How Sharpie Is Making Its
Mark on Social Media

Mark Cameron

There are still many brands that are holding back on investing in social media marketing. They feel that their product may not be exciting, that their market will not want to engage, and as a result, they won’t see a return on the investment. On the other side of the coin, smart marketers realize that it’s not the channel that is the issue; it’s the way the story is told, managed and targeted that generates success. Finding creative ways to connect with your audience has never been easy, but the brands that are doing it well are seeing the returns.

One such success story is the US activity by the permanent marker pen company Sharpie. The firm managed its social media platforms with courage and skill in 2012 and managed to generate a 5% lift in market share as a result, ending up with a total of 89%. So how did they do it?

The first, and probably most important factor contributing to their success is that Sharpie focused on a particular market segment—in this case, teens. Susan Wassel, director of social media and PR at Sharpie’s parent company Newell Rubbermaid, said, “Teen behavior shifts so quickly; their biggest enemies in the social space are boredom and unoriginality.” This insight directed their approach to social media storytelling. They focused on a highly visual method of engagement, using videos and images to bring the social platforms to life.

This last point is important as many brands don’t manage to make that jump in logic, relying instead on the apparent ‘newness and coolness’ of the platforms themselves to be engaging. Sharpie went well beyond this by using images, created by both their marketing resources and customers alike, to promote self-expression and creativity. The global director of marketing Sharpie at Newell Rubbermaid, Ryan Rouse, said the creativity and engagement they discovered in their market “went so far beyond what even we had expected. Teens are customizing and personalizing [sic] and using our products and other types of products to create content.”

Importantly, Sharpie didn’t just focus on one social media channel. Of course they used Facebook as a central engagement point, with 3,996,008 page Likes at the time of writing this article. They extended Facebook with well thought-through Facebook apps to collect data, provide value to their customers and reward their brand advocates.

They also grew their Instagram following to over 49,000 in 2012 with no ad support or integration into the Sharpie website. Added to this was their highly effective use of TwitterYouTube and Pinterest. Their YouTube channel has gathered 2403 subscribers and close to 2 million video views.

All the numbers aside, the true brilliance of the Sharpie social media strategy is that the company has managed to loosen control of the brand and empower their customers. They have realised that in the social media world, effective communication and brand recognition is not about a bigger logo. The market appreciates recognition and engaging stories. The question is, can you do the same?

Mark Cameron is CEO and lead strategist of social media conversion and commercialization agency Working Three. While his agency is based in Melbourne, Australia, he works for some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking brands. As a regular speaker and writer on social media and digital strategy, Mark stays focused on customers and outcomes, not the technology, leading to simple strategic conclusions.