S1 E3: Alexis Kerr, VP of Hallmark Mahogany, Talks Brand Transformation, Cultivating Community and Elevating the Voices of Black Women

Hallmark Mahogany is rapidly evolving beyond signature Hallmark greeting cards and into a community that gathers, empowers and celebrates black women. 

Alexis Kerr

At the helm of this grand evolution is Alexis Kerr, VP of Hallmark Mahogany. She tells us about shifts in the brand under her tenure as well as the latest techniques used to build an authentic, genuine and meaningful community around it. Hear how she’s creating customer connections, empowering internal team members, marketing creatively, and releasing spectacular new content – all of which are contributing to growth of the Mahogany brand and garnering support for its mission internally and externally.

When it comes to black women, we want to see ourselves. We want to see ourselves in the products and services that we’re supporting. We also want to purchase products and services that support our community

Alexis Kerr, Hallmark Mahogany

In this episode, Alexis discusses:

  • Utilizing research to truly understand the needs of customers
  • Championing the support, voice, and ideas of those both internally and externally to succeed in rapid change
  • Building an engaged and empowered community

Consider and discuss: How can I apply this thinking to my business?

  • What is your business doing to create community?
    What does your community look like? What does that relationship look like? What’s the dynamic between your brand and your internal team? How could you change or evolve these relationships?
  • What are you doing to support the businesses around you?
    What are you doing to support your internal team members? How can you gain support from others? What does support mean for your business? How would things change if support was available? Are there avenues you haven’t been using to garner that support? How can you pursue those avenues now?
  • How would you define the speed at which things happen in your business?
    What would it mean to have rapid change? Would it mean a couple of months? Couple of weeks? What’s the turnaround time to finish a product or project? What would it mean to have something finished quicker? Think about the costs associated with speed. How does that change your perception of speed in your business?
  • What do you know about your customer?
    How are you acquiring that information? Are you gathering information from a reliable source? Are you operating purely on gut instinct or are you informed by data? Is the customer that you are targeting present in your advertising? Is it the same one that actually ends up buying your product or engaging with your service? Is there alignment in that? Are you serving what the customer really needs? Are you aligning with what your customer is asking for? What would make your service more valuable? Is there an opportunity to make that happen?

Key themes

  • Customer relationships
  • Business operations
  • Marketing strategy
  • Content
  • Branding



[00:00:00] Laura: Welcome to Maven Minds, the podcast for leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators to discuss strategies for navigating uncharted territory in modern business. I’m your host, Laura Crossley. Let’s meet the Mavens.

[00:00:22] Alexis: I think, you know, as we think about companies, as we think about how do you innovate a lot of times, we just take for granted our internal employees who just need opportunities. And once given incredible opportunities, they will help you do amazing things 

[00:00:40] Laura: For more than 30 years. Hallmark’s beloved Mahogany brand has honored and celebrated the emotional connections between families and friends. And it’s inspired by what is most valued in black culture. Now under the leadership of Alexis Kerr, the brand is poised to evolve from being a greeting card brand to becoming more of a lifestyle.

[00:01:02] Alexis started her position as the Vice President of the Mahogany brand more than a year ago. She’s been leading the transformation to reach the core customer, black women with an initiative that elevates and empowers her voice. The timing has never been better to embody the spirit of the Mahogany voice and through the channels and two-way conversation it’s curated and authentic and genuine and meaningful and has pillars that are rooted in faith, spirituality, purpose, and community. I want to learn so much more about what you are doing. Alexis. Thank you for being on the show with us today. 

[00:01:43] Alexis: Well, first of all, Laura, I’m super excited to be joining you today. It’s thrilling to have this discussion around Maven Minds and really about the future.

[00:01:53] Not necessarily what’s happening now in the marketplace, but super excited to share just a little bit about Hallmark Mahogany. The brand, this beloved brand has been around for over 30 years serving black and brown communities with cards, gift products and other merchandise that really allows them to express themselves.

[00:02:15] I came on board in this role as Vice President of the Mahogany brand a little under a year and a half ago. So it’s been an exciting roller coaster, but I have the amazing opportunity to take this brand into a lot of new spaces. When we think about the products that we sell, we’ll talk a little bit later about Mahogany.com and all that will be involved in cultivating this amazing community for black women, especially, but also for black people, people of color.

