Brands must adapt with evolving social trends in order to thrive, but the most powerful brands are themselves leaders. Finch Brands’ own Mary Hanna speaks about her tenures at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Toys”R”Us through the lens of women’s empowerment, an important cultural movement. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. This is One Big Idea. This week’s topic we’ve entitled Changing the Game. We’ve talked a lot on this podcast about how commerce in someways is down streamed from culture. What I mean by that is, the things that are evolving in our culture in the way that we interact with one another, the way that we put forth our values, and the things that we care deeply about, ultimately, sometimes quickly, but sometimes gradually manifest itself in the products that we sell and what the work environment is like.
We have a special guest today to speak about that. Particularly, related to an issue that is of great importance to her personally and has also reoccurred as she’s built an amazing career. That is the topic of empowering women in the business world within company cultures as well as nurturing a leadership profile in girls as they think bout their own future. Our special guest is Mary Hanna. Mary is the Director of Brand and Marketing Strategy at Finch Brands. We’re really glad to have you. Would you tell our dear listeners a bit about what’s lead you up to this point on our fine team?
Mary Hanna: Yes and I’m happy to be here. I started my career actually while I was still in college with an incredible opportunity to intern at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. I was obsessed with Martha Stewart for years before that. I only prepared her recipes, I only did her crafts – I got my dream internship, so I worked so hard to make sure that when I graduated I was going to get a job there, and I did.
It was the most incredible, but also taxing job I think I could have ever experienced. It started in the ad sales team on the, well, it was called the integrated solutions team, which was their marketing, their ad sales marketing team. I supported a department of about forty people. I did their projects, and I would run out in the middle of blizzards and snowstorms to buy gallons and gallons of candy, and whatever it is that they needed. After a couple years doing that, I switched over to the merchandising team where I was a project manager. I still have my Martha Stewart notebook with me, which I use all the time.
Bill: Encouraged me to use one too. I now have it. It’s awesome. It’s the best.
Mary: I did some time there working on the Home Depot account and all of the Home Depot products that Martha Stewart had. After that, I really fell in love with retail and I decided that I wanted to do it full time and on the retail side, so I found a job at Toys“R”Us, where I worked on the brand marketing team for about two and a half years. I learned everything from what a Skylander is, to how to really make sure that you have the best Black Friday that you could possibly have, which is every retailers bread and butter.
That was a wonderful experience, but I wasn’t making the ads, an agency was. Then I said, ‘Well, I want to go and do that.’ That’s how I ended up at Finch. Now I’m making the ads. I’m telling the companies what the right thing that I think that they should do and it’s a ton of fun.
Bill: Well, we’re having fun too. We’re so glad you’re here. Mary’s role at Finch is making the ads, in part, but also as a really strong manager of projects. Really strong intellectual contributor to all of this work, whether the scope be research driven brand strategy, or marketing planning, or creative execution. Whatever it is, Mary’s a great asset.
I know that something that’s been important to you, and when we look at your career it’s an interesting topic. One of the reasons we invited you on is, we think about the role of women in our commercial life in the US and how that extends into how they regard themselves and their own development and everything else. A lot of ink about this, a lot of people care deeply, I know you do, about this.
When we look across your career, I mean, Martha Stewart as noted, what an amazing environment and opportunity it sounds like. The interesting paradox perhaps there, is that Martha herself and the company she’s built is a really strong symbol of breakthrough leadership on the part of women and female leadership and building great companies. At the same time, the product offering in some ways is geared for a more traditional sense of femininity. I mean, you may not agree entirely, but it seems it’s about making homes. It’s about meals. It’s about the overall aesthetic that one can bring to that.
Then at Toys“R”Us, there’s a lot happening in the toy category related to women and girls. We’ve obviously seen the emergence of brands. I know you love GoldieBlox that turn gender stereotypes on their head a little bit for girls. We’ve seen even old star works like Barbie are doing some new things with regards to body image, etc. As you think about this sort of topic or set of topics that are really important to you and reflect on the things you’ve done, how do you see the world at this point?
Mary: I think what really shaped my view of women empowerment in the workplace and empowering girls to reach their fullest potential and not think that there’s limitations or a glass ceiling, or whatever the case is, was my time at Martha because I was surrounded by incredibly powerful women. The company was run by women, and it was for women, and it was an incredible experience to see that combination of we’re business women, but we also make a product that can be deemed as ‘women are only homemakers,’ which I think is not accurate. I think what Martha Stewart does is, it enables women, no matter if they’re stay at home moms, working full time, working part time, students, whatever the case is, to be able to live the life that they want to enjoy. Part of that is I like to cook. That doesn’t make me a less powerful woman because I like to cook and I have a craft closet that’s ginormous and it’s filled with Martha Stewart things.
