Just Because: Hallmark Tries to Keep Relevant in the Social Networking Era

hallmark logoIt's not just birthdays, anniversaries and weddings, but the everyday moments that give life meaning, too.

Hallmark is now celebrating those unsung moments--from mealtime to reading your kid a book at night -- with a new branding campaign that marks a bold departure for the 101-year old greeting card company.

Dubbed, "Life Is a Special Occasion," the campaign celebrates "imperfect, unplanned moments," as opposed to birthdays, milestones and holidays.

Hallmark's re-branding campaign -- which includes social media marketing -- marks a bid to stay relevant with today's consumer, and comes amid efforts to grow the business with new products such as recordable storybooks and personalized greeting cards.The campaign, unfolding throughout the year, reflects consumer feedback, and will inform the company's advertising messages, products and the way it markets its cards, sold in 40,000 retail outlets.

The idea is to start a new conversation with consumers, one that trumps spontaneous moments instead of milestones, year 'round.

"More and more consumers are giving us insight that those special moments -- and the ones that really forge relationships between people -- can occur any day of the year," Lisa Macpherson, chief marketing officer for Hallmark, told WalletPop. "And we want our brand to be known [for that]."

To that end, Hallmark's latest television ads feature "not" statements, which are designed to prompt consumers to do a double take by saying something unexpected.

For example, an ad featuring Hallmark Recordable Storybooks, affirms: "Bedtime is not for sleeping ... It's for being together even when you're apart." The idea is to remind consumers "that any day has the opportunity to be a special occasion," Macpherson says.

It's all part of Hallmark's efforts to redefine itself.

"We are a beloved, iconic brand--nobody doesn't like Hallmark," she says. However, "We are trying to be who Hallmark is today: The challenge is: How do you broaden the consumers' perception of a brand they already love, but also make it different and [mean] more things?" By meeting "a broader array of needs of our target consumer," she says.

A suite of personalized Hallmark products is one piece of the puzzle.

These include the recordable storybook, where the audio is the voice of a loved one, as well as personalized greeting cards. "Personalization and customization is a trend in virtually every industry," Macpherson says.

With these cards, consumers can create their own messages and photography online, 24 hours a day.

We wanted to give consumers an opportunity to create a personal expression with their greeting cards."

The company is also selling personalized plates and Interactive Story Buddies, a children's book and plush toy combination product. (The stuffed toy chimes in when it recognizes key phrases read from the book.)

And as social norms have changed, so must Hallmark.

"Our lifestyle and way of connecting is more casual," Macpherson says. "The etiquette doesn't require greeting cards or thank you notes." And these days, one of the things that stop people from sending cards is simply lack of energy, she says.

So Hallmark is doing its part to make it easier, marketing cards with pre-paid postage, for one. The company will also stamp, address and mail your cards for you.

Although digital communications has exploded in recent years along with the rise of electronic cards, Macpherson says they haven't eaten into Hallmark's business in any meaningful way. "Most people think of e-cards as a big threat. They really haven't been," she says.

While e-cards peaked a few years, the rise of social networking stole its thunder, she says. But even at their peak, "there were 20 greeting cards sent for every e-card."

That doesn't mean Hallmark has its head in the sand amid the rise of digital culture.

Indeed, the company is gravitating more to where shoppers spend a heftier chunk of their time: On social networks.

About 10% of the company's marketing budgeting is devoted to Twitter and Facebook as it reaches out to influential female bloggers. In social media, "We have doubled [spending] from 2010 to 2011," Macpherson says.

It's about modernizing the Hallmark moment -- and "it's very new messaging for us," she says.
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