[00:02:43] And then just the ways in which our brand is evolving, whether it be in a podcast space coming next year, movies are coming out. So I have the opportunity, you know, working alongside a lot of my partners at Crown Media, along with our Day Spring partners, that Christian brand, as well as Crayola. When we think about all of the u brella companies that Hallmark actually owns, it’s exciting to be able to bring this beloved brand to life in a number of new channels.

[00:03:12] Laura: That is very cool. And I I’ve just started to learn a little bit about Hallmark Mahogany. I hadn’t quite heard of you guys before. And what I’ve loved in your story is this transition from being greeting cards to more of a lifestyle that’s celebrating the culture and just connections between families and friends.

[00:03:35] Can you tell me more about building that brand? 

[00:03:38] Alexis: I think in the beginning, we started out really just cultivating what was important to the black community, specifically women. So we engaged them on social. Our foundation really started with research, so we spent a lot of time looking at what was happening in culture about a year and a half, but really specifically two years ago, as we thought about civil unrest what was happening in the black community after the tragic murder of George Floyd.

[00:04:06] And then how did the black community, specifically women as well, what are the ways in which she needs to cultivate healthy relationships and really talk to one another? And so we had an amazing line come out of that tragic death, as well as COVID called “uplifted and empowered.” So right as I began, we had a million card giveaway last year before last February for black history months.

[00:04:31] So that really cultivated a lot of people exchanging what was happening, not just in culture, but really more, less their feelings. We acknowledged what was happening, but we also gave them outlets to really talk and cultivate healthier relationships. And so that card line and that million card giveaway was exceptional.

[00:04:51] We did it again this February, but then at the end of last year, we also knew that we needed this communal piece. You know, our key pillars at [00:05:00] Mahogany are really around a black woman or woman’s purpose. They really are around community. And so when we think about that community piece, we wanted to create this incredible platform where we can share these first person stories.

[00:05:14] And so. Why not call it Mahogany.com. Why not have this place that she can go to at Mahogany.com and find incredible products. And so we started off with the communal piece, which was really these first-person stories. And so we’ve got an incredible group of writers. We right now have 15, including amazing Melinda Williams.

[00:05:34] So we’ve got actresses, we’ve got writers. We have lawyers. We have Christians, we have Muslims. We have women who are in the LGBTQ plus community mothers soon to be mothers wanting to be mothers. And so it’s this wide variety of black women telling these incredible first-person stories. And so we began Mahogany.com.

[00:05:57] I would say fall of last year, really with that type of excitement, incredible community energy. And so what we’re adding this year, every year, we’ll continue to add more excitement. We’re adding kind of the sneak peek at our new Mahogany film that comes out August 28th, but we also have this eCommerce piece selling amazing products from.

[00:06:19] Black and brown female entrepreneurs. So we’ll have some of their products. We’ll also have these exclusive Mahogany.com products that are only available on our .com. And so we are really pleased about all of these things unfolding in August and then podcasts will come early next year. So it’s exciting that we have the opportunity to build this relationship now with, you know, Maven Minds, and really talk about what’s happening, not just in culture, but how it’s impacting black and brown.

[00:06:49] Laura: Absolutely. Well, and you should be extremely proud. That’s an incredible undertaking. Just all of those things. Any one of them independently would be huge, but all of it together, that is a just massive transformation of a brand. It’s incredible. Congratulations.

[00:07:03] Alexis: Yeah. It’s, it’s been exciting to be a part of it and to really see how the company, all facets of the company have really stepped in to assist us.

[00:07:15] Laura: What kinds of challenges have you faced along the way? 

[00:07:20] Alexis: I think when you are trying to move an iconic brand from what people have known to trust and love, mm-hmm you know, the beloved expressions and cards ornaments and amazing gifts. , and when you’re trying to move that, and you’re just, it is moving into this amazing lifestyle brand.

[00:07:41] You tend to just, you know, Have things like you wanna scale fast you know, making sure you have the right product that the audience wants, but then also I think there’s always these other issues in reference to the speed at which you need to move. And then the speed at which you can move leveraging the power of a large corporation.

