How Mission-Based Marketing Activates Your Audience

Laura Hnatow

Laura Hnatow, Sea Bags’ VP of E-Commerce & Marketing, joins the Content Experience Show Podcast to discuss building a brand through mission-based marketing.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

Laura Hnatow

When Passion Meets Product

Dacron, the textile used to make most boats’ sails, doesn’t decompose. Once a sail is discarded, it sits in a landfill—that is, unless it’s transformed into a Sea Bag. That’s where Laura Hnatow and her team enter the picture, transforming this small act of recycling into the heart of Sea Bags’ mission-based marketing.

The root of Sea Bags’ tremendous retail success is its emphasis on its unique brand story. Through video storytelling and user-generated social media content, Laura and her team nurture a devoted community of customers by placing the story of every Sea Bag front and center. This mission-based approach helps Sea Bags stand out from other retail brands who place less emphasis on the story behind their product.

In this episode, VP of E-Commerce and Marketing Laura Hnatow details the ways Sea Bags shapes its messaging, collaborates across departments, and activates its audience. You’ll hear stories from its most successful content marketing campaigns as well as strategies they use when courting customers offline. It’s a powerful example of what happens when a brand treats sustainability not as a PR ploy, but rather a pillar of brand identity.

In This Episode

  • What mission-based marketing looks like for a retail brand.
  • How sustainability shapes Sea Bags’ marketing messaging.
  • What makes Sea Bags’ brand story video so moving.
  • How the Sea Bags team collaborates effectively across departments.
  • Strategies for activating your audience on social media in service of your brand’s mission.

Quotes From This Episode

“Ideas originate everywhere in the company. Because we are so cross-functional, we have that ability to share, and then take that and run with it.” – @hnatow

I love video for so many reasons. It hits on all the senses, and it connects with the broadest audience. Click To Tweet

“If you have the opportunity to touch or feel our bag, you experience and understand it just a little bit differently than just by looking at it on a page or on a screen.” – @hnatow

Resources

Content Experience Lightning Round

What other passion would you love to explore in a podcast, and who would be your first guest?

As a lifelong sewer, Laura would love to host a podcast about all things sewing and kick things off with an interview with Heidi Klum!

See you next week!

What Great Brands Do That Good Brands Don't in Content Marketing

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Episode Transcript

  • Randy

    Welcome to the Content Experience Podcast. I am Randy Frisch. Usually, I would cue Anna at this stage, but she is off enjoying a nice relaxing day and left me to talk about Sea Bags. Now, you’re probably wondering to yourself, “A, what is a Sea Bag, and B, why do we have such a consumer-based approach today?” Every once in a while, Anna and I always say whether you’re a B2B marketer, whether you’re doing more of a considered purchase, which a lot of our audience I know sometimes leans to, we can learn a lot from different industries, and I definitely did that today by chatting with Laura Hnatow. She’s the VP of Marketing and E-Commerce over at Sea Bags, which is a really interesting company. What I found interesting is the backstory to this company, and I think that’s the aspect that really locks people in.

  • Randy

    Now, to break it down in very high-level, what Sea Bags does is it creates leisure bags, but it makes them out of recycled sailboat sails, which is really cool. Right? One of the things that… One of my good friends over at Convince & Convert, Jay Baer, who’s behind this podcast in many ways talks about this, talks about this idea of a talk trigger. Right? If you haven’t heard Jay talk about talk triggers, you got to lock in with him and you got to help… get his help to understand how to get people to remember your brand.

  • Randy

    Now, one of the cool things that we do at Uberflip or actually in his book called Talk Triggers is that everyone talks about certain things. They talk about our fun brand, they talk about the pink in our brand, and as Jay points out, a lot of people like to talk about our headband, which in many ways has very little to do with what we do as a software tech company empowering content experiences.

  • Randy

    You could say that a bag really doesn’t require a sale in any way. It could be made out of any material, but the way that Laura and her team have gone about taking this opportunity to build it into a whole talk trigger, a whole mission-based marketing approach as they claim, it really has created an amazing following, and it created a company that’s got huge reach, huge revenue, and a ton of follower from a content perspective, so I’m really excited to have Laura on today. I think it will challenge the way you think about your marketing.

