Welcome to Brilliance@Work, a series of profiles about stellar people and their best practices at work. We’re kicking off 2017 by featuring brand, design and marketing strategy experts to help you “thrive in the new brand reality.”
What is a pop culturist? A life-long pop culture fan with 11 years of experience in licensing entertainment products.
Creative strategist, designer and fan franchise expert Christine Taylor is Licensing Creative Account Manager at Hallmark Cards, Inc. She works with iconic brands like Star Wars, Star Trek and DC Comics for product development, merchandising and promotion. Her licensing experience and “passion for geekdom” led her to create something unique for Hallmark, which she’ll share more about as a presenter at the FUSE 2017 Conference, April 4-6 in Miami, Florida.
As a preview to her presentation “Pop Goes the Brand,” Christine shares her insights on how Hallmark is connecting and marketing to a passionate group of fans through a new branded experience called PopMindedTM.
Peggy L. Bieniek, ABC: How has Hallmark evolved into the iconic brand it is today?
Christine Taylor: Since we’ve been around for 107 years now, I would attribute our success to our founder J.C. Hall. He was a visionary of his time. He brought greeting cards to the U.S., invented modern gift wrap, created an omni-media presence with entertainment—before the word “omni-media” existed—and he and his son who followed him, actively looked for partnerships, like Disney, and acquisitions, like Crayola, that synergized with our company’s mission. J.C. also established relationships with public figures that had an eye for art, like Winston Churchill and Jackie Onassis, as well as with some of the biggest artists, celebrities and designers of the 20th century.
Hallmark was, and still is, one of the largest employers of creative talent worldwide. J.C. was an entrepreneur who loved and had a passion for creativity and how creative products transcend into how we connect with those around us. His belief in quality and creativity are still the foundation of the company and what we continue to strive for in all we do today.
PB: What are the creative processes involved in collaborating with companies with which you have licensing agreements?
CT: We have some long, established relationships with some of our licensors that date back over 20, 50 and even over 80 years. We are one of the very few licensees that are allowed to create original content and illustrations of licensed characters. We have illustrators that can perfectly replicate the characters to create new poses to match specific concepts, and we also have artists that interpret the characters to create unique looks for our products.
Another difference is we have creative managers who are experts of these licensing entertainment brands and are responsible for the creative relationship and brand integrity. We ensure the licensor’s franchise strategies and character attributes are translated across all our products from end-to-end of the design process, and in turn, those strategies align with each Hallmark product development team’s intent. We meet with our licensing partners regularly to stay up with the most current franchise information and often have collaborative brainstorms. Having these strong relationships allows for a smoother creative approval process, and that close collaboration makes for better end products.
We share a common goal – the consumer/fan is key – so finding a co-branded product approach that meets consumer needs and expectations is a big focus for us. It’s not always easy, but we often align people who have affinity for, or are fans of, certain brands and products, keeping the passion for getting it right for them, a high priority.
PB: How does Hallmark find new audiences for their products?
CT: Much like any larger company would: Diversification of products, omni-media channels of branding and distribution and continually seeking out new partnerships, sponsorships and acquisition opportunities. We recognize it’s all about building up your digital content and engaging with consumers in social spaces, not just relying on traditional media and brick-and-mortar stores.
Currently, we are looking at how we can target various consumer segments by tailoring product design, retail merchandising, online engagement, sponsorships and event opportunities in a very specific, niche way that speaks directly and more authentically to that consumer. This may be through identifying a cultural trend, or revisiting an existing brand, capability or product offering that we just have changed the conversation around to be more relevant to a specific sub-set of consumers.
PB: How did PopMindedTM get started?
CT: We’ve been attending Comic & Fan Conventions for about a decade now. We had done some great co-branded booths with a Star Wars overlay featuring all original artwork by our in-house illustrators and designers, but what we came to realize is we did not have our own clear point of view for Hallmark to this consumer. We already had all the co-branded licensed product that we had curated for the shows, and exclusives we had created to sell, but no branded voice that was relevant to them to gravitate to beyond the conventions.
We took a step back last year and decided to approach these conventions more like a branded, perennial pop-up shop experience. I gathered a small band of “rebels” at Hallmark, which included cross-functional fans of geeky pop culture franchises. We ultimately came up with what now is a pop culture sub-brand intended to serve this very loyal segment of consumers. It has evolved into a full consumer acquisition and retention strategy, where we have the opportunity to connect with these fans of fandom in a very authentic way because the ones behind PopMindedTM and the products are pop culture fans themselves.
PB: What do you see as the next phase of the PopMindedTM experience?
CT: We have already started some social media on Instagram and a weekly YouTube video series. This year, Hallmark Gold Crown stores plan to have a PopMindedTM section dedicated to the front of store in late summer with exclusives like we would sell at conventions. We want to bring a little bit of that excitement in-store for consumers already shopping Hallmark.
We are also scouting other conventions and events, as well as looking at potential partnerships and sponsorships that will help us grow and spread the word. We plan to launch an online community forum that fans can discuss, chat and link with us as well as buy, sell and trade past collectibles.
Dream Plans? We would love to partner on other store-within-a-store concepts with other pop culture purveyors that align with our sensibilities and have our own online shopping experience.
PB: What will people gain from attending your conference presentation?
CT: In all honesty, I can’t say I will leave anyone with any profound wisdom, but what I hope people will take away is that innovation doesn’t always have to be about some novel product or what the next big thing is.
There are new opportunities and innovative ideas for us and/or our companies hiding right under our noses. Too often we can get so caught up in our day-to-day roles and responsibilities that those things become too hard to recognize. But we must stop for a second and remember the many insights, instincts, experiences already living inside us that we need to let out!
We must continually remind ourselves that we are consumers too—and most likely even fans (of something). We create content, use social media and are people seeking to connect with others. And these days, that empathic and authentic understanding can go a long way, but it may take stopping the presses for a moment to find it…and when you do, you must let it out.
Want to hear more from Christine? Join us at FUSE 2017. Learn, network and share best practices with the most influential leaders in brand, design and marketing. Stay connected at #FUSEdesign.