Hallmark Breaks Out of Special-Occasion Mold

Chief Marketer Discusses Repositioning Brand to Celebrate 'Any Day Moments'

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Hallmark is freshening up its product mix and thinking beyond just the major holidays.

Lisa Macpherson
Lisa Macpherson

The retailer has been rolling out customizable greeting cards and plates, interactive and recordable storybooks and prepaid-postage greetings, as well as bulking up its e-commerce presence and launching iPad and iPhone apps. It's all part of a move to reposition Hallmark not only as a special-occasion brand but as a brand that celebrates "any day moments." It's using catchphrases such as "Perfectly Imperfect" and "Real Rather Than Ideal" to inform its new marketing and overarching brand campaign, "Life Is a Special Occasion."

In other words, Hallmark is hoping that in addition to birthday greetings and Mother 's Day cards, you'll swing by to pick up plates featuring little Jimmy's face to celebrate his stellar report card or a recordable book, so that you can still read to Suzy when you're out of town on that next business trip.

"A lot of our new marketing is not actually about greeting cards, and it's not as much about the Mother 's Day and Valentine's Day themes that we're traditionally known for," said Lisa Macpherson, senior-VP marketing at Hallmark. "Most of the newness from our marketing effort comes from new products and services, but we'll obviously continue to promote greeting cards. The other thing that 's new is that many of [the new products and services] are not about those high holy holidays. They're about those little any day moments. So for example, one of our most popular new products is the recordable story book."

Here, Ms. Macpherson who has spent more than a decade at Hallmark, following stints at Fisher-Price and Timberland, talks about Hallmark's evolution.

Ad Age : How do you take a brand that has been around for so many years and really evolve it, so it remains relevant?

Ms. Macpherson: Hallmark is a beloved iconic brand. It is very hard to find consumers who don't like Hallmark. So as the CMO, the first thing we do is try to reposition it carefully. There are actually three influences that led to how we have chosen to reposition the brand.

The first is just a tremendous growing body of research about how emotional connectedness and the quality of relationships can drive your overall health, even your longevity.

The second was what we were hearing from consumers, that we're a brand that very much stands for special occasions. We're the brand that you turn to for the most important milestones of your life and the most important relationships of your life. But what we were hearing from consumers is that their real moments of connection, the real things that make their life rich, are the little moments of connection that can happen any day.

And then the third thing is how consumers are connecting today. We're a brand that 's traditionally been known for having just the right expression, and for having the way to say it most appropriately. Well, consumers don't need that anymore. They're using emoticons and abbreviations and a very casual, continuous kind of streaming way of communicating, and we needed to find ways to put our brand in those spaces as well.

Ad Age : How do you combat any possible perceived cynicism on the part of consumers? And what do you say to naysayers who say, "It's a Hallmark holiday?"

Ms. Macpherson: Well, first we clarify the facts. We ask you to go to Google or Wikipedia and check out the true origin of the holidays, to find out that Hallmark has never invented a holiday. They all have their origin in some socio-cultural tradition or religious tradition.

We don't try to talk about why we're not being crass and commercial. We point to what our marketing is really about, which is increasingly about those any day moments, not the big holidays. And about new products and services that are meant to let you find and linger in and record and share those any day moments.

Ad Age : Who's your biggest competitor, is it the ink-on-paper world, or is it all the digital properties?

Ms. Macpherson: Well, it's certainly not e-greetings; even at their peak, which was several years ago, we sold 30 or 40 ink-on-paper greeting cards for every e-greeting. But as we have expanded our field from greetings, gift wrap and party products to meeting your any day connecting needs, it's digital products; it's magazines; it's celebrity resources that offer creative tips and ideas. It's Martha Stewart magazine, Real Simple magazine and all of the TV shows about making your home an enriching place for your family. So, the bad news is it's more cluttered competitively, but the really great news is it's a much bigger market space.

Ad Age : How are you measuring the ROI of things like your iPad and iPhone apps?

Ms. Macpherson: We are, like every other marketer, looking for those tools. We've traditionally used a marketing media mix model for most of our mass media. We're very disciplined about that . We have an ROI target . But I think we're right on schedule with other marketers I've talked to, about not being quite sure what the best measurement methods are. We know it's not clicks, we know it's not eyeballs. We're not yet a very strong e-commerce company. We don't sell most of our products online, so we're searching for the right measurements.

Ad Age : What kind of marketing budget are you working with?

Ms. Macpherson: Because we're a private company, we don't tend to give out that information. I will say that the biggest shifts in our marketing budget are from mass media to what we call engagement media. And so that bundle of digital online, social and public relations now represents almost 10% of our spending. And that 's up from about two percent about two years ago.

Ad Age : Has TV advertising gone down?

Ms. Macpherson: Yes, TV is one of the places that has gone down. I think the rumors of the death of mass media have been greatly exaggerated. And since we still get a lot of our sales during seasonal peaks, we will probably always need the immediacy of mass media, including television, in order to successfully drive our customers during the season.

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