  • Randy

    Question whether you can take a fun angle, whether you can catch people off-guard versus what they’d expect. We’re going to roll this episode with Laura. Let us know wherever you’re listening. When we got an opportunity for feedback, we’d love to hear it welcoming Laura Hnatow to the podcast.

  • Randy

    Hey, Laura. Thanks so much for joining us today. This is one I’ve been looking forward to because I’ve been checking out your guys’ website. I’ve been checking out some of the content that you have at Sea Bags, and it’s a really interesting story. I think what we’re going to end up hitting on is this idea of the mission you have and how you’ve created a full brand around that mission just as much as product, but maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you got to joining this mission. What’s your career been like, and what caught your attention at Sea Bags?

  • Laura

    Yeah. Well, thank you first for having me. I’m really psyched to join you today, but yeah, my career has been… I’ve been in Maine for almost 30 years, and when I first started out my career, I was at L.L.Bean, which should be recognizable to most people as one of the larger direct marketing brands, and I had an opportunity to do a lot of different things at L.L.Bean from international marketing and advertising to e-commerce. That’s where I ended my stint at LLBN, and I really loved e-commerce because I love the ability to develop content at fast pace, and then also, be able to get like really immediate feedback from customers.

  • Laura

    From there, I left and I dipped my toe quickly in the agency side of the business because I wanted to see what agency experience was like, and I liked the exposure to lots of different brands, but ultimately, I missed the ability to really be pushing content for a specific mission and story for a company, so I went back to that space of manufacturing brands and worked for another brand named Cuddledown before I found the opportunity to land at Sea Bags.

  • Laura

    What really attracted me to Sea Bags with the breadth of the experience that I collected at all of my previous roles and everything from direct marketing to digital marketing was having a really well-defined foundational mission of the company that was basically ready to be painted and coded with all kinds of decoration as you would. I look at that as the content, right? If you bought a new house and it hasn’t been painted yet, you could choose all the colors of the rooms, but you had the basic foundation. That’s your mission, right? Then, you get to put the content on it, so that’s what I saw is this opportunity.

  • Laura

    The mission for our company was really well-defined. We are made in the USA. We are a sustainable Maine-made product, and we are very focused on giving back to our community, and so those are the three pillars of the company that hold up everything that we do and are the foundation, and I knew when I saw that definition and the commitment at the leadership level to those pillars that I was going to be able to create a really robust marketing and content plan around those pillars.

  • Randy

    That’s really interesting. I mean, every part of your career seems interesting, even being at L.L.Bean, which I always associate as a direct mail business, but the fact that you’re on the e-commerce side shows that you’ve really been taking that next step forward, and I think this idea of mission-based marketing is definitely on the rise. A lot of the brands that I have so much affinity to on my end like companies even not in your world, but companies like Tesla, right?

  • Laura

    Right.

  • Randy

    I think it’s all mission-based marketing that they’re doing. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s a car. Yes, it’s got some cool elements on how it gets from A to B. That’s what they play up though. They don’t play up other more typical aspects, and I think a lot of what I’ve seen in the marketing from Sea Bags plays up those special elements of your product, so maybe you can… just so everyone understands so that we understand beyond the way you generalize some of those missions maybe for future proofing, but the product itself, the cool part is it’s literally made from sails. Right?

  • Laura

    That’s right. Yeah. Every product we make, totes, accessories, home décor items, they are all made from recycled sails that are from sailboats, so it have actually sailed on the ocean and that we have collected one at a time from passionate boaters all over the US and beyond, and we bring all of those sails with their wear marks and rust stains, and imbibed with salt water back to our warehouse, and we hand-cut, and wash, and assemble these into really unique one-of-a-kind accessories that people can then love and use.

  • Laura

    Because they’re sails made out of Dacron, Dacron doesn’t decompose in the landfill, and that’s really part of our mission is that we’re… We’re a 20-year-old sustainability company. We were founded on sustainability. Sustainability didn’t find us, right? It was a thing that we basically decided to be, and in doing that, we’re taking these products that otherwise would sit in a landfill and giving them a second life, a second very useful life that’s also very stylish, and it really brings our customers a lot of joy and happiness to use them.

