Tag Archives: Build-A-Bear

4 Reasons Why Build-A-Bear’s Communications Are So Effective

Build-A-Bear Credo

Yesterday, I wrote a post about how effective I think Build-A-Bear’s customer communications are. Today, I want to explore why I think they’re so effective.

Businesses and brands have 1 goal – sell more product. There are many elements to their particular business that helps or distracts them from accomplishing that goal. Branding, reputation, customer service, leadership, staffing, and communications are all critical. Perhaps the most critical, however, is the consumer. Something (and someone) that the brand has absolutely no control over. All they can do is establish principles and beliefs that are core to the brand and work as hard as they can to effectively communicate to consumers across all elements of their business.

The foundation of brands and their story is the emotional pull that attracts consumers. And the emotion is really the thing that not only drives sales, but sustains relationships over the long-term. And sustaining relationships over the long-term results in loyalty and advocacy. Loyalty and advocacy drive personal sales and also result in word-of-mouth referrals, which can lead to more sales. So, I believe a strong secret to success is creating and tapping into this emotion.

This is what I believe Build-A-Bear is incredibly effective at. I think the things that enable them to be so effective at creating and tapping into this emotion are:

1. They understand their identity, principles and beliefs. They know who they are, what they stand for, and what they believe. This is the foundation to their business. It’s why people come to work for them and ultimately, why people continue to buy stuff from them.

2. Everyone and every channel work in concert with one another. Without seeing behind the curtain and the inner-workings of their organization, you get a strong sense that marketing, communications and retail are all on the same page. Direct mail to the website to the online community to the store. It’s like it’s one big communication – or story – regardless of where you’re interacting with the brand.

3. They actually have a communications plan, most specifically a CRM (customer relationship management – which is a bad term) plan. Having buy-in, within the organization, on the importance of a fully integrated, cross-channel communications plan is the first step. Many organizations cripple themselves with the seemingly overwhelming complexity of such buy-in and as a result, never get to actually creating the plan. And this –creating the plan – is the second step. Then, with a plan, each department within the organization can work to add and optimize. Having a plan is easy in theory, but difficult in anything beyond. Build-A-Bear has made a commitment to communicate in a measured, relevant way with their customers.

4. The bear is the connection. The beautiful thing about the bear is that it is the emotional tie. It is the best friend. It is the lifelong companion. It automatically comes with emotional connections.

In this hyper-connected, multi-screened world that we live in, integrated and consistent communications are more and more critical to brands. One big story.

But even then, I don’t think it’s enough. Just as Build-A-Bear does, I think creating and tapping into emotions – through every touchpoint – are the thing that’s builds and sustains relationships over the long-term.

Who else do you feel is effective at creating and tapping into emotions with their communications?



Build-A-Bear Makes Little Girls and Grown Men Happy :-)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these guys at Build-A-Bear have it figured out. For a business that is centered around creating best friends for boys and girls of all ages, it’s encouraging (and not surprising) to see how important relationships are to them. But I think they provide a great model in how they use the emotional pull of relationships to drive foot traffic and sales.

Earlier in the summer, we received this in the mail:

Build-A-Bear Summer Scrapbook

A fun, little, fold-out booklet that allows you to create a simple scrapbook and play a few games while you’re at it.

Build-A-Bear Summer Scrapbook

My daughter has kept it under lock and key ever since she pulled it out of our mailbox. She just thinks it’s so neat to look at everything in her “own” little booklet. It’s about her and her bear and all of the possibilities that they have together.

Build-A-Bear Summer Scrapbook

While all of that is great, here’s the thing that really made me happy:

Build-A-Bear Summer Scrapbook

And not because I want a free pool for Build-A-Bearville.

But because of what it stands for.

Yes, it’s essentially a coupon, but for this particular communication, they’re driving me to their online community, not into the store. Which I really appreciate and think is great. This is a different kind of transaction. They’re driving me deeper into the brand experience, pulling on both mine and my daughter’s emotions. They know that the more invested we get in the online community, the more we build out and personalize our experience, the more likely we are to eventually come into the store. And tell others about this community. And our experience.

That’s not all…

Last week, I received this email:

Build-A-Bear Birthday Email

It was of no surprise because last year, I received the same. But in contrast to the swimming pool coupon that drove me deeper into the online community experience, this one is intended to get me into the store. Once I’m in the store, they know I’m probably going to spend more than $5.oo and even more, they’ll have another opportunity to enhance my entire Build-A-Bear experience.

All of this through 2 personalized communications with me. When you think about it, these communications are nothing mind-blowing, particularly from a communicator’s/marketer’s standpoint. But effective doesn’t have to be mind-blowing. It just has to drive action. And that action can be had through emotions.