Bill: Nice. Very loyal till the end, right?
Mary: Yes I am, but what I also learned is that Martha Stewart is genuinely an exceptional homemaker. It’s an art and she’s true to it, but I also have seen her in meetings where she comes up with a brilliant idea that could be a multi-million-dollar idea for a product, and she says, ‘Somebody write that down.’ Next thing I know it’s in the product line, but she also knows the Japanese way of making fileted fish right off the top of her head. I think that there is some tension between is she a homemaker and a business woman, or is her business homemaking? I see that there’s some of that tension.
Then, when I went to toys, I think I went at a very important time because it was when things like GoldieBlox were really taking off, where it wasn’t okay to just give girls dolls and then have them sit in a room and play pretend. It was when Doc McStuffins came out and girls knew that they could be doctors and vets and this is what they were play pretending to do.
Bill: Big hit in my household.
Mary: Yes. It is a hit everywhere and I loved it. Same thing with GoldieBlox. Lego, I think is an incredible brand, but it’s definitely boy centric. Turning the bricks pink just wasn’t working the same way as what GoldieBlox has done, which said, okay girls like to build, but they like to build in a different way. They like to read while they build and build something that corresponds with a story. They modified the toy for the girl, instead of having the girl modify what she’s interested in for the toy.
I spent a lot of time there really trying to make sure that what we were positioning wasn’t demeaning and that it was empowering to girls. A lot of the toys are. You mentioned Barbie. Barbie just put out a commercial that was all about girl empowerment. This little girl is standing in front of a huge auditorium of students and she’s pretending to be a professor. That’s the things that I think that we should be encouraging girls to do. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by very powerful women, but I think that had my career started out any other way, perhaps I wouldn’t be as confident as I am that because I’m a woman I can’t do certain things. That’s not anything that’s ever crossed my mind.
Bill: There’s obviously so much happening across the companies you reference, but generally speaking around inclusion. Around helping folks achieve their full potential. Around helping women at all ages understand that their options are not constrained, that their lives and careers can go as far as they want, in whatever direction they want it to go. Society has gotten far more progressive on issues like that. It’s all to the good. We have tremendous respect for our colleagues, male and female at Finch Brands. We find many of our clients have elevated female leaders. It’s a great time, seemingly, with more work to do of course, of progress and opportunity.
I guess the sort of One Big Idea piece here, is two levels of this. One is just the specific issue of female empowerment and the activation of potential being an important, almost dominant cultural theme, and the degree to which that impacts the way our clients can think about brand development, and creative, and communications. Having a progressive perspective on this and being in step with where the marketplace is going.
The other piece is a more general idea, which I think we’ve talked about before, which is brands that can capture or drive, but at the very least capture the zeitgeist – this evolving dialogue that we have in our culture around all sorts of issues that may be related to diversity and inclusion, that may be related to achieving potential and thinking about life cycles, and career paths and everything in a very broad way. Whatever the cultural norms, practices, and trends are that agree to which brands can wrap them from a product development, from a communications perspective, wrap their arms around these types of things, helps brands go farther.
We spoke earlier in this podcast about examples of brands that have done this effectively, that we’ve had the chance to work on. ThinkGeek is an example. Not about women as much as about this notion of the ‘geek’ stereotype changing in a material way in a company that seeks to represent that and be of, by, and for geeks. That community needs to be contemporary related to how the notion of a geek changes. We’ve talked about Conair as referencing, as well as reflecting feminine confidence and the way in which that confidence is forged. Then, through Mary’s career and all the other things that we’re doing, the ways in which brands and clients of ours can wrap their arms around, not only what’s right, but the movements that we’ve had in our culture.
So glad to have you. Any closing thoughts as we adjourn this week?
Mary: I appreciate being invited here and being able to speak about a cause that I know that I talk about in the office all the time. To finally have a microphone to talk about it with, I appreciate the opportunity.
Bill: Absolutely. That’s One Big Idea for this week. Grateful as always for the participation of our listeners across the many platforms in which that participation is invited, from Twitter, to Facebook, to app store review, to everything else. We’ll be back in a week. Hopefully it’ll be dry, it’ll be warm, but signing off none the less, from the Cradle of Liberty.