  • Randy

    For those who are thinking, “Okay. This is a nice cute side project that Laura gets to deal with on her weekends,” this is like a large organization. From what I saw, you guys went from early days small-time maybe doing 45 bags a year to over 160,000 units or products produced on an annual basis, and I think a lot of that probably has to do with this mission-based marketing approach.

  • Randy

    I found a piece of content because I was doing research for this podcast today. I think the one I enjoyed the most was where I go on every page, and we actually had a… We had a podcast on the ConEx Podcast a few weeks ago if people caught. It was all about the about page and the importance of an about page that many of us don’t put enough emphasis on, so you can go back and you can listen to that podcast. It was fantastic.

  • Laura

    I heard it. I loved it.

  • Randy

    Did you? Okay. Great.

  • Laura

    I did.

  • Randy

    To me, I got… That’s where i went. I went to the Sea Bags website, and I was like, “Oh. I want to understand exactly…” It was an e-commerce site for the most part when I arrived, but I was like, “I want to understand what this company is about,” because I was intrigued, and I found this story that was done in video format. I can’t remember what it was called. You’re going to help me with this one. I think it was The Tale of the Sail?

  • Laura

    The Tale of the Sail. Yeah.

  • Randy

    There we go. There we go. Maybe walk people through the story that’s within there, which you’ve somewhat unpacked already, but the way you went about thinking about producing this content that I said.

  • Laura

    Yes, so The Tale of the Sail. The intention behind that piece was… We’re really clear and aware of our mission and what we’re doing, but what we wanted to capture was how far-reaching our mission is in terms of how it affects and touches other people as further out in our community. Right? It starts at the top and talks about how we collect this from boaters one at a time, and so we’re helping somebody out by getting something out of their garage that was just taking up space, and we trade bags for sails. If you have something take up space in your garage that’s a Dacron sail and you don’t want it anymore, we’ll give you a free Sea Bag for it, so it’s a great barter relationship that doesn’t exist as part of a business structure in most businesses, so we wanted to communicate that.

  • Laura

    Then, we wanted to communicated, when we get all those materials, how those materials then, by going through the process of being produced and made into these really unique one-of-a-kind bags, handmade one at a time, how many people that they’re helping employ and the fact that when it’s employing this many people in the state of Maine and providing benefits, and vacation time, and personal meaning in terms of what they do, that is also communicated so people understand the value that’s being added in every stitch of every bag that we make, and then bringing it down further down the line to the people who are actually carrying the bags, right, and how that translates to our thing that we do, which is like Sea Bag sightings and seeing where customers take their bags and their journeys, and how they continue that journey, and so our tagline is, “Every sail has a journey. We make sure that journey never ends,” and so what we’re trying to do is show the lifeline of this recycled product and how we’re taking it a bit further than where it would have ended up if it just stayed in a landfill.

  • Randy

    You know what I love about that, Laura? I love that this idea of how you market the company is so tied to what your product is, of course, but also just the go-to-market strategy probably requires so much coordination between not just marketing, but fulfillment, teams that are helping support customers, your production teams that have to figure out how to bring all this in, so I’m wondering. Just out of curiosity, some of these ideas, as they broaden around mission-based, how much is marketing in the driving seat versus perhaps other departments, or who are some of the keys for your marketing team to collaborate internally within your org?

  • Laura

    That’s a really insightful question. I’m glad you asked it because I have this experience from other big companies where it was done very differently. Sea Bags’ culture is really unique. We operate… I like to call us a 20-year-old startup company. We’re very entrepreneurial. We’re a small group of leaders with lots of experience, and then we come together to ideate on the next opportunity that we can bring together.

  • Laura

    For us, it doesn’t actually matter where the ideas come from, but the important thing is the communication across all these functional areas, and so if Marketing comes up with a new product idea, which happens all the time, and that’s not really where it should happen. Product Development is always happy to hear it, and they’re always happy to think about how it fits in the mix, and then they are quick to say, “Yeah, let’s talk to Production Fulfillment to see whether or not that’s even an option.”

