Balancing a Historic Brand and Digital

Episode #021: Josh Kroo, VP of Marketing Communications and Interactive Platform at Crayola

Episode Information

This week’s episode is the first in a series of live interviews that we conducted while at MMA Impact.

One of the biggest challenges a marketer can face is how to push their brand forward while also staying true to your brand promise and voice. It’s a fine line to walk, but necessary for so many of us as consumer expectations and technology continually evolve. If done correctly, it can really propel your brand to the next level and create significant growth. And this is exactly what Crayola is in the process of doing now. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we talk to the VP of Marketing Communications and Interactive Platform at Crayola, Josh Kroo, about he's integrating digital into Crayola's historic brand, the importance of providing value to consumers, and how to successfully communicate to multiple target audiences.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. It’s no longer acceptable to constantly bombarded consumers with irrelevant messages that don’t provide value.
  2. The challenge of screen time is real and it impacts both adults and children. If you’re providing a digital experience then you must make sure users feel good about using it.
  3. Messaging to multiple different target audiences can definitely be challenging, but it’s possible if you take a strategic approach from the very beginning.

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Stephanie Cox: I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. This week's episode is the first in our series of live interviews that we conducted while at MMA Impact. We had a great time networking with mobile marketing leaders at the event, and had the opportunity to sit down with some of the attendees to talk about how they think about mobile strategy  in the organization, what’s working in their business mand where they think the future mobile headed. Today I'm joined by Josh Kroo.  Josh is the VP of Marketing Communications and Interactive Platform at Crayola. He’s spent the last 10 years growing brands in a variety of roles at Kraft, Danon and now Crayola. At Crayola he led the relaunch of Color Wonder, developed and launched Crayola’s animated characters, also led the biggest promotional campaign in Crayola with history, retiring dandelion, and launching the new beautiful crayon color. He's also overseeing Crayola’s interactive products, and focusing on app development to create breakthrough kids app experiences designed to foster digital creativity and to bring Crayola's historic branch to the mobile environment. In this episode Josh and I talk a lot about how his career marketing got started, and how he’s on a mission to unleash creativity in every single kid, the impact ever changing consumer behavior is having on marketing, and how he balances the historic store brand of Crayola that we all know and love with a need to have a digital aspect of the brand. And make sure you stick around till the end where i’ll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently, but implement it effectively. Welcome to the show Josh.

Can you tell me a little bit, Josh, about how you got started in digital marketing? 

Josh Kroo: So I'd say it's funny when you ask that question because I don't know! I guess if you started marketing today, you'd be starting in digital marketing but I think it's kind of evolved from that place, right? So, I've been in marketing now for the better part of a decade. You know, I think when we originally started digital was sort of like this little thing up on the side and now it's evolved into this all-encompassing totally consuming way to connect with consumers. So, I think, I don't know that I started in digital marketing, per say, but it's evolved that way because we have to go wherever the consumers go. And certainly when you talk about kids today, you know, their media habits have completely changed the way they think and getting products have completely changed. And so I think, you know, it's hard to ignore that aspect of it. But I think for me personally at least I've kind of grown into that from where I started as the more traditional standpoint. 

Stephanie Cox: So if you think about your career, what has been the biggest shift that you've seen happen in marketing, overall?  

Josh Kroo: Aside from the media habits that I just mentioned, I think it's kind of the consumer behavior, right? I think the expectations of the consumer, there's certainly still a role absolutely for push marketing and reaching mass audiences, but I think that there's a desire to engage consumers in a way that they are extracting way more value. I think they expect to get way more value from the engagement that we have with them. So, the way that we have to think about marketing is that I can't just do a TV ad and reach the masses. I've got to surround them with content and things so they are engaged in. That could be content on an Amazon page to help them buy the product better that they're looking for, to, you know, video content that helps them engage better with their kids. But, I think as brands and as digital marketers, that's really the biggest push is that I don't just want to throw stuff at the wall anymore. I want to have things that connect with you on a one-to-one basis to you. 

Stephanie Cox: So when you think about mobile strategy at Crayola, how do you think about what you should do, when there are so many options? 

