episode.

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About Erika Putinsky

BIDC 11 | Empowering Inclusivity

Erika is known to be a strategic leader that skillfully balances business outcomes while creating an open and inclusive working environment. She has a passion for streamlining cross functional collaborations and creating impactful partnerships to generate successful outcomes for customers and employees. She brings over two decades of experience producing high value solutions that have extended from the epicenter of a natural disaster to various Fortune 500 board rooms. Erika’s intuitive ability to identify challenges and then produce exceptional results for her customers and teams consistently drives positive results and change.