Build-A-Bear understands Relationships and gets Loyalty

Build-A-Bear does it again.  I know these guys aren’t the only ones doing an effective job of communicating with their customers, regardless of channel (or “screen”), but, it’s worth pointing out, not only when (and how) they use those different channels – the end goal can’t be overlooked amidst the channel tactics:  developing meaningful relationships with their customers.  They seem to be honed in on what they’re trying to do with their customers vs. what they’re trying to do with their brand.  Big distinction and something that I think a lot of brands can learn from.  I think, generally speaking, brands get the concept and even strive for this more often than not.  It’s about actually doing, making decisions based on what is best for the customer vs. what is best for the brand.  They do go hand in hand but in order to do what’s best for the customer, I believe brands have to have a solid understanding of their story, their promise, their value to the customers (even world) – this frees them from doing things just for the sake of doing things.  In this position, brands are purposeful and everything they do has meaning.  It moves the needle.

So, it was of no surprise when my daughter received a special “gift” in the mail yesterday from Build-A-Bear.

This is right on so many levels.

1.  Recognition – by simply saying “Happy Birthday”, BAB is saying, “you’re important to us and we’re thinking about you.”  They’ve got this system down so right now, we’re technically important to a computer, but I guarantee you, as soon as we walk in the store with this, we’re going to get showered with the most welcoming and genuine “Happy Birthdays” outside of our family.  And to have hooks in place, behind the scenes, to communicate with customers at appropriate times (like birthdays) is just another smart, meaningful, easy way to communicate and build the relationship.

2. Reward – it’s small (only $5.00), but it drives us into the store.  Knowing my wife, our daughter will get an accessory with this gift instead of a bear, but in the end, that doesn’t matter as much as the complete impact that this one touch point will have on us.  The card is only part of this touch point.  The action that we take as a result of getting the card is the other part of the touch point.  It’s not without challenge getting customers to do what you want them to do.  Reward, even a small one, is a great way to entice them and move them along the relationship path.

3. Relationship – it’s an idealistic way of looking at the world of marketing and communications, but I think there’s 1 easy question for brands to always ask that will steer them in the right direction – “is this going to positively impact our relationship with our customers?”  It’s certainly complicated in the world of ROI and KPI’s and budgets and the ever-evolving media landscape, but does it have to be?  Build-A-Bear is in the relationship business, literally, and this is probably a huge factor in driving decisions like this.

In addition, they’re also making a concerted effort to drive us even deeper than in store.  They’re complimenting the offline experience (card to store) with an even richer online experience (Build-A-Bearville).

This right here is something that I want to focus more on in this forum as we go into the 2nd half of the year – the offline to the online and vice versa.  The true power that I see with OOH, interactive out-of-home specifically, is how it can be an even greater bridge between the offline and the online.  I’ve talked a lot about enabling technologies that allow people to take something offline and have an online experience, thus experiencing the brand on a deeper level.  There are many ways for brands to do this and using the “OOH” channel is one of them.  Many brands are doing this.  I’m on a hunt for those brands.

But for now, thank you Build-A-Bear for being one of these brands, and on a personal level, this relationship is becoming meaningful, not only with me, but with my daughter, and we’re starting to become loyal.  Which is the whole point. :)

Build-A-Bear Doesn’t Do “Just Because”

This is the second part of this two-part series on Build-A-Bear’s complete brand experience, one that I totally dig.

Now that I’d left the store, Tex in tow, I was directed to continue my (& Tex’s) experience online at Build-A-Bearville.  My behavior/attitudes as a 35-year old male is a bit different than Build-A-Bear’s target – a tech-savvy 10-year old girl – so I didn’t go straight home and hop online to visit the community.  But when I was ready, the first thing I did was take a look at something I received in-store – Tex’s birth certificate included two codes on it that allow me to register him in Build-A- Bearville.

This Build-A-Bearville is a great community for the audience.  It’s set up like a virtual world with custom avatars – both of you and your new best friend – where you can explore, make friends, buy things, and make your own home, among many others.  Some quick stats that I found to be very interesting, via Brandon at Kioskcom – users of Build-A-Bearville have created 1.5 million avatars (mine is below), 1.2 million unique visitors a month, avg. 30 min visit in the community.  They have created a sticky experience online. 

This process, getting set up in the community, personalizing it and everything, takes a bit of time, but once you get set up, you’ve created the foundation of your presence in the community.  Everything you do from that point forward builds and strengthens your presence in the community.  All of these actions drive you, as the consumer, deeper into the brand.  Every moment of engagement is an opportunity to build loyalty.  Their essence is woven through this entire experience in such a great way.  It’s even evidenced by their user agreement – their “Golden Rule” – that everyone who joins has to agree to:

Be kind.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  Never give out personal information.  As a parent and as someone who gets/understands/encourages the use & impact of technology on my kids’ lives, these are rules that I want them to see everywhere they turn, certainly rules that I want them to see in an online community.

The “Be kind” and “Treat others the way you would like to be treated” must be engrained in their corporate culture, too, because everyone in-store embodies these characteristics.  Some might see all of this – the kindness, the language, the spirit of everything – as a little hokey, but for a brand who is made for a 10-year old tech savvy girl, they do so many things right.

