Long known for its labeling capabilities, Sharpie has become a leader in its category by being creative, fearless and knowledgeable about its key consumers—women.  Sharpie has not only embraced social media as a way to communicate with women, but their new sites and tools have opened up a dialogue with women and allowed them to join in the online conversation that was already happening about their brand.  Sharpie’s PR and Social Media Manager Susan Wassel, who was part of a brand panel during the 2009 M2W®-The Marketing To Women Conference, recently spoke us about the brand’s social networking efforts (please follow @SharpieSusan on Twitter!) and what they have planned next.

Patti Minglin:  How is Sharpie connecting with female consumers?

Susan Wassel: Women, specifically moms, are number one in Sharpie’s book, not only because they are the primary purchaser of the product but because they are the epicenter of the passion and inspiration that drives everything we do – from new products to our advertising to our presence in social media.  Sharpie does a lot of upfront work to understand moms — what they like, what their interests are, their values and attitudes, how they spend their leisure time – all so we can continue to meet their needs and communicate and engage them in ways that support who they are and what they want, need and expect from their favorite permanent marker brand.   Like most marketers, our interaction with them in the past was limited to traditional advertising and promotion.  Social media has changed that, allowing us to open up a dialogue with them and join the conversation already underway online about our brand.

Today we’re meeting, talking, learning and yes, making friends with women through our presence on Twitter http://twitter.com/sharpiesusan, our new community website, www.sharpieuncapped.com where we showcase how fans are using Sharpies in creative ways (many of the ideas created by moms), our blog http://blog.sharpie.com , and our Facebook and YouTube pages (Facebook reporting huge growth with moms and women recently).  In addition, we just launched the Sharpie Squad, a group of 12 Sharpie ambassadors who were already talking about and creating with Sharpies and who we decided to bring “in-house,” so to speak, letting them in early on product news, sharing and garnering their feedback, and letting them decide in their own public forums whether what we’re doing makes sense.

Minglin:  Sharpie has really embraced social media–you are great on Twitter.  How has this social media tool been a key component to your marketing to women strategies?

Wassel: Moms are on Twitter in a big way.  In fact, there’s a whole group dedicated to moms, TwitterMoms (Sharpie is a member).  Twitter is a great marketing tool but what makes it work, in my opinion, is the personal and the personality you bring to it.  There are lots of marketers Twittering but so many seem to miss the point.  I happen to be a woman, a mom (three kids ages 17, 14, and 11), and I also happen to be a huge Sharpie fan, so what I bring to Twitter is real passion for the product and real life talk about how I use it, where I see it out in the world, and all the fantastic ideas I find about what can be done with Sharpie.  But it can’t be all Sharpie all the time.  That’s why I jabber away about my fixation with NPR and Jon & Kate and occasionally Ashton Kutcher or Oprah.  It truly is community and Sharpie has been welcomed into the Twitterverse with open arms.

Minglin:  Is targeting women a new direction for Sharpie?  If so, what made the brand decide to move in this direction?

Wassel: Women and moms have been Sharpie’s primary focus since the brand first launched in 1964.  Back then Sharpie was used almost exclusively as a labeling tool.   And moms, as you can imagine, were doing a lot of labeling – kids’ clothes, lunch boxes, backpacks, school supplies, moving boxes, storage bins, food pantry items – the list is endless!  But Sharpie’s star really started to rise when celebrities began using Sharpies to sign autographs.  As a result, Sharpie markers were showing up on the pages of magazines, newspapers and on TV, seen in the hands of some of the world’s highest paid celebrity spokespeople.  But it wasn’t because we paid these celebrities to endorse our product but because it really was the best tool available for signing autographs.

Today, our consumers have taken us in a whole new direction, showing us that Sharpie isn’t just a labeling tool or a celebrity autograph marker but a conduit for self-expression.  Women are decorating lampshades and designing wrapping paper and Christmas ornaments with Sharpies.  They tie-dye-t-shirts and customize note-cards – two moms even started a company that uses Sharpies so kids with diabetes can customize their insulin pump packs. There’s even a dad who came up with this really creative way to show your kids a little Sharpie love by adding designs to their sandwich baggies.

Minglin: What new and exciting things are happening at Sharpie?

Wassel: I mentioned these earlier but our new community website, http://www.sharpieuncapped.com where we showcase how fans are using Sharpies in creative ways (submit your ideas!), Sharpie on Twitter , our blog, our Facebook and YouTube pages . We also just launched the new stainless steel Sharpie, which is a super chic Sharpie that I personally like showing off in meetings, including school meetings! It has a stainless steel barrel with the Sharpie logo etched on it, and it’s refillable.  We’re also just about to launch the retractable version of the Sharpie Pen.  The Sharpie Pen is great because it doesn’t bleed through paper so you can use it for all your everyday writing needs.

MinglinLove the Sharpie Pen and can’t wait for the retractable version.  Just for fun….what are the top five songs most rotated on your iPod?

Wassel: “That’s Not My Name”, The Ting Tings; “La Vie En Rose”, Edith Piaf; “These Are The Days”, 10,000 Maniacs; “Blister in the Sun”, Violent Femmes and “Banana Pancakes”, Jack Johnson.

Minglin:  Great collection—I’m sure that inspires some creative Sharpie uses!  Thanks for talking with us, Susan.

Advertisements