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Hallmark Cards exec: Mobile is critical for brand to remain relevant

Hallmark Cards Inc. relies on mobile to communicate with its most loyal shoppers, connecting them to its retail stores to discover the products it offers, a company executive revealed in an exclusive interview.

Most recently, the company partnered with developer Antenna Software to build a mobile application for iPhone and is working on apps for Android and BlackBerry devices. The apps are targeted at Hallmark’s most loyal shoppers and are more about serving as a utility than they are a direct sales vehicles.

“We are not doing anything yet that we can specifically tie an activity on an app to a retail sale, but we are working on it,” said Paul Barker, vice president and general manager of Hallmark Digital, Kansas City, MO.

“Our shoppers are very comfortable accessing the Internet from a PC, tablet or mobile device to help them complete their tasks in managing their relationships, celebrations and occasions, both the big ones and the little ones,” he said.

“If we are not there to help them, we become less relevant to them.”

Hallmark is best known for its greeting cards, but also sells paper party supplies, gifts, wrapping paper, ornaments and decorative items for the home. Its products are largely sold in 3,000 Hallmark Gold Crown Stores and about 38,000 mass-channel retail partners such as Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Kroger.

Mobile Commerce Daily interviewed Mr. Barker regarding the new Hallmark iPhone application and how mobile fits into Hallmark’s overall marketing strategy. Here is what he said.

What was Hallmark’s strategy behind its partnership with Antenna and the launch of its mobile initiatives?
Our business is about helping people connect and celebrating the big and small moments in their lives with the family and friends that mean the most to them.

So as we looked at how mobile devices were being used by our most loyal shoppers, we needed a solution in the mobile space that helped our shoppers connect, find our stores and learn about the array of solutions we offer, both on our Web site and also in our retail stores.

It was really about answering the question of how we could create a mobile solution that connects people to our retail stores to discover the great products we offer.

Since we are not a technology-oriented company, we wanted a terrific partner to help us bring to life the fullness of the Hallmark brand and the range of solutions offered in our Gold Crown retail stores.

Antenna was a natural choice for us.

How important is mobile to Hallmark’s overall brand engagement and customer loyalty strategy?
We know that many consumers start their shopping process online via a desktop browser, mobile browser, tablet browser or an app.  

Plus, we know many shoppers are very busy and on the go, so having a mobile solution that helps in that hurried shopping process is critical to help the Hallmark brand remain relevant.

We are planning in subsequent releases to add our loyalty program – checking your Crown Rewards point balance and even redeeming them from your phone – as well as services such as accessing your address book, important dates and reminders, and finding stores near you and what is new or what offers are available in stores.

Delivering on these is critical to the Hallmark brand.

What is the target demographic of Hallmark’s apps?
Our target in the digital space, including our apps, is the same demographic as our stores.

Moms with kids and grandmothers are our primary targets: Women who are high connectors and are the relationship managers in their families. These women are responsible for keeping everyone connected, organizing family events, celebrations and holidays.

They tend to be very comfortable using technology as it aids them in connecting and managing relationships. They tend to be less obsessed with the bells and whistles of technology unless they deliver the emotional and functional benefits of helping them stay connected and enhance relationships with those that mean the most to them.

If we can make this easier for them, we believe that Hallmark will be top of mind for them when they have a purchasing need.

How is Hallmark using mobile to drive sales?
It is still early for us since our apps are new.

So far all our evidence is anecdotal. We are not doing anything yet that we can specifically tie an activity on an app to a retail sale, but we are working on it.

All our apps are free. Our mobile app is on the iPhone right now, but solutions for the Android and BlackBerry are coming.

We are waiting until we have a critical mass of supportive devices before we start overtly marketing to consumers that we have a suite of apps.

Still, many are finding our app and we get about 100-200 downloads a day, depending on the season, for our phase-one launch on the iPhone.

Our tablet apps for our Story reader and Storybuddy products have been very popular and also reinforce our retail stores where the product is sold.

You can see the posted feedback in the Apple App Store that consumers are favorably commenting on the apps and that they are commenting on going to the stores to buy the book and plush.

This is our closest data right now that links to our retail stores. The sales associates in our stores demo the product and encourage people to get the app. It is also on the product packaging and on our Website.

Our tablet apps for iPad also work on iPhone and iPod touch. Scollmotion developed the apps.

We have had over 250,000 downloads of all our tablet apps so far.

All of our apps are either taking a big product idea at retail and making it bigger by extending it into the digital space or are apps that help our shoppers as they seek out Hallmark solutions to help them with their connect, celebrate and manage the relationships most important to them.

We have just started but we are very excited about the response and acceptance by our customers and by our retail partners.

What challenges does Antenna address for Hallmark?
We are not a technology company and do not have the expertise or deep knowledge of the mobile industry, the challenges, complexities, or are able to stay on top of such a rapidly moving space.

Antenna helps us fill that gap.

They have done a great job in understanding our strategies, our unique brand attributes, our business assets, capabilities and requirements.

The partnership has helped us understand how Hallmark can uniquely and successfully play in the space and that makes sense for us.

Final Take
Hallmark Hall of Fame