Chief Marketing Officer

Build-A-Bear takes consumer engagement to a new level with its unique mix of entertainment-based marketing efforts that extend well beyond the initial purchase of a product. Chief Marketing Officer Gina Collins shares how the content they deploy through their gamification and engagement efforts has transformed the guest experience.

Build-A-Bear, like many companies, uses social media as a direct connection to consumers, or guests, which adds an additional layer of personalization. Collins knows how important these digital channels are for engaging the very young target demographic of Build-A-Bear, as well as for reaching out to parents who ultimately make the purchases.

“Our millennial consumer grew up in a tech world, so they expect a lot more from us,” she says. “Build-A-Bear is balancing the weight of kids and their parents potentially interacting with us online. I think we've been purposeful in the channels we use and how we use them for interaction.”

Build-A-Bear maximizes its online presence through interactive experiences that last long after the guest leaves a store with their new furry friends. These experiences merge entertainment and commerce into a gamified engagement experience to build brand loyalty and value.

One such experience is Bearville Alive!—a content series published via YouTube that allows Build-A-Bear guests to engage in organic play with their new best friends.

“It allows you to tell stories through their eyes, whether they're talking about their favorite superheroes or sports or they're doing a craft,” Collins says. “We were excited to see how quickly we were getting engagement from our consumer base, and we've partnered with YouTube to better understand what it means for our business from a brand equity perspective.”

Another unique form of content for Build-A-Bear is the Promise Pets product line. These stuffed animals are more realistic in design than other Build-A-Bear products, with pets like golden retrievers, beagles and Persian cats. Collins says the line was created to teach the company’s guests about responsible pet ownership. Promise Pets also works in partnership with Petfinder, the largest online source for connecting needy pets to healthy homes.

The vast reach of digital and mobile has helped Collins build an engaged fan base to tell a story. She cites Pinterest as particularly successful in her efforts, but the plan also included a website redesign.

“We rebuilt our website last year to accommodate gaming, playing, storytelling and shopping to create the same consistent experience for consumers across all devices,” she says. “As a result, we saw significant metrics improvement across our channels last year. Mobile engagement specifically was up more than 200 percent from the previous year.”

This type of content stands out from typical white papers and blogs as being truly interactive for the consumer. Collins says the trial-and-error process for developing engagement strategies shows the importance of achieving the right cadence for the organization and the audience.

“A lot of times, we make assumptions about what's successful in the marketplace, whether it's on Facebook, mobile or social,” she says. “That has really been our focus over the last year since I arrived at Build-A-Bear. I partnered with my head of digital, who has a lot of experience on the e-commerce and the playing side of the business, to bring together these perfect worlds. We're excited about what we've achieved in relatively a short amount of time.”

As an experience-based retailer, Build-A-Bear prioritizes digital engagements equally with its in-store engagements to create a comprehensive and cohesive brand experience, but the constant evolution of digital environments means that Collins and her team have to shift to stay ahead of these changes.

“We're continuously working to meet the demands of the consumer,” she says. “I think that we have successfully transferred the in-store personalization experience to the website. We focus on consumer segmentation across the brand, and this renewed focus on the segment, with the ability to personalize across all of our offerings, really improved the consumer experience.”

Over the past 18 months, Collins says the brand has achieved true successes in increasing consumer engagement, which has translated directly into revenue for the company. Combined with the fact that people have such a strong affinity for the brand, this has resulted in real competitive advantage for Build-A-Bear.

“The brand that ultimately figures out the formula to successfully reaching its consumers in a meaningful way and keeps them engaged will bring them back time and time again,” she says. “As we've started personalizing and mining the data that comes from our consumers and targeting what they want and when they want it, we've seen vast improvements in the metrics that really matter.”

Looking forward, Collins says that mobile has the most potential to improve Build-A-Bear’s marketing success. It has inspired the company to create entertaining engagements for its guests, and it will continue to enable innovative ideas for them.

“For Build-A-Bear in particular, people use a multitude of platforms to engage with the brand,” Collins says. “Therefore, we have to offer a multitude of outlets for them to engage wherever they want. Mobile has created an interesting dynamic where consumers are connecting in real time. We have to be consistent, and we have to understand what the consumer wants from us on each platform.”

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