  • Laura

    Then, there are other times where it’s somebody in Customer Service who comes to us with a marketing idea or a content idea because they were on the phone with a customer and said, “Customers were telling us this. We should probably create some content around that.” The ideas originate everywhere in the company, and the great thing is because we are so cross-functional, we have that ability to share, and then take and run with it, so I think it’s a unique opportunity that we have.

  • Randy

    Is there any type of weekly meetings that you do, or yeah, specific idea submission box or online channel that you use in your org to foster that?

  • Laura

    Yeah, we do actually. We have a leadership group that meets monthly, but the other thing I think that actually lends to it more is that almost all of our workspace is open concept workspace.

  • Randy

    I love that.

  • Laura

    We’re not sitting in cubicles, and headphones on, and like staring at computers. Like people are up, and working, and talking to each other walking over, so there’s a lot of interaction, and the other really unique thing about what we like to call our workshop as opposed to our offices because it is a workshop is that all of the offices are actually located right within the workshop itself, so bags are literally being assembled and made like 30 feet from where I sit.

  • Randy

    That’s amazing.

  • Laura

    we can hear the hum of the sewing machines all day long. We hear the printers. We hear the stitching machines. It’s just part of the culture is that we are a manufacturing company, and it makes all of it really easy to collaborate.

  • Randy

    That’s really cool, Laura. So far, we’ve been digging a lot around the way you work internally to get everyone onboard with the mission. I want to shift the second half of the show. We’ll take a break before this, but what everyone will get to hear is how you’re activating your customers to help build on this mission. It will be right back to the ConEx Podcast to dig into that and learn a little bit more about Sea Bags’ way that they’re creating an experience with their customers.

  • Jay

    Hi, friends. This is Jay Baer from Convince and Convert, reminding you that this show, The ConEx Show Podcast is brought to you by Uberflip, the number one content experience platform. Do you ever wonder how content experience affects your marketing results? Well, you can find out in the first ever Content Experience Report where Uberflip uncovers eight data-science-backed insights to boost your content engagement and your conversions. It’s a killer report, and you do not want to miss it. Get your free copy right now at uberflip.com/conexshowreport. That’s uberflip.com/conexshowreport.

  • Jay

    The show is also brought to you by our team at Convince & Convert Consulting. If you’ve got a terrific content marketing program, but you want to take it to the very next level, we can help. Convince & Convert works with the world’s most iconic brands to increase the effectiveness of their content marketing, social media marketing, digital marketing, and word of mouth marketing. Find us at convinceandconvert.com.

  • Randy

    Okay. We’re back here on the ConEx Podcast with Laura Hnatow, and I love that first part. I want to continue this idea of mission-based marketing, but I want to shift, as we said, from how you sit next to the people creating product to activate those who may be miles or states away from you, if you will, and maybe you can share some of the cool strategies that you’ve been doing to create more experiences for the customer beyond just the product itself.

  • Laura

    Sure. Yeah. One of the things that we are really grateful for is a really healthy and engaged social media following. We’re really fortunate in that we’re the type of company or brand where when we post something in social media, we get lots of engagement, people commenting, and it’s fun for us because we often find even when comments are being made that customers will answer for us, so we can’t even do our own community engagement sometimes which… That’s great. That’s a real testament to the brand ambassadors that we have.

  • Laura

    The way that we actually built that, those I would say again started from this foundation of creating a content strategy around social media engagement on the hashtag, and it’s our #seabagsighting, which is our brand hashtag campaign. That is the longest running, and the purpose of it, the reason it was originally intended was again on this idea of continuing the journey of these sails and making sure that once the bags left our shop, that we still had a hand in it and to see where the bags were going, what customers were doing with their bags, how they were engaging with them, and continuing to tell that bag’s story and its life after it left the shop.