[00:08:03] And so one thing we’ve been really excited about is that our senior executives have been on board at which the pace in which we are moving. And so that’s been a very very helpful to the ways in which we needed to not just build and grow, but the opportunities we’ve had to partner across the organization with our other brands, like Day Spring, who’s helped us build and scale the website.

[00:08:26] That piece has been really important. So a lot of challenges, but I think what I’m most excited about is that we have the support that we need. And so I’ve been part of startups within other longer. Larger organizations like Cadillac is in some of my past experience. And so here at Hallmark Mahogany, we have the support of the entire organization across a number of different channels.

[00:08:50] And that’s made one of the biggest difference to the speed at which we can come to market. And a lot of our early success, whether it be on social or in the eCommerce space.

[00:09:00] Laura: I can’t even tell you how many conversations I’ve had lately, where like businesses large and small struggle with finding support, whether that’s through their own immediate network of just friends and family and sharing a link.

[00:09:14] And they’re like, “I post all day on social media. Nobody will share it!” That type of problem. But then also large organizations like you’re describing where finding the champions within your organization that are willing to offer their support and lend the resources they have and bring everyone to the table to push an initiative forward.

[00:09:33] It’s complicated. What solutions have you found that are working for you? Because it sounds like you’re succeeding at an unbelievable scale.

[00:09:41] Alexis: Well, I think a couple of things. One, at the highest level of our organization our success is measured across the entire enterprise. So everybody plays a part in the success of Mahogany and Mahogany.com.

[00:09:57] And so when you think about the metrics we have this…metric that allows everyone to be engaged and involved. But also, we just have that overall support from a senior executive leadership and then the working teams, honestly, that’s made a huge difference. And the other piece is that we’ve done a lot of research.

[00:10:17] I think, as I mentioned earlier a lot of times you try to take action and you don’t leverage the power of the research that you already have. But also what’s happening in culture. And so we’ve been able to do both. We looked at how has the needs of African American women and black women changed over the last 12 to 18 months.

[00:10:36] And we’ve adjusted for that. But then also we looked at the support that they’ve been needed in our, you know, personal expressions in this, this area. And we’ve provided kind of that. First person perspective in the type of products and gifts that we provided them. So we’re really excited about that as well.

[00:10:56] Laura: I love it. Can you tell me a little bit about what those needs and changes are in the market? What are women asking for? 

[00:11:04] Alexis: So I, I think a couple of things when it comes to black women, we wanna see ourselves. I’m saying, we, you know, I am, you know, I am her. We wanna see ourselves in the products and services that we’re supporting.

[00:11:18] We also wanna purchase products and services that support our community. And so, you know, in the past other companies have provided amazing products that fit her needs, but the genuine piece of giving back to, or providing a unique support for that community has not been there. And so as I think about, you know, not just providing the support through the actual expression, we are supporting community.

[00:11:46] And so if I think about the grants that we’ve given, not just Hallmark, but Hallmark and Mahogany, the causes that we’ve supported childhood diabetes, as a great example, some of the nonprofits that we’ve given to for small businesses and the ways in which we’re activating alongside events that are important to women and causes that are important to black women.

[00:12:07] That’s helped us in this true and deep evolution in the ways in which we wanted to provide new products. And so, yes, she wants to see herself in the products, but then she also wants products that really serve not just her, but also serve her community. And so that’s just some of the information that we found out from a lot of the research that we’ve been doing.

[00:12:27] Laura: That’s fantastic. And it makes perfect sense that you wanna be reflected in the products that you’re choosing and in the brand that you’re choosing. And that’s that’s any, and all of us, I think. So what are you doing to innovate around this space? It sounds like you’re pursuing a lot of different marketing avenues and a lot of different content and that type of thing is that all part of an innovation type of strategy?

[00:12:52] Alexis: Yeah. And I, I think the other thing, unique thing that we’ve had the opportunity to do is when I came on board here at Hallmark Mahogany we, I wanted to give a voice to our younger employees and, and get a true sense of what their personal needs were. A great example. I’ll give you, is that, you know, we have an incredible social audience, but it grew out of the heartbeat of some of the issues that our younger internal employees had about social.