I think one of the keys to this success is that they completely understand their audience.  They know exactly who they’re talking to, they believe it, (and it’s right), so everything they create as a brand is purposeful.  And as a result, is meaningful to their audience.  Purpose and meaning transcend technology and trends and slick marketing.  They enable much more probability to be sustainable over the long-haul.

This also enables them to be “channel agnostic.”  They don’t care about “screens” (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, whatever), they care about their experience.  And they let the experience drive particular messages/content in each channel, whatever they perceive to be the best to deliver those messages to this audience.  If digital signage doesn’t make sense to the experience, they don’t utilize that channel.  If it does, they do.  This alleviates the “just because” syndrome that many brands and marketers tend to fall victim to, particularly with DOOH/digital signage.

Brandon said they are looking for the right ways to integrate mobile into this equation.  Since these guys can be purposeful in everything they do, I would only expect this mobile integration to be another fitting piece to the puzzle.  I said earlier that they have created a sticky experience online, but in fact, they have created a sticky brand experience all the way around.  Kudos to them.

PS – some of the cool things offered in the community are:  online newsletter/paper, tasks & challenges, virtual badges, mini-games, pre-written chat messages.  My avatar can do things like wave and dance (yes, the dancing is fun!)  Tex can even roam around the community with me and play fetch.  There are lots of things to do in a safe environment.

Would love to know your thoughts, impressions, etc…Shout if you want.

Build-A-Bear’s Complete Brand Experience

I think many of my blog posts are too long.  In an effort to try to balance giving you complete thoughts and short(er) blog posts, I’m going to break this one up into two.  This is the first in a two-part series on Build-A-Bear’s Complete Brand Experience.

Leave it to a toy maker to get it right. 

Last month, I sat in on a session at Kioskcom and heard Brandon Elliott from Build-A-Bear speak.  I’ve been in Build-A-Bear before with my daughter, but didn’t recognize the superb job they do in creating a complete brand experience.  Yes, their sales associates are super friendly and use “bear” in as much of their vocabulary as they can – that’s not what I’m talking about.  What I’m talking about is extending the in-store experience (the offline experience) well beyond the store.  What I didn’t understand was how effectively they’ve created a cohesive, multi-channel brand experience.  Merging the offline with the online.  Using multiple “screens” as compliments to each other, not duplicates.  Creating brand evangelists, in part, by being channel agnostic.  So, after hearing Brandon speak, I had to go back into Build-A-Bear and experience it all for myself.

I was hypersensitive of my surroundings, so of course, the first thing I saw when I walked in was:

Score #1.  This company has a purpose.  They’re not in the business of making stuffed animals.  They’re in the business of making best friends.  Big distinction and one that is the foundation that enables them to create such a deep experience.  Relationships with stuffed animals end in time, for one reason or another.  Relationships with best friends are timeless.

So, here I was, faced with the joy of picking out my new best friend.  And although he wasn’t a bear, I knew him when I saw him. 

Score #1.5.  Every time one of these particular friends are chosen, Build-A-Bear donates $1 to the World Wildlife Fund.  Once I picked him out, the next step in the process was to bring him to life.  And here, in the store, you do that by picking out a heart, of course.  Before the heart goes in, you make a wish and give it a kiss.  Nice touch.

Score #2.  Details, details, details.  It’s not about picking out a non-stuffed animal and then getting it stuffed.  It’s about bringing this new best friend to life in a real & meaningful way.  This is part of the brand experience and there’s not a friend that gets made who doesn’t have a heart with a kiss and a wish.

Once I brought him to life, I was able to make him a legitimate member of the Cearley family by creating a birth certificate on the in-store kiosks.  While these kiosks are purely designed for utility, they are designed for a specific audience – kids (to be specific, 10 year old girls.)  All of the prompts on screen and buttons on keyboard are color & shape coded.  It’s a very easy process to go through – right in line with the rest of the experience.

And so my new best friend, Tex, was officially born.  With a heart, a kiss, a wish and a kiosk.

Score #3.  Personalization.  As you can see, Tex is a baseball fan.  I could have made him anything I wanted through all of the clothes and accessories available to me in-store.  Although not a huge deal for me, kids love this part of the experience because they get to personalize their new best friend from head to toe.  Socks, shoes, sunglasses, purses and everything in between. 

This is the point, in-store, where my experience ended.  I was handed Tex’s real birth certificate, Tex himself, and directed to Build-A-Bearville online.  Just as the purpose statement that I saw when entering, I was left leaving with this new promise:

Isn’t this experience great?  Even if you don’t care for making new best friends, you have to hand it to Build-A-Bear for creating such an immersive brand experience – the details – from what you see, to what you hear, to what you do, every step of the way.  And this isn’t even the complete picture, but it’s here, my friends, where we’ll pick up next time…