Josh Kroo: So that is a tough question. I think I’ve got to divide that question into two. You know, we can look at it from the part of my role is obviously digital marketing, but part of it is digital product development. So on the product development side, I think we believe in our mission is all that creativity, and to unleash the creativity in every kid. So we're always looking at play patterns and driving and fostering that creativity and leveraging technology to do that specifically on digital and mobile. So, there's kind of no right or wrong place to go. I think it's wherever the creativity takes you. Wherever kids want to engage, that's where we need to be. 

So that's on the product development side. On the marketing side, I think it's vastly different, right? And I think if you look at kids’ media habits that are changing dramatically. TV is still probably massively watched, but at the same time, how do you connect with kids? I mean, I don't know what the number is, did they spend two billion hours on YouTube last year? Yeah. So how do we have content for kids in different places, how do we engage them in the app environment? We need to connect with kids in ways that are both meaningful and engaging to them, that are different than the traditional ways. And, I think it's even harder particularly in that sense when you think about a brand like Crayola. We always want to be trusted and safe and do the right thing by kids. So it's kind of hard to reach and sometimes in the digital space you can't do all the targeting that you might want to do. And so, you have to be smart and embrace kind of a test to learn and experimentation mentality to kind of give to kids in that way. 

Stephanie Cox: So thinking about Crayola, it's such a historic brand, one hundred years! How do you bridge, as a historic brand that everyone has grown up with, with the digital world?

Josh Kroo: I think it's funny because especially with a heritage or, you know, iconic brand like this (I always say heritage because it's still as relevant today as it was 100 hundred years ago). But, you know, I think consumers–if you look at parents that are born today, they're pretty much digital natives at this point. I think kids expect that, so you sort of do have to balance out the questions that you get, "Are kids spending too much time with technology?" I mean the reality is that's happening. The best thing that we could do is at Crayola is to deliver the great, positive, creative experiences in the digital space. It's always, you know, the mission is always our true good. So you know Crayola is never kind of going to go out there and do mindless gaming. But, what we want to do is help kids evolve in their creativity and learn through play. And that's really where the brand sweet spots are going to be. And so I think, yes we are a little bit careful in what we do but at the same time we can't ignore that that's where kids and parents want to be, and are being creative.

Stephanie Cox: I love that you said that, because one of the challenges I have as a parent is screen time. And how do I balance screen time that's educational and creative and fun and is actually healthy with, like, Fortnite? 

Josh Kroo: I think, you know, that's a great question. And I think even within Fortnite, that I would say there is creativity, like doing the dances and all that stuff. But I think that is a bit of a push and pull for parents. But I think on the large part, when we talk to parents they recognize that technology is not going away. The evolution of kids and technology is not going to change. So, the best thing and the role that we can play as a brand is to give those good experiences that parents can feel good about because I think they are striving for that balance. And at the same time, I would say to not shy away from making great, physical products that empower and enable creativity. I think there is an immense value in sitting down and drawing a picture with a set of markers and crayons or doing the things that are tactile and creative with our kids. So as a company, we believe in all of that type of creativity. So, there is no wrong answer to that. 

Stephanie Cox: So one of the challenges that I would assume that you have, as you market to both children–you want them to love your products and your offering–and parents at the same time. So how do you balance that to two totally different audiences?

Josh Kroo: It is a difficult question. I think it's obviously a completely different message. I think it sometimes depends on what the campaign might be. So, for example, if you take a product like Color Wonder, which is really geared, you know–it's all about little kids having the magic of creativity and not making a mess. You know, that's a very clear parent communication. 

Stephanie Cox: Yes, I bought a lot of that product when my children were little! [laughs] 

Josh Kroo: So there you go, exactly! So I will, I would love, you know, we know that parents cycle in and out, you know, the kids grew up and new parents come in and so we've got a job to do–to always communicate to parents that we have products for them as their kids are going to grow into, whether they're 2 whether their 6 or 7. I think from a kid perspective and especially as we move into some of these new spaces–whether that's with toys, whether that's with writing tools, whether that's with the digital products that we're talking about–we've just got to find new and creative ways and engage them in those ways. I think we can't get away from doing both but it's about how do you be smart about it and pick what you're going to communicate at what time. 

Stephanie Cox: So thinking about your mobile efforts overall, I know that you already have apps in the app stores and obviously you do a lot with responsive web and mobile web. How do you think about effectiveness? How do you know what works and what doesn't work?