[00:13:20] They said, You should tap into astrological signs. You should think about ways in which you tap into mental health and wellness. And so I, I created a group that was the Melanated Mahogany Millennials, young you know, vibrant employees who had a lot of ideas wanted to really impact culture and just needed an outlet to do that.

[00:13:43] But through that group, it was like, “Hey, we think your Instagram could be so much better, Alexis. Here’s a couple of the ideas that we have.” And so I said, “Hey, why don’t you really put that forward in a true project?” I gave them a project said, “Hey, you solve the problem.”

[00:14:01] “Come back to me, present in a way that makes sense, get all of your ideas in one place.” And so we’re talking about eight to 10 young people within the organization. Put together, their ideas gave examples of other, you know, websites, other brands that had done an amazing job on social linked to here’s the ways in which we could share our voice as Hallmark Mahogany.

[00:14:23] And we took their ideas and really reimagined the way that we engage in social. Now we’re leveraging the power of reels. Now we’re leveraging the power of other influencers. We have a group called friends of the brand. That post on behalf of us. And so we’ve really cultivated. What was once something that was, you know, not where it could have been, we’ve cultivated the potential of internal employees and turned that paying point into an amazing evolution of ours.

[00:14:53] Social on Instagram as well as Facebook. And so we still have some growing to do, but that’s just a great example of how are you taking the energy the vibrancy and the, you know, the great ideas from your amazing younger employees. And you’re putting them to work on real world problems that can really help the brand grow.

[00:15:12] So it’s been wildly successful and helpful. And so we try to meet on a quarterly basis, give them insight into what’s happening, what are we working on? And then they help us with some of those, you know, some of those pain points and issues, and also bring things to the forefront that we haven’t even thought of.

[00:15:29] So I think, you know, as we think about companies, as we think about how do you innovate. A lot of times we just take for granted our internal employees who just need opportunities. And once given incredible opportunities, they will help you do amazing things. And so that’s what I’ve also loved about, you know, taking a leadership role here at Hallmark Mahogany is that we have this amazing Hallmark brand that is.

[00:15:54] Continuing to support us and a plethora and wealth of incredible resources to use. 

[00:16:00] Laura: It sounds like it. Can you tell me a bit more about the, I think you mentioned a movie, right? That’s coming next month?

[00:16:08] Alexis: Yes, we can expect a movie coming. Wow. So shot in Italy, the Siler and teasers are out. Yes. You know, very nice.

[00:16:19] It’s an amazing ensemble cast of African American women girlfriends who go on a much needed trip and they go to Italy. It’s coming out August 28th to it will, you know, be an incredible premier, obviously on the Hallmark Channel, Simcast across all of our Hallmark Networks. So as a reminder, you have Hallmark Movie

[00:16:41] Movies and mysteries as well. So you’ll be able to see it across all of our networks. We are most proud about not just the cast in the movie, but it was directed by an African American female. And so when we think about writers, directors, women behind the camera, but also in front of the camera that is really what, how you build equity.

[00:17:03] And so, as we think about, you know, the second movie that we’re actually shooting now some of our products will be in there. So we’re super excited about some of the new products that we have. We have a hundred days journal that’ll be out in another month. And so not only will we have an incredible brand and podcast coming early next.

[00:17:23] But this movie and a, you know, number of movies that’ll come out this year and then an, an additional number of movies that’ll come out next year. So we’re really excited, not just like I say about the cast, but really the storyline the cultural insights that’ll be provided and really the broad spectrum of, you know, topics that’ll be covered in the movie.

[00:17:44] So a lot of surprises and proud about also the equity that we’re giving and the opportunity that more African American women will have to direct and lead. So we’re really proud about that. And Tony Judkins are, is our Senior Vice President at Crown Media. Who’s leading all of those efforts and she’s doing a phenomenal job.

[00:18:04] Laura: Oh, incredible. In the vein of giving everyone opportunities and giving everyone this, the space to grow and show their talents. Where is, does this go over the next year? 

[00:18:16] Alexis: A lot of good places, Laura. I think, you know, as I mentioned, we have a podcast that’s coming with incredible storytelling. So we’re in a AB testing with that.

