Greeting Cards

Hallmark Is Paying the Price from Abandoning What Made It Great

A recent study of US consumer companies’ brand reputations placed the venerable Hallmark brand in its top ten list. With a score of 82.4 points it ranked as the #4 brand behind Rolex, Sony and Lego, according to the 2017 Consumer RepTrak report from the Reputation Institute, which surveys on more than 5,000 companies across 22 countries to compile what the company claims is the largest database of company reputations in the world.

But what the 2017 topline results don’t reveal is that Hallmark took a hit in the last year, dropping from #2 on the list in 2016 with an 85.1 score. The biggest decline in its reputation is attributed to a 5 point drop in its measurement of “delivers on its promise,” while it gained in the measure of providing consumers with “sufficient Information.”

Explaining Hallmark’s reputation slide, the report states, “The overall decline in reputation (loss of emotional connection) aligns with perceived decrease in brand promise delivery. This correlates with a decision to scale back the sentimentality of communication.” In other words, the company has shifted its brand messaging from its previous right-brain emotional promise to a more left-brain rational orientation and its reputation has suffered as a result.

To delve more deeply into what the 2.7 decline in Hallmark’s RepTrak score means, Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, executive partner and chief research officer of Reputation Institute, explained that it is a measurable and significant drop that has implications for Hallmark down the road.

“While Hallmark’s reputation went down from last year, it did so by just two spots. Hallmark still has an excellent reputation at #4,” says Hahn-Griffiths. “So it’s less about the overall rankings, but what is significant is that we see a decrease in emotional equity and the sense of emotional connection with the Hallmark brand. At the same time people’s perceptions of leadership and the underpinnings of corporate citizenship rose.”

“The irony is that this company which stood for emotion, shifted to trying to overexplain and give people rational reasons to believe the promise. But in so doing, it caused an erosion in the very qualities that defined it and made it special, its emotional equity,” he continues.

Hallmark shifted strategy away from feeling to reason

Hahn-Griffiths questions the rationale behind this shift in corporate strategy from one focused on people feeling the brand promise to one where the promise is explained. One factor may be the growing diversity of the Hallmark company, which now includes its flagship greeting card business, retail, home and gifts, Crayola and Crown Media cable networks. With 28,000 employees worldwide and revenues of approximately $4 billion, it would appear the company is having an identity crisis.

Back in the day Hallmark was the company you turned to, “When you care enough to send the very best; ” Its vision: “To be the company and brands that people turn to for superior products, services and experiences that enrich their lives by helping them communicate, connect and celebrate;” Its mission: “Enriching Lives.”

Today it’s retained the idea of enriching people’s lives, but gotten fuzzy about just how it will do that, “We will be the company that creates a more emotionally connected world by making a genuine difference in every life, every day,” Hallmark’s current vision states.

Gone is the promise of helping people communicate, connect and celebrate in its vision statement, i.e. what the Hallmark greeting cards, its Gold Crown stores and its various other gifting, holiday and party offerings enabled. I got that promise, I understood it. But now it brings in the amorphous idea of Hallmark creating “a more emotionally-connected world by making a genuine difference in life, every day.” Facebook does that for me, especially when my grandchildren’s pictures are posted; Hallmark, not.

Indeed Hahn-Griffiths suggests that Hallmark has been slow to respond to the digital revolution. “Hallmark is not just the greeting card experience anymore. More broadly, it’s a brand that needs to wake up to the digitization of the whole user experience,” as he points to Lego which reinvented itself as a 21st century digitized company from its roots in analog building bricks.

“Think about the whole online Lego experience, from the crowdsourcing it uses to innovate new products, the Lego movie, and how people can use 3D technology to interactively build projects through its online platform,” he explains. “Lego is a company that has reinvented itself. Hallmark needs to do that too, but it still has one foot grounded in the physical world and one foot partly grounded in the digital world. This presents a major opportunity for Hallmark to adapt to the current digital climate, as well as to expand into a more engagement-driven experience (as Lego has done). The question is how can it sell its emotional promise in a way that is digitally enabled.” He continues that this presents a lot of potential for Hallmark as he points to Hallmark’s chief competitor, American Greetings, as being more effective in engaging consumers digitally.

Hallmark’s gone off message

For a company founded on emotional messaging, communication and connecting, Hallmark has inexplicably gone off message , as the RepTrak score indicates. “When your entire brand, with a stunning legacy of 100+ years, is carefully built on empathy, it is the one foundational brand element that can never be questioned. It should never be minimized, only maximized,” says brand strategist Fabian Geyrhalter, author of Bigger Than This: How To Turn Any Venture Into An Admired Brand.

 “Especially today, where the next generation cares deeply about solidarity, cause, and shared values, scaling back the ‘sentimentality of communication’ can have a huge impact in the ways a brand, like Hallmark, is being perceived by their older legacy consumer just as much as the next generation buyer,” he continues.

The danger for Hallmark as its emotional connection erodes is that it risks being commoditized and its unique brand promise compromised. “Hallmark, at the foundation of its business, namely greeting cards, can become just another commodity. Regardless of its sheer size and subsequent power of reach, brand messaging is its biggest differentiator. If it loses that, it will then become just like with any other commodity product,” Geyrhalter asserts.

“Hallmark has a hallowed place in the hearts and minds of Americans, like Hershey, Lego and Levis,” concludes Hahn-Griffiths. “It’s part of our cultural fabric and what it means to express and show love to others. To walk away from that or diminish that by trying to be more explicit and rational just doesn’t stack up.”

So the message to Hallmark is it better course correct fast or the price it will have to pay may be too high. No more special Hallmark Moments to share or to sell.

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