Josh Kroo: I think that really depends on what we're trying to accomplish, right? So if we're launching an app, and our goal is  installs and subscriptions, it has a very clear attribution model to be looking at, because if I'm trying to sell products on or if I'm looking at, you know, places where I can get a very clear and definitive ROI, it's a little bit easier, right? But on the other hand, I have to look at everything from a massive ecosystem of products and brands. So I'm looking at everything, you know, what are my brand affinity metrics? What are my engagement metrics? What are my video completes? So I think there's no perfect answer for broader-based campaigns. At the end of the day, I do want to impact kids and drive sales for the company and I have an omni-channel perspective on sales, most of the time. And so, I think I view mobile as part of a bigger campaign effort, whether that's experiential or another that's TV, digital, content, etc. 

Stephanie Cox: So one of the, I think, exciting things that you launched last year was Create and Play. Can you talk to me a little about what Create and Play is for my listeners that don't know, and kind of how the vision for that came together? 

Josh Kroo: Sure! Create and Play is our new subscription app and it's the first, you know, Crayola developed app. We've had licensed apps in the past. But it's the first Crayola developed app that is 100 percent digital creativity and really it's kind of a flagship experience. It's taking, kind of, all of the learning that we've built up in creating digital and mobile products in the last 10 years and looking at the landscape with creativity to the digital space and seeing that we can give kids an amazing experience here. And the way I always describe it, you know, what we're trying to accomplish is, we're never gonna be video games, as I mentioned before. We're also not trying to replace school, I think there are great apps out there for that. But how can we give kids good, healthy experiences that are creative? And I like to look at it as learning through play. And it's also built on the foundation of STEAM, which is all that science, technology and arts infused education–to put the arts into STEM. It's built on that kind of idea of kids exploring learning through doing cause and effect. And so, it's kind of a flagship digital experience for us and we'd like to reach and engage as many kids as possible within a viable model. That lets us keep adding great content and continuing to push the boundaries of digital creativity. So we're really proud of it and excited to have it out there for the last few months. 

Stephanie Cox: So when you thought about wanting to create that, did you know you wanted to do an app or was it more of like, our goal is to create this immersive experience for children that kind of really goes to the heart of what STEAM is? Like, how did you think about how you get to Create and Play as an app?

Josh Kroo: You know, I think we start with what the end goal is which is, I know the kids are engaging in technology. Our mission is to deliver creative experiences and raise creatively alive kids. And so when you start to put those two together, you know, we kind of arrived at this idea of, hey, you know it's time for Crayola to really push into the digital space in a major way, in a much different way. And so it kind of evolved to, you know, what do you want to put in there, right? You want kind of a flagship coloring and open-ended creativity experience. What are kids going to love? Do they want to play with pets? What kind of creativity can you give them in that way? How does Crayola do learning, right? So we believe that coding is super important, how would Crayola help teach kids coding in a way that's fun for them to do and good for the brand? And I think that's kind of what we set out to do is what is our spin on digital creativity and how do we give it in a place where parents can feel like I'm giving my kids this app and I never need them to leave, I can go to all sorts of different parts of creativity and have fun with it. 

Stephanie Cox: Then also at the same token, as a parent, it's from Crayola, so I trust it.

Josh Kroo: That's the idea. Well you know there's no advertising in it and that's part of the reason that we chose the subscription model. I don't want parents to ever have to question giving a kid this app, just as trusted as a box of crayons or any toy that you might buy from Crayola. And so we're really careful to make sure it is a wholesome experience that parents can feel good about and that kids will have fun. At the end of the day,  if the kids aren't having fun then you've kind of lost the battle there, right? 

Stephanie Cox: Well, and it's important there too, because I feel like attention spans for children get shorter and shorter. And so having something that's technology, that's engaging in creativity, is kind of like the best of both worlds. As a parent I can say, yes, you can have screen time because you're having fun but you're also doing a lot of behaviors I'd want you to do. 

Josh Kroo: It's exactly that, and that's part of the reason that we built such a, I guess, robust app experience because attention spans are fleeting and I know that you may want to do something or 5 minutes or 10 minutes or so you'll flip into the next thing. But with this app you can flip in and out of different creative experiences and hopefully not be bored.

