Hallmark Takes Baby Steps to a New Brand

Launching a new brand requires a crawl-walk-run strategy—even for the most recognized parent companies. Take Hallmark Cards Inc., for instance. The company, renowned for its greeting cards and Christmas ornaments, decided to introduce its infant and children’s clothing company, Hallmark Baby, to U.S. consumers solely through digital. This initial baby step provided several growth opportunities, including the ability to quickly break into new markets, test and learn on the fly, and engage customers through their favorite digital channels.

A new brand is born

After selling its kiddie clothes in Asian markets for nearly a decade, Hallmark launched Hallmark Baby in the U.S. in September 2013. Customers often associate Hallmark’s properties—such as its cards and TV channel—with emotions and relationships, says Julie Tozier, director of marketing and merchandising for Hallmark. So extending those same warm feelings to baby and children’s apparel seemed natural.

Although Hallmark’s existing retail model is one of the brand’s greatest assets, it also created one of Hallmark Baby’s biggest challenges. Mark Strickland, director of business strategy and operations for Hallmark, acknowledges that the brand isn’t commonly associated with baby clothes. And with so many competitors in the space, the retailer recognized that it wasn’t going to be a top shopping destination for its target consumers—moms and grandmas—right off the bat. “We needed a marketing initiative that was going to be responsive and move as fast as our business could,” Strickland says.

Hallmark Baby needed a quick way to enter into consumers’ already existing shopping paths. Plus, the brand wanted a flexible marketing strategy that would allow it to test, optimize, and learn from customers as it grew. So, Hallmark Baby’s marketers decided to use tools from interactive marketing agency emfluence and started selling and marketing to consumers solely through digital.

Going gaga over social

Moms hold a great deal of purchasing power. In fact, BSM Media, a mom marketing program provider, identified U.S. moms’ annual purchasing power to be $2.25 trillion, eMarketer reported. Hallmark Baby’s marketers knew it was vital for the brand to identify where moms and grandmas interact online. emfluence’s channel audits suggested that social was one their favorite playgrounds.

To generate brand awareness, emfluence and Hallmark developed several engagement opportunities across Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. For instance, the companies created a series of sharable memes centered on specific themes, such as life’s little joys, the best parts of being a mom, and heartwarming quotes. The brand also encourages users to contribute content and share pictures of their kids through contests.

At the time of this writing, Hallmark Baby has more than 100,000 Facebook likes, more than 2,000 Twitter followers, and close to 1,500 Pinterest followers.

In addition to providing engagement opportunities, social has given Hallmark Baby a source of data to learn customers’ likes and follows. Chad Anderson, account manager for emfluence, says that Hallmark Baby’s social interactions deepen consumers’ relationship with the brand, which is ultimately what Hallmark is all about.

“When people subscribe to a consumer brand…they’re expecting to receive sale offers [and] new product launches,” he says. “Whereas if they’re in social, they don’t necessarily want to be marketed to or feel like they’re being marketed to. That’s where we identified the core opportunity to really establish the Hallmark emotional connection.”

Bottling up a good email strategy

Currently, email drives the majority of Hallmark Baby’s revenue and site traffic, Strickland says.

Initially, Hallmark Baby didn’t have its own subscriber list, the etailer reached out to existing customers from other Hallmark brands and asked if they wanted to receive email from the children’s apparel company.

Tozier says messages around “newness”—such as collection introductions—tend to be the most effective. She adds that Hallmark Baby segments its audiences based on moms’ and grandmas’ specific interests. For instance, moms often respond well to stock-up messages (such as “summer essentials” emails), while grandmas seem to prefer emails about gifting (e.g., emails that feature back-to-school gift sets).

When compared to the 2014 Q1 retail industry averages, as reported by the Epsilon Email Institute, Hallmark Baby exceeded retail apparel open rate averages by 11.17%. In addition, the etailer has generated click-through rates that are more than 16.67% higher than retail average and double that of retail apparel averages.

“Social media has garnered so much wonderful engagement from the audience that Hallmark Baby is trying to reach, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” says Jessica Best, digital marketing evangelist for emfluence. “But when it comes down to what’s driving the actual transactional relationships, email lands directly in their inboxes and gives them something either new to look at or helps them stock up….  [T]hat’s the buying call-to-action that they need.”

Tozier says the brand has seen a “significant” change in sales and isn’t done growing yet. In fact, the online retailer intends to launch a blog this fall that will serve as an additional resource for moms and grandmas.

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