Commerce is downstream from culture — and emerging cultural values presage what gets bought and how. In this episode, Bill provides several examples of how brands can anticipate or capture changes in the culture to promote brand relevance and success.Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS
Bill Gullan: Welcome one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. So we’re six-seven episodes in now, for the Real-World Branding podcast. It’s been super fun for us. Our guests have been so gracious with their time and their insight.
Some of the feedback we’ve been receiving from listeners has also been very positive, so we’re gratified by that. One of the things that we’ve heard, that we think we’re going to try, is in off weeks from the interviews, we’re going to record a shorter monologue about key ideas that are practical and that are important that have emerged from the interviews that we’ve conducted.
So the schedule will be an interview, then the week after, some reflections with really One Big Idea – one major point that came to mind from the work that we’ve done. We’re going to start with that today, and it was very clear from the conversation with Joanna Klein the CMO of Fathead, the importance for Fathead, in terms of their social media strategy, their content strategy, etc. of being engaged in the culture.
It was obviously commercial information that they want everyone to understand – who are the athletes, who are the licensed characters that are available in the various formats that Fathead offers –but important to them and for them is to be seen as being part of the enduring conversation about sports and entertainment that their target customers and partners really thrive on in terms of creating demand and ultimately transactions. So the big idea today is that Culture Drives Commerce.
A couple of examples, from my own history and our own history of Finch Brands, of this in a moment, but when marketers and branding folks are stuck and they’re focused perhaps at a level that is beneath the ongoing cultural conversation or the zeitgeist, what typically emerges is something in terms of brand messaging or marketing messaging that ultimately lands with a splatter. With a thud rather than the impact that one is seeking as a marketer.
For brands that are consumer facing, having a strong command of the culture, having the ability in an opportunistic way to insert one’s brand into the ongoing continuing conversation around culture is absolutely essential for brands to be current and relevant.
The media had largely created a bipolar reality in terms of the dialogue about what it means to be a man. On one end, there was this metrosexual cliché or profile that had been created of a largely urban skewing man, city dweller, young who was really getting interested in fashion and style and grooming and hygiene and all these different things. Then the media created an opposite pole to that which is the caveman that didn’t care about these things.
Now, I don’t think the data would suggest there really ever was such a war between the caveman and the metrosexual so to speak, but had there been one the metrosexual without question would have been victorious because of the fact that grooming, hygiene, style, and everything else has become a dominant part of the masculine creed. As we moved into this decade and beyond, the level of transaction around men’s health, style, personal care, etc. has grown stratospherically.
In working with Joseph Abboud, there was a launch that they had done in conjunction with Macy’s that was a licensed brand Joe by Joseph Abboud. It was focused on college juniors and seniors to really get that first interview suit. They were selling suit separates, and they were selling sportswear but it was primarily about sport coats and suits for young men who maybe had very strong brand associations for Abercrombie, American Eagle or other brands that they knew and then marketed directly to them.
These were fashion conscious consumers, but they didn’t have a clue when it came to tailor clothing. How to wear it? Whom to trust? Etc. So when building messaging and imagery around that it was important to reference and play off of that cultural conversation about metrosexuality and what it meant in an emerging and evolving way for men to be men. That was one example.
Another one that was a bit more recent in our work with ThinkGeek. The dominant exciting interesting e-commerce purveyor of both licensed and proprietary goods that are supposed to appeal to the geek in all of us.
The business was little less than a decade old. They started really with a focus on what the traditional definition of geek had been – a person who was very smart, who was very adept technically, often in the profession of being a developer or anything else and thus their logo had a brain in it. Their tagline was ‘Stuff for Smart Masses.’ The brand was built in some ways on the self-identification of a geek in a traditional sense, and they were building product for that person and that person was not necessarily considered to be as socially adept, that person was considered to be having a small group of friends, etc.
The notion of a geek in culture has changed considerably over the course of that decade ‘I’m geeking out about XYZ.’ Geek became more of a signifier of one’s passions and going deeper with one’s passions. Sharing and building community became part of what a geek is as the decade came to a close, and we moved into the 2010’s or whatever we call it.
