When you think about Hallmark, Comic-Con may not immediately spring to mind. But having a presence at this pop culture fan fest is an important part of the 100-year-old brand’s strategy to stay relevant among today’s younger consumers. Sure, Hallmark still wants to sell birthday cards and baby gifts, but it’s also looking to connect with the fanboys and fangirls who attend Comic-Con, in addition to conventions for the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Disney, country music and more.
Hallmark even has a product line called PopMinded, which launched last year and includes event-exclusive collectibles such as Wonder Woman Christmas ornaments, Star Wars T-70 X-Wing Fighter keepsake ornaments and more that it sells in limited quantities at these gatherings. Collectors have been known to line up for hours to grab them.
We recently spoke with Ann Herrick, director of marketing for retail at Hallmark, for the lowdown on how event marketing helps the brand acquire new customers and build awareness in-store, online and at fan fests. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.
Event Marketer: Tell us about the role of experiential at Hallmark and how that drives its event strategy.
Ann Herrick: I look at it in three ways–relevancy, awareness and engagement, that we are going where the fans are and then our ability to engage them through these customized experiences that they’ll want to be a part of.
EM: How did that play out at CMA Fest, for example?
AH: We have a line of sound cards that feature country music artists as well as a keepsake ornament that is actually a guitar and when you press a button it plays a country music song. We knew there was a fan base for them, so we identified CMA Fest as an opportunity for us to get our product where those consumers are and make our product more relevant and reach new consumers.
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EM: How do you engage consumers at Comic-Con?
AH: Our biggest draw at Comic-Con is the event-exclusive product, which you can only get at Comic-Con, and we only have so many available each day, so we have lines of people waiting to buy that exclusive product. We also do daily giveaways to draw product to the booth and a photo booth with a green screen that could be from a Star Wars scene. We bring the artists and creative people behind these products to the booth so people can ask them about what they are working on. We also do sneak peeks and previews of upcoming product, which is important for this crowd of collectors. And a lot of our creative experts get asked to sit on panels to discuss product development and their knowledge.
EM: How do you leverage social media at these events?
AH: We always have a team of people there whose jobs it is to essentially capture content, so if I take CMA as an example, we had a team there capturing the artist meets and greets and constantly tweeting that out. We had it on Instagram, we were doing posts on Facebook, and tweeting messages that would then show up in the evenings on the large Megatron at the stadium that was coming from @Hallmark, which was giving us huge recognition and awareness as a brand in front of those consumers.
EM: What kind of impact does your event strategy have on Hallmark’s business?
AH: Given we are a private company, I’m not going to share specific sales numbers. But I can tell you, from an event perspective, and I’ll use Comic-Con as an example, we have waiting lines of up to two hours or more of consumers who want to purchase these products. A lot of our pop culture product is some of our best-selling product online and in our stores. So, ultimately, we would tell you, yes, we see a huge opportunity in targeting fan boys and fan girls both from an event perspective as well as reaching them in digital marketing and in our stores.
EM: Any advice for other event marketers trying to reach this market?
AH: It is very much about understanding the event that you are going to, and that it’s the right fit with a consumer target that you are trying to reach. The other thing is to think about that engagement metric and what is going to be important to the consumer. At Comic-Con, it is exclusive product they can’t get anywhere else and our artists, and how do we keep them engaged in an experience that will make them want to continue to engage with us over time.