Stephanie Cox: So thinking about your overall both marketing and product strategy, how do you determine what technology that you should use and how you should think about what to deliver that's true to your brand but also pushes the brand forward?

Josh Kroo: So I think on the product side, one of the things that we always try to make sure is that we're not leveraging technology because it's cool or neat–that it is always in the service of the end experience that we want a kid to have, and we want it to be enduring and fun. And we want to be in the service of a play pattern. So I'd say that's the biggest guardrail we have in terms of products we develop. From a marketing side, it really is about understanding kids’ habits and where they're engaging and then being open to testing and learning. And I think you know one of the fun things about being at Crayola is that we're not afraid to try and test and learn and fail and move on quickly or scale up when that happens. And so literally, you know, we'll set aside a chunk of our budget every year that's just a test to learn. But the idea is, you know, I think when I came in, it was funny everyone says that they’re testing all these things but never actually scaling it. Just continuing to test. And so the shift that we've made is, you know, to really look at those KPIs that we were talking about for what worked. Did we get conversion? Did we get click-throughs? Are we getting video views? What are the results that we're seeing? And then actually scaling those up, continue to invest in the test and learn. So, that's kind of the approach that we've taken from a digital perspective. 

Stephanie Cox: I love that you said fail because I think that's one of the things that marketers sometimes forget about, is they test and learn and iteration is all about some wins, and some failures. How do you get people to embrace that concept that some of the stuff you're going to test isn't going to work the way you want it to? 

Josh Kroo: I think that's just part of the expectation of the digital experience for trying out new technologies and new partners all the time. And sometimes what we think might be the best idea, you know, I think we start out from the outside saying, hey, we know we're going to test these eight things this year, some of them may work and some of them may not. I think the idea is to always keep on searching and connecting with new ideas, new technologies or platforms in service of the mission and the goal. So we start from the outside declaring that we know some of these things will not work 

Stephanie Cox: My favorite question: If you look in the future and you think about mobile, not just mobile phones, but wearables, voice, etc., how do you see that shifting the landscape of marketing in general and in marketing for Crayola?

Josh Kroo: So I think, in a very similar way to what we talked about before with looking for technology that enables an end-goal in an experience. I think when you think about the future of mobile and all the things you just described, whether it's wearables, voice, etc., it's what is a consumer going to value out of that? It's what’s the content we're going to be able to get them to engage them. So, I think if you have, if you understand your brand and your core vision from a content perspective, the value you can deliver to the consumer, you can figure out how to fit that within all sorts of the different technologies that are going to be coming. And I really believe that at the end of the day, that technology should be the service of the goal that you're looking to accomplish, and how to engage consumers. I mean, you could have the coolest thing in the world, but is it really delivering value and does Crayola have a way to play this?

Stephanie Cox: Crayola is on the most iconic brands that pretty much every child and parent knows, loves and trusts. I can't even begin to tell you how much money I've spent on Crayola crayons and Color Wonder packets or my kids, nieces, and nephews. It's really just such a great brand and talking to Josh was a wonderful experience. He's worked for some of the most well-known brands in the industry and he really has a ton of information about how you should be thinking about your overall strategy. Now, let's get to my favorite part of the shower to take the education and apply it to your business.

There are so many great insights in my conversation with Josh that can really help transform how you think about mobile marketing. Let’s dive into my top three takeaways. FIrst, we all know consumer expectations have changed and they're going to continue to evolve, everyone. Qe have higher expectations as consumers from brands than ever before. And that means as marketers we need to make sure we're constantly providing value to our customers in every single effort that we do. We can't continue to do what we've done for years in the past. Where focus so heavily on selling and pushing her own agenda that we don't actually take a step back and ask what our customers really want from us. And that means even from our own marketing campaigns. It's not just the actual product or service that we're selling, what is the overall message we're trying to convey? We also can't rely on a single channel or even a couple of channels anymore to reach out to an audience. I know this might initially seem like a no-brainer concept and that is something that we all know, but how many of us are really surrounding our customers with consistent messaging across numerous channels in a well-coordinated approach? Or is it actually haphazard when you start to think about it. Are you running campaigns across multiple channels like TV, direct mail, paid search, paid as a special, but you're not really coordinating or targeting specific individuals. We have to start connecting with customers on a one-to-one basis. And that means that our marketing can't look disjointed. Think about how many times as a consumer you get frustrated because you just purchased something online yet you continue to the ad for that exact product all over the Internet. Or you continue to get emails about how it’s left in your car cart? Or here's a coupon for something that you just bought and didn't have a coupon for. It's super frustrating. I know that's a huge personal pet peeve for me and I know I'm not the only one. And that's why it's so important to make sure we're not only providing value to our audience and every single thing that we do, but we're also well coordinated in our efforts across every channel, and that means we have to work together. And I know this is hard because a lot of times channels and large organizations happen to be siloed. Email is it’s own team, mobile, social it goes on and on, but we can't continue to operate as individual channels anymore and do our own thing, and how do you spice about attribution. We need to start working together. So if you don't have an opportunity with a leader that's kind of responsible for all channels, then take the opportunity and get everyone in a room and start having a conversation about how you can work together. 