  • Laura

    We definitely got a lot of that. We embed that content on our website and different streams. We bring it into our email plan. We use it in our social media plan pretty regularly. We feature it on printed collateral and even to the point we’ve created selfie walls in our retail stores where customers can do like their own little photo booth vignette and take pictures with bags that perhaps they aspire to have a bag and aren’t going to buy one that day, but they can let their husband know that, “By the way, this is the bag you should buy me for Christmas,” but there’s been some really great stories and great engagement that we’ve gotten out of that, things that you couldn’t plan for or even pay for, right, in digital advertising.

  • Laura

    One customer, for example, ended up announcing the pregnancy, her third child with the use of Sea Bag. She had two other children, so they had a one and a two, and then they had a third bag with a three on it, and there was nobody standing there. They had the other two kids stand with the other one, so that was how they announced to everybody, all their friends and family they were having another baby. We’ve had things like that. We’ve had announcements or proposals that happen, so there are all kinds of different ways that people have really embraced our brand and introduced it as part of their life personally and using our #seabagsighting as a way to do it.

  • Randy

    I love that, and it’s interesting. My typical partner in crime here, Anna, works at Convince & Convert. They have another podcast similar to this one called Social Pros where they’ll talk a lot about social media strategies, which would be a great area to dig really deep on. I wanted to get more to the area of the content itself that’s in there. Right? Rather than how do you get someone to follow this hashtag and share to those channels, how do you keep it fresh? Right? Because as you said, this is a very long-running campaign for you that continues to go on. How do you find a way to ensure that people feel like it’s personalized because that’s one of the things that I think we hear a lot these days from marketers is that feeling to connect with their audience in a way that is truly meaningful to them? Now, you’re operating with multiple store locations, different regions, different audiences, interests. How do you use one channel at times to still be connected with the actual individual?

  • Laura

    Well, I think a lot of the freshness comes from the tone that we’re setting in terms of our overall content strategy. We’re not a campaign-focused company like we don’t come up with a, “This year’s campaign is X, and everything we do will be focused on that campaign.” We’re more based on this idea of, again, the three pillars of our mission, and thus, the content that we’re creating fulfill those three pillars and doesn’t resonate with the customer in a seasonally relevant way. Right?

  • Laura

    If we’re, for example, sponsoring a regatta, a major national regatta like the Atlantic Cup, which is a carbon-neutral race, the only one in the US, well, then we’re going to tell that content story, and then we’re going to ask customers to engage with us based around that content story, and that’s how we keep it fresh, so it’s more about getting to seasonal relevance. What’s seasonally relevant to the customer and even in their lives like what else might be… It’s graduation time right now, right? Mother’s Day this weekend, so doing a call-up to our customers to engage back with us in a way that’s meaningful to them in what’s going on in their lives too.

  • Randy

    That’s great. That’s great, and I know one of the other strategies that you’ve embraced a lot, we talked about it a bit in the first segment, is video, so I assume video allows you, as you said, to keep it fresh, do something in the moment. What is it about video that worked so well for Sea Bags?

  • Laura

    Oh, I love video. I love it for so many reasons. One is obviously it hits on all the senses, right? Another reason is that it connects with I think the broadest audience. If people are young or old, there’s something different that they can pick out based on what’s relevant to them, and so for Sea Bags, one of the things is that we’re an experiential brand. What I mean by that is that if you have the opportunity to touch or feel our bag, you experience and understand it just a little bit differently than just by looking at it on a page or on a screen.

  • Laura

    When you come into one of our retail stores, you get that same feeling of having more of an experience, and in particular, what’s unique about Sea Bags is that we’re a Maine-based company. We’re based on one of the only public working waterfront wharfs in Portland, Maine, and when you walk into the store, you can hear the hum of lobster boats outside. You can hear the sewing machines running sewing the Sea Bags. You can smell the bait shacks at the end of the wharf. I mean, there’s just… It’s such a really full sensory experience that is really hard to package on a piece of paper and mail out in direct mail.

  • Laura

    The closest you get to it I think is through video, and I think video takes you just one step further of getting you to really feel and see what it’s like to hand-make our bags one at a time, to visit one of our retail stores, and have a coastal Maine experience, and understand what our commitment is to sustainability and what being part of the Sea Bags experience is.

