Discord’s CMO on diving deep into consumer insights and doubling down on inclusivity
Discord, the gen Z-flooded communication platform that is like if Twitch was crossed with Reddit and chat rooms, has witnessed unprecedented growth over the last year and a half, going from around 100 million active monthly users to over 150 million. It has also undergone a full rebrand and teamed with the likes of Danny DeVito, Awkwafina and Grimes. The Drum sits down with Discord’s chief marketer Tesa Argones to talk inclusivity, weird and wacky creative, community-focused marketing and the illusion of competition.
Discord’s chief marketer Tesa Aragones is out to create a place ‘where no one feels like an outsider’
Since joining Discord as chief marketing officer last year, what accomplishments have you been most proud of?
During my time at Discord so far, we’ve had a couple of really interesting product innovations. Over the past year we launched Krisp, which is a noise-cancelling feature, and also launched mobile screenshare. We’ve launched social audio, which is called Stages. And we relaunched the brand and reset the strategy, which is probably the thing I’m the most proud of.
Tell us a bit more about the rebranding effort
When I joined, the first thing I wanted to do was dive deep into consumer insights. Consumer insights, for me, has always been the best place to start as a consumer-focused marketer. I wanted to find out: what does Discord mean to people and what do they believe we stand for? I was like, “What is core to you about Discord?” ‘Imagine’ was the word that they used. And consumers also describe Discord as a place that they go – a place where they hang out. And so ‘Imagine a Place’ became our tagline because it means so many different things to different people.
Discord used to be thought of as simply a gaming platform. Previously, our research showed that about 30% of users had servers for non-gaming purposes. And now it’s like 80% of the people who use Discord use it for non-gaming purposes as well as gaming. Beyond gaming, there are people on Discord that do karaoke, there are people that do book clubs, students, sneakerheads – actually, that’s how I got on Discord.
When we talked to our consumers, they were like, “We just want to reflect this vibrant, creative place the way we feel about it.” So we updated Clyde, who was our logo, we made the colors a little bit more vibrant, and we [focused on the idea of] ‘Imagine a Place’. Finally, I updated our vision statement.
Some of the consumer insights that came through were just this need for belonging. And what we’re finding is that the platform tools are so strong and they serve fundamental needs – even during a global pandemic, they help people stay connected. I honed our vision statement a little bit [to define] what success would be for Discord – and that is an inclusive world where no one feels like an outsider.
I think that it’s a very relatable thing. I’m a first generation Filipino-American. I grew up in Detroit. And I think that there’s always a point in your life where you may feel like you’re on the outside. But having a vision statement like that, that the entire company can get on board with, actually is a really big invitation for people to come to Discord and find belonging.
Was your latest marketing campaign – and the wild, wacky film at the heart of it – born out of the same consumer insights and this vision for belonging?
Yes. We wanted to help increase brand awareness – we really wanted to invite more people in. The other thing that we wanted to come through is our brand values. It’s original, relatable, fun.
We first launched the ‘Imagine a Place’ tagline back in May. And for the film, [we built on this idea by] using lines from our consumers. Last December, we were asking people in a social campaign, “Can you describe what Discord is?” and so we started to take some of the lines that they would use. And taking all those stories together, we created a script for the short film. And what’s unique about the film is that we worked collaboratively with some of our most avid users. They were involved with the concept. They were involved in who we cast – Danny DeVito was hands-down the person that they wanted to have in this campaign. We even worked with them on wardrobe. We were doing director’s calls with them on a special server.
The film is a very creative expression of Discord. We have everything from sock puppets to claymation to illustration, you have creators in there including Grimes and J Balvin. You have people who champion inclusivity, such as Bretman Rock and Awkwafina, who is a gamer – she plays Among Us and she plays golf. But the scenes and the stories are actually from our consumers.
One of my favorites is the scene with the pirate ship. We have one community member who is bed-bound. And they told us that they use Discord to stay connected to the outside world. And they’re a very active user on our pirate server – they only talk like a pirate. They cast themselves and we have a scene where they’re actually in the bed [which then transforms into] a huge, epic ship. We wanted to make that really big for them to celebrate the fact that they were so open to sharing their story with us. The film really is a celebration of our community. One of my friends from Nike was like, “That is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. And it’s amazing.”
What makes Discord different from its competitors? What are you doing that no one else is?
A lot of times people like to say, “You’re like this brand or you’re like that brand.” A lot of times it’s not ‘either/or’ – it’s usually Discord ‘and’. We have a large population of gen Z users, and sometimes they’ll watch something on Twitch and they’ll have their Discord on at the same time having a conversation. It usually is a multi-screen experience for most things that they’re doing in their life. A lot of times people will say on a different platform, “Follow this conversation on my Discord.” I love that, because as long as it’s a platform that can help them connect with people, and talk and actually have that connection, that’s all good.
I would say we were designed differently from the get-go. And sometimes people think Discord is a social media. But, actually, it’s a communication platform. There’s no feed and there’s no ‘likes’. And there’s no algorithms because there’s no advertising. We’re not serving you ads. It definitely feels a little bit more intimate. Sometimes we talk about Twitch feeling like you’re attending a concert at a very large venue with hundreds of thousands of people. And Discord feels like a living room set – we have an acoustic set with a few of your close friends. You feel more connected.
It’s interesting that Discord has chosen not to operate an ads business. How are you working with brands today?
We are working with different brands on how they can connect with their communities. We’ve brought on many brands to create servers over the past year. As an example, we launched something with Chipotle for job fairs. We did a virtual music festival with Rolling Stone. We work with Pepsi Energy to help them connect with their college teams. We also did something with the Olympics – NBC partnered with us to talk about events and athletes. And we recently hosted a ‘Brand Day’, where I spoke to a number of agencies about how they could talk to their clients about building servers. For brands, Discord is a great way to have that ongoing dialogue with their audiences.
At the same time, we’re also expanding to different types of brands and a lot of entertainers. We worked with Travis Scott to launch his server. As a creator, he’s dropping products – he just dropped some super-fresh Jordans. And we work with Grimes – she has her space opera, and she just did an after-party to share some new music.
We’re living through a very unique time. As a marketer, what are some of the top challenges you’re facing, and how are you thinking about solving those challenges?
A challenge that we as marketers face globally is that we really must champion diversity. I think about it in terms of championing diversity in our teams and with our external partners – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s how we relate to our consumers better and ensure that our brands show up in the best authentic way in the world. As a woman and as a person of color, that’s always top-of-mind for me as a leader in this industry.
It’s important to make sure that we are always putting our consumer first, and that’s one of the things that I really like about Discord – whether it’s how we’re speaking to them, or what we’re building for them. A lot of times, people get caught up in growth, and how fast you’re growing. But we’re here to serve our consumer. I always think back to when I was working at Nike and [co-founder and chairman emeritus] Phil Knight used to say, “When we listen and commit to the voice of the athlete” – or, in this case, the consumer – “and commit to their potential, we realize our own.” That’s the way I always work.