111 years ago, Hallmark founder J.C. Hall left a small town in Nebraska and set off for Kansas City with a shoebox full of postcards and a dream to keep Americans emotionally connected – regardless of the distance between them.
He could not have foreseen that in 2021, Hallmark employees around the world would continue to build on his vision and innovations that were groundbreaking in their day – the first decorative wrapping papers, new displays that made greeting cards easier to shop and keepsake ornaments that people continue to collect today.
A century may have passed since Hall first started the company, but the mission to keep those emotional connections flowing is as strong as ever. In today’s global world, Hallmark employees keep reinventing what human connection looks like: for example, digital-first consumers can now go to Hallmark.com’s Sign & Send™ experience to select a real Hallmark card, add a handwritten personal message and signature – then send it through the mail – all from a mobile phone.
And the engine that powers that mission to connect? Creativity. Creativity, the Hallmark way, is an act of collaboration, inclusion, kindness and personal inspiration. Forgive the pun, but these attributes are hallmarks of a culture that empowers our teams to lean into what inspires them, ignites their imagination and unleashes their inner-creative.
Here are three of Hallmark’s best practice examples that all organizations can take inspiration from:
1. The gift of quality creative time.
Inspiration isn’t so much a process as it is an instinct, a gut feeling that whooshes over you when the right conditions are triggered, and it can be very personal.
Inspiration comes to people in different ways – and Hallmark has cracked the code on how to tap into individual creativity while achieving structure. The Hallmark #My5Days program gives everyone who works in Hallmark’s creative organization five work days to dedicate to creative exploration.
Depending on how creative thinking happens for the individual, it can be self-directed exploration or participation in a workshop with other team members. When people step away from their day-to-day to immerse themselves in the triggers that unleash their inspiration, that’s when the magic happens.
Hallmarkers bring their ideas back to their teams and through collaboration, encourage further exploration – and that feeds our innovation machine. Any organization can give the gift of creative inspiration and new thinking simply by allowing employees time away from the daily grind to get their creative juices flowing.
2. Galvanize art and science.
Nothing prompts those “aha” moments during creative ideation quite like harnessing your inner-consumer target – especially when they’re validated by insights and scientific research.
Can you relate to purchasing cards and even writing them, only to discover that you never got around to sending them out? You are not alone. Our research confirmed that more than a quarter of consumers don’t have stamps on hand – the number is even higher for Gen Z and millennial consumers. Taking inspiration from our own life experience – and using research to validate our gut feeling, we discovered that many people have good intentions. They just need help following through.
This relatable human truth was the genesis for our newly launched innovation Sign & Send™– which enables you to send a Hallmark card with your personal message and signature, directly from your phone. Hallmark adds the stamp at no cost to you and drops the card in the mail. Problem solved – barrier removed.
As you start the creative process for your next big innovation, remember to harness your inner-consumer to identify these kinds of relatable, human truths – and validate them through consumer research. That might just lead to your next big innovation.
3. Keep a pulse on societal trends.
At Hallmark, we are in the business of connecting people through human emotion, so for us, the spectrum of human emotion is part of our currency – and it infuses our creative inspiration. But regardless of the vertical a company is in, evoking a feeling in your consumers can set apart one product from another. One sure fire way to do that? Keep a pulse on macro societal trends so you can tap into the forces that define your target’s day to day life, enabling you to resonate with them, and them to resonate with your brand. As macro influences emerge, shift and evolve, they influence the consumer mindset, re-framing what is most important in their life at that moment.
How do you keep a pulse on these trends? At Hallmark, our Trends Studio looks not only to our own industry, but we scour traditional media, social media, grassroots trends and other industries such as fashion and retailers to see what’s bubbling up. Take the blinders off to notice and study the world around you, and you’ll start to see and connect the dots.
Products and brands that can flex to mirror the mood of the country, either through product offerings or simply how they are showing up presents a creative way in to benefit both your target consumer and your business. At Hallmark, the pandemic escalated the value of our core proposition: human connection. It expedited a trend that was already underway, as consumers doubled down on seeking emotional connection with loved ones.
As you look to the future, leverage the power of creativity, research and trends to explore how the next new reality will influence the consumer mindset, and home in on those implications to inspire how you show-up creatively.
Darren Abbott is senior vice president of global creative, product development and licensing for Hallmark where he leads one of the world’s largest and most renowned creative and product development teams.