  • Randy

    That’s great, Laura. We’ve got time to get you to stick around. I want to learn a little bit more about you outside of work and some of your passions, but before we do that, just one quick call to action for you of where people can go and find some of this great content that you’re creating. What’s a channel, what’s a video that you’d want them to go see, and what’s that URL?

  • Laura

    Yeah, so if you go to our homepage, seabags.com, scroll to the bottom of the page. You’d be able to see that Tale of the Sail video that you were referencing. It’s right on our homepage. It’s a great video. It tells our brand’s story really well. If you went to the about section of the site, you’d see a lot of our other content pages, and there’s a great video about a Santana sail trade that tells the story of how we do our barter sail trade relationships and the stories behind sails.

  • Randy

    Fantastic. All right. As I said, we’re going to keep you around. We’ll pause here for a short little break. We’ll be back to wrap up and get a little bit more information behind the scenes with Laura Hnatow.

  • Anna

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  • Randy

    Okay, Laura. I feel like I’ve learned more than I ever expected to you about what I can do with my old sails, but now I want to learn a little bit about you. I was already inspired by your career trajectory and the different stops that you’ve had, but when you’re not working, what are your side projects? This is a question I get to ask I guess from time to time, which is we’re on a podcast. I do this podcast so I can better understand the work world I’m in, but if you were to do a podcast tied to your passion now, what side passion do you have, and what would be the topic of the podcast, and who would be your first guest? So if you…

  • Laura

    Oh, wow. That’s such a great question.

  • Randy

    Yeah, like what’s one of those things that you get to do on the side, but maybe not getting enough time and there’s someone you really admire from that?

  • Laura

    Okay, so it’s all about sewing. I started sewing when I was seven, and I’m now teaching my daughter to sew. She’s going to turn eight on Sunday, so that’s exciting to me, and I always think I have… I’ve got four sewing machines and a stash of fabric that’s larger than it should be, so I would definitely want to do a podcast around sewing and like a Project Runway type of podcast. Of course, I think that Heidi Klum would be amazing to have as a first guest to ask her.

  • Randy

    Start big, right? Start big.

  • Laura

    Let’s start big, and have her on, and figure out like, “Okay, Heidi. If you had Dacron to work with, what would you do with it?” and see what her recommendations are, look where to take my podcast and how to approach it.

  • Randy

    That’s awesome. That’s awesome. It’s funny actually. This is awhile back on this podcast. I’ve been doing this for years now. It’s like I’m always bad at remembering the year, but the guest we have was a woman named Ilana Rabinowitz, and she was at a company called the Lion Brand Yarn Company, and it was all about…

  • Laura

    Oh, yeah.

  • Randy

    It was all about their content strategy, and it’s amazing to me how many people at so many different generations love sewing, or my sister is into this needle point thing. Right? Like obsessed.

  • Laura

    Yeah, yeah.

  • Randy

    My wife and I make fun of her, but then she… Yeah, she noticed now that it’s cool.

  • Laura

    Yeah.

  • Randy

    Anyways, I think that’s great. It’s so important that we have passion and it’s so important that we’re driven by passion. I think what was really interesting to me today was unpacking the way Sea Bags is very mission-based, which really ties back to the passion, and what we’re out to create, and start a company, and it allows us as you said to continue to operate a company with a startup mentality at any stage because the executive leadership, the people we bring on to that company has the same passion. I think that’s something a lot of us tuning in to this podcast can hopefully take back regardless of what type of product you have is understanding where is that passion within that industry and what can you do to connect with your audience in a meaningful way.

  • Randy

    Laura, thank you so much for taking the time. This has been the ConEx Podcast. Unfortunately, I’ve not had Anna Hrach at my side as I always say at this point, but it’s been pleasure getting to chat with Laura. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please take a listen to some of the other episodes that I’ve referenced and other ones that we’ve got that live on iTunes and Stitcher, on Spotify. Go to the Convince and Convert site or the Uberflip site and find those episodes, and let us know whenever you have a chance what you think. Until next time. Thanks so much for tuning in.

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