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This School Year, Stay Sharpie
By: Rosann Fisher
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As the back-to-school shopping season comes to an end, many consumers made last-ditch efforts this past Labor Day weekend to ensure that their children have everything they need on the school supply "list."
Amidst aisles filled with bedazzled staplers (yes, Swingline has a fashion stapler line) and everything from iPad covers and tablet accessories, the stores have been slightly chaotic with frantic parents and six-year-old girls making what some would call irrefutable arguments as to why they NEED gummy bear erasers. Albeit messy, this is a delight to retailers and marketers alike since it’s also their last opportunity to score in the “second largest consumer spending event after the holiday shopping season.”
However, despite all the in-store and online activity, consumers are still cautious as the economy recovers. Earlier this summer, the National Retail Federation predicted consumers to spend an “average of $635, down from $689 last year.” With consumers still hesitant to open their wallets, it’s the brands who have been able to create emotional connections with the end-consumer who prevail. And, from an engagement  and customer experience standpoint, one brand continues to be at the top of the class — Sharpie®.
Propelled by the momentum of its incredibly successful 2012 “Back to School campaign” which helped the brand gain 5 share points (they now own 89% of the market), Sharpie has relied on the continued use of social media to sustain its position as a leader in the marketplace. Through consumer engagement, they encourage self-expression among teens with the tagline “uncap what’s inside.” By having an active voice on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr, they gather user-generated designs and drawings in addition to sharing content from their own in-house team. Lastly, they have developed partnerships with brands like BaubleBar to co-promote new products.
The ardent fan base also helps create excitement when new, innovative products are launched. This summer, Sharpie introduced three new products: Neon markers, Metallic markers, and "Stained" by Sharpie fabric markers that wash without fading. All of which were accompanied by plenty of social fanfare with consumer tweets like, “You are just like a Neon @Sharpie. Bright, fun, and forever permanent in my life. Pass it on.” via @psimadethis. Sharpie creates products based on their end-consumers, which is probably why the neon markers that fluoresce under black light are a teenage favorite.  
The "interactive" experience transcends the online world to Sharpie in-store displays. Although there are signs up to prevent shoppers from touching the display, the setup is inviting. Testing out a marker is all part of the creative experience that so many teens love about the brand. And this year, with some back-to-school efforts having started before July 4, keeping the engagement with teens throughout the year is critical to success. After all, purchases are often influenced by offspring.
It’s through this sense of community — both literal and figurative — (visitors can upload their artwork and rate others as well on their website) that Sharpie has been able to remain on point. It’s downright inspirational and is a good lesson for all of us on the power of creative engagement. 

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About the Author
Rosann Fisher is an Integrated Marketing Manager. She enjoys running and doodling (when appropriate). Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter@rosann.
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