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Editor’s Note - This story was originally published in October's Loyalty Management Online, and is part of Loyalty360’s “Best of 2016.” We wish you and your family a happy holidays, and will return to our regular content schedule in 2017!
Brands were listening to the voice of the customer long before that phrase became part of the marketing lexicon. As far back as the late 19th century, Crayola, for example, looked to students and teachers to determine what products to develop and produce.
The company was founded in 1885 by cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith. Binney’s wife, Alice Stead Binney, was a school teacher and became a consultant of sorts. “She was kind of the muse behind a lot of what they did,” explains Vicky Lozano, senior vice president and general manager of Crayola attractions and retail, “because she kept saying ‘here’s what kids need. Kids are having breathing issues, so we need dustless chalk,’ which is how Crayola invented it’s very first product.”
Dustless chalk was a hit and captured a gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. “Then Alice said, ‘You know we need art supplies for kids that are not only safe but affordable,’ that’s how the Crayola crayon came about,” Lozano adds. “Crayons had existed, but they had done it in such a way that it was completely safe and inexpensive to manufacture. Now every kid in the country could afford to get a box for five cents.”
Binney and Smith, for whom the company was originally named before becoming Crayola in 2007, had a larger vision that went beyond the walls of their facilities in Easton, Pennsylvania. “Their big belief was around innovation and creativity. If the country was ultimately going to be successful,” says Lozano, “it wasn’t going to be because of the smartest people, but because of the most creative people who knew how to invent and problem solve.” At the turn of the 20th century, the American education system was focused on the so-called three Rs: reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic (but apparently not spelling).
Those three disciplines alone were not going to make the country successful Binney and Smith felt. “They hired a bunch of teachers, trained them, and sent them out into the schools to teach other teachers how to teach art,” Lozano says. “That whole process took years. We’re still not even sure if they saw the end of that, but as a result of their efforts, the educational curriculum in the United States soon evolved to include art as part of the curriculum and by default a lot of other countries around the world that mimic their education system based on the U.S. introduced art as well.”
For many years, arts programs were under scrutiny as school boards faced pressures to trim budgets. Even now, despite the recent revival of arts programming in primary and secondary schools, there’s still room to deepen exposure to the arts and creativity among kids, Lozano notes, continuing, “There also are a lot more things for kids to do with their free time. To that end, we felt like – as a company - we could no longer solely rely on schools to introduce kids to the arts. We had to find our own way of keeping them engaged with the arts and with creative experiences overall.”
Crayola makes art supplies, yes, but it still has a much larger mission. “Apple makes computers,” Lozano points out, “but they’re not a computer company. We happen to make art supplies, but we view ourselves as being in the business of helping teachers and parents raise creatively alive kids. That’s our mission.”
For Crayola, creativity is a really important part of childhood development. “We believe it is definitely a skill that can be taught, and we think it’s important enough that it has to be experienced.”
That is one of the reasons the company developed its Crayola Experience centers. These 65,000 square foot facilities in Easton, PA, Orlando, FL, and Minneapolis, MN feature dozens of hands-on and interactive stations, many based on Crayola products.
“There’s something that’s very different that happens when you see a kid sitting down and actually using their brain and using their imagination to say ‘you know, I’m going to use this green paper and make seaweed out of it,’ and all of a sudden it’s a purple cow with a bow tie,” says Lozano. “It’s really about what they are imagining and how they bring it to life in a visible form. We decided we need to find new ways as a brand to give kids exposure to creative experiences. It has nothing to do with creating artists, though we’re happy to do that too.”
“We believe we have a role to play in how kids learn and experience creativity,” Lozano adds. Indeed, this philosophy traces its roots back to C. Harold Smith, Edwin Binney, and Binney’s wife Alice. “We think it’s not only the right thing to do for us to really deliver on our mission, but it actually helps our brand and helps our business to continue to keep kids engaged in creativity and in having creative experiences in a way, frankly, they don’t always get to do at home.”
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