Next. The challenge of screen time is real. I know all of us know that but it's not just a concern that parents have regarding their children take a look at what Apple's done with the iPhone. I know I got a weekly push notification about my screen time usage from a previous week and that's because we're all users just struggling to manage our screen time. And if you are like me you get that weekly email and don't realize how much time that sucked into a specific app or how much time you're actually spending on your phone because you pick it up 40 times a day to check email. This means that when you're developing a digital product now, you have to take that into consideration. So let's take a look at an app. You need to  make sure you're providing an experience that your users can feel good about when they use it. Take Crayola. Josh mentioned that they know technology isn't going away and kids enjoy it. So they're trying to create digital experiences that parents feel good about having their kids actually use and since parents trust the Crayola brand, they're also just as likely to trust that digital experience from Crayola as long as it stays true to their brand, and that's exactly what Chris is doing. So if you're going to be in the area of digital products, I really strongly suggest that you think about whether or not a user after using your app or your website is going to feel good about the time they spend on it. If you can say yes to that that's a huge win. 

Finally, many of us are struggling with this idea of trying to balance targeting completely different audiences, and Crayola is a great example of this challenge. They have to talk to parents, who may have multiple children of different ages, and they have to market to those parents differently based on child ages. They also have to think about how a child actually ages themself. What you Market to a parent with five-year-old is different than a 12 year old. And they also have the challenge of wanting to ensure that the kids actually want to use their products. They need to make sure they have fun with their product in order to be truly successful. No brand is going to be successful if parents buy something kids don't want to use it. And that's why Crayola is really focused on unleashing that creativity. I think it's such a great idea and such a strong message. Now, how do you balance different audiences with usually really sometime differing messages? Trust me, It's hard. I get it. I've been there. I'm not going to sugarcoat this and pretend like it's something easy because it's really not everyone, but it is in fact possible with the right strategy. And that means you have to clearly identify who you're targeting and who you're not. Just because you've decided to have more than one target persona, and many of us have done that, do not decide and I repeat do not decide to target everyone in the world. It’s not going to be successful. There is no product out there that's really applicable to literally everyone. Don't believe that yours is. So once you identify the two to three personas, then it's time to start developing messaging for each of them. And in some cases you might notice that some of the messaging, while they're different personas, tends to overlap. And that's a great thing and can make your life actually a lot easier. After you’ve identified the personas and the messaging, it’s time to start thinking about which channels make the most sense for each persona. And if you think but all channels make sense for everyone you are not doing your homework, and it's seriously time to take a step back. You need to balance what message for each persona belongs on what channel. And that's where you're going to start to see results being driven. And I've seen numerous brands, such as Crayola, do this very successfully. I've also seen other brands fail miserably at it. It takes a lot of hard work and strategy, but you can do it effectively.

Now, here's my mobile marketing challenge for the week. Conduct a review of your recent marketing campaigns, let's say the one you’ve launched in the last six months. Are you providing value to your customers and these efforts? Or are you still focused on getting them to make a purchase that there is no value to any of the messages they are sending. If this happens to be solely focused on driving revenue then it's time to think about incorporating a value component to your strategy. Now, you may not see the payoff immediately, but it’s definitely going to impact your customer lifetime value and the infinity that customer has for your brand.

I’m Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then be sure to visit and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.

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