[00:18:26] As we think about what’s happening over the next year, The eCommerce website will be up late August, early September movies, not just one or two, but we’ll also have a holiday movie. So we’re expecting a lot of great things with that. We had, you know, a number of incredible holiday movies as you think about the Crown Network, but in an amazing Mahogany one coming our social influence will continue to grow.

[00:18:52] So not just. Instagram and Facebook, but we’re also considering other social platforms. So we’re excited about that. But more importantly, I think the Mahogany community will grow. So Mahogany.com will continue to be this place, not just with these first person stories and the eCommerce and the podcasts and the movies, but really it’s this true community that we’re building amongst.

[00:19:16] Women to cultivate these healthy relationships, not just for her, but also her children and her grandchildren. If we think about the women who have loved and supported this beloved brand over the last 30 to 40 years it is that second and third generation that we’re starting to get into. And so we’re really cultivating this communal piece.

[00:19:38] So important and near and dear to her, but also we want Mahogany.com to continue to be this displaced that she comes to. The stories that we’re seeing from some of the writing has been incredible. They’ve touched on some social economic issues. They’ve touched on personal issues that a lot of women are going through.

[00:19:58] They touched on black girl [00:20:00] magic moments. Mother’s day Father’s day, all of those amazing moments in culture, but also, you know, some of the types of things that black women have to work through, whether it be in corporate and or in their personal life. And so the website touches on all of that. So I’m super proud and excited about the community that we’ve already cultivated, but also the ways in which we’ve activated out in community.

[00:20:24] And that’s the piece where we get to have these two way. Live conversations with her, whether it’s the black excellence, brunch, or a number of different activations and events we get to have that. One-on-one true. Face-to-face conversation to celebrate black women. And I’m really proud about those moments.

[00:20:44] And those are the ones too that give me energy as well as my entire. 

[00:20:48] Laura: That makes perfect sense. I’ll tell you that when I started my research about your brand, one of the things we’ve said about Maven for a long time is that we want to amplify voices, [00:21:00] not give voices, because people have them. And I know that I read it somewhere in your brand, that you are elevating her voice.

[00:21:08] And I think it sounds like you’re elevating the voices of those within your organization, as much as you are elevating the voices of those outside and your customers. And I could not appreciate that enough. I think that sounds so lovely. And I am excited to support you in the coming year. I hope that I can participate in some of these communities and be of support to seeing you grow.

[00:21:31] Can you tell our listeners how they can get involved with Hallmark Mahogany and where they can find you? 

[00:21:39] Alexis: Absolutely. So on Instagram, you know, we’ve got a lot of things happening there. So at Hallmark Mahogany on Instagram you will find us all things, hashtag show love Mahogany, or hashtag Hallmark Mahogany.

[00:21:55] And when we think about the movie, the title is Unthinkably Good Things. So #unthinkablygoodthings. I know it’s a tongue twister, but we’re really proud about Unthinkably Good Things airing August 28th on the Hallmark Channel and all of our partner networks. So again, super excited about the conversation today with you, Laura, and I definitely appreciate it and much success to you and your podcast and all that it will bring you in the next year. 

[00:22:27] Laura: Mavens, we learned so much from Alexis in this conversation, this episode, I want to send you away with a handful of thought starters that hopefully you can pick one or two of these questions and think kind of critically about how it applies to your business. I’m hoping that you can walk away from this episode with one or two new tricks that you can be testing inside of your own walls to see if you can help your business with some of the ideas that Alexis is bringing to the table.

[00:22:56] Let’s jump right in. Alexis talked a lot about building a community and creating a movement that empowers and uplifts voices. What is your business doing to gather people around it? To create a community around what you’ve created? That community might just be your customers and it might be a transactional relationship, but what does that relationship really look like?

[00:23:26] Is that your ideal relationship with your customers or even with your internal team, how would you change or evolve that relationship? Alexis also talked a lot about support, particularly support for their projects and internal teams and navigating the politics of a large company. What are you doing to support the businesses around you?

[00:23:53] What are you doing to support your internal team members? How are you [00:24:00] able to gain support for your business from others? What does that support mean to your business? How would things change if that support was available? Are there avenues you haven’t been using to garner support that you could go out and try now?

[00:24:20] Along the same lines of support. Alexis talked a bit about speed and the speed at which you can make projects happen or that, you know, the speed might slow down. If