How To Encourage Loyal Fans
When Sharpies debuted in the 1960s, they made their initial mark as the go-to autograph pens for stars like Sean Connery and members of the Beatles. Sally Grimes has elevated the permanent markers into a creative-class status symbol in an iPad age. "Our fans show us what's possible--stuff we never could have imagined, like decorating cars, lamp shades, and prom dresses," she says. Grimes fuels that creativity by promoting customer-created Sharpie art: 18,000 pieces have been uploaded to the gallery she added to Sharpie's website last summer, among them the work of edgier artists such as Cheeming Boey--whose grotesque squids, pointillist portraits, and fantastically violent sea monsters are produced on paper coffee cups that now sell for four figures in galleries. The result of all of Grimes's community building is a virtuous circle of inspiration between Sharpie and its users, leading to new products, such as a much-clamored-for gold metallic marker, and a 9% sales bump since 2011. Here are some of our favorite fan pieces and why Grimes loves them.
(left) "We're really focused on amplifying fans' passion, not ambushing viewers with heavy-handed corporate speak."
(right) "This is more of a piece of fine art. The artist has perfected drawing with Sharpies to create some really nuanced markings and shading."
(left) "This is the kind of expression we like to elevate and feature in our marketing campaigns because it's what turns heads."
(right)"Sharpie is all about color, which this one really celebrates."
(left)"This Sharpie fan used a simple swirl technique and repeated the pattern in a way that makes it look like the work of a pro."
(right)"Teens especially seem to be into shoe doodling. These look like they've been airbrushed--Salvador Dalí meets Ed Hardy."
Is introduced to the world of brand management while pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago
First major product launch: Microwaveable Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
Starts a family
Gets a spot on Ad Age’s "Hottest Brands" list
Photo credits: Images courtesy of Sharpie; cups photo courtesy of Cheeming Boey
A version of this article appears in the June 2012 issue of Fast Company.