So here we are where ThinkGeek had a brand and a business that was very successful with a very strong following, but their definition of geek was a little bit out of date. When they brought Finch in to manage re-branding, the first element of the process was really understanding what a geek is all about today. You see NBA players wearing Urkel inspired outfits in post-game press conferences; you see everyone talking and using that phrase as noted ‘geeking out.’
The cultural conversation about ‘geekdom’ had moved more quickly than perhaps the commercial application and the things you could put out into the marketplace. Thus, the re-branding process was not really all about a great new logo and tag line which became ‘Join In. Geek Out.’ In many ways the new brand is reflective of the transition and evolution that geeks had taken – in terms of being a marginalized subculture within the Internet revolution to being a dominant cultural force and all of us having a geek that we could find inside of us when we’re around the things that are most compelling to us. So that is an example of how an e-commerce company really wrapped up into their arms, the passion, and momentum around a cultural movement to define ‘geekdom’ anew.
The last one is the Scünci, the brand of Conair, owned by Conair, known by many over the time as the originator and purveyor of the scrunchie, which Sex in the City famously labeled dead late in their run, and I’ve heard it might be coming back. Either way, Scünci had grown into a very sizable brand in terms of hair accessories for women and girls in food, drug, and mass. Forty percent market share whatever the number was competing with Goody and many, other brands, and they came to Finch to do a category study and a brand evolution.
In many ways, this was a category where the retailer and the manufacturers, Scünci included, had conspired to make very uninspiring and unemotional play – to be all about replenishment and all about technologies, specs, ‘the no slip grip,’ and everything else, which certainly has its place. However, what we encouraged the brand to summon was: what’s the emotional undercurrent of this brand? What’s the role that hair accessories play in her life day in and day out?
We found through our research a couple of things that related to active women who play sports, are involved in working out, or whatever the case may be. What underlies the category in many ways is this notion of confidence, and that hair accessories give women the tools that it takes to be their confident best. Whether they’re looking to blend in or stand out, from day to night and between, what Scünci was really providing, in addition to technologies, is the ability for women to go about their day confidently.
So when we thought about what confidence is and where, for many women, confidence is forged, we kept coming back to the significant increase in both sports and active participation on the part of women in America and girls. Whether that’s playing sports recreationally or at a college level, pro level, or an Olympic level or whether that’s just simply participating in softball, soccer, recreational sports, or gym habits, distance running, etc.
Often this notion of feminine self-confidence is fueled and forged in that active arena, and so that gave Scünci a couple different opportunities as we’re going to hinge the brand on confidence and deliver it through the tagline: ‘Ü got this’. ‘Ü with the umlaut referencing the Scünci logo, and ‘you got this’ as a notion of a proprietary statement of confidence in the role that hair accessories play in confidence.
We found from a perspective of product development, as well as marketing currency, that confidence was important to the branding because confidence was important to women and very frequently forged in this cauldron of active living. It was important and appropriate for the brand to manifest itself in and around active pursuits. We found that many of the also functional needs for elastics and jaw clips and hair bands were around active pursuits running on the treadmill whatever it was.
Thus, Scünci developed, in conjunction with Walmart, a Scünci active brand that was focused particularly on active women, and it’s been very successful and it’s been a really effective launch both for retailer and for manufacturer. As Scünci moves in the marketing realm, they are seeking and have sought ways to bring athletic and active imagery as well as partnerships and corporate social responsibility opportunities that are associated with women finding joy and confidence in playing sports, being active, etc.
So three quick examples of ways in which the continuing cultural dialogue around masculinity or what it means to be a geek, or femininity have led directly into business and brand strategies that have driven commerce and driven brands forward. So the Big Idea this week is that Culture Drives Commerce. Fat Head certainly exudes that and we are exhorting our friends and colleagues in the marketing and branding element communities to always be close to the culture and to employ cultural movements in the way that they think about and build and market their brand.
That’s all for me. One Big Idea for Finch Brands this week. As we sign off, a quick reminder that there are three ways to support what we’re doing here at Real-World Branding. One of which is to subscribe through the app store of your choice or podcast of choice. The second is to give us a rating and a comment. We really want to hear it, also helps us make sure that others can find value in our programming because it’s important to the way that we appear or don’t appear in these app stores. Lastly, we would love feedback. We would love questions. We would love suggestions of future guests and probably the best way to do that is to reach out to me on Twitter at @BillGullan or at @FinchBrands.
So thank you for your time and your interest. We look forward to continuing our own dialogue with you, and we hope you have a terrific day. Signing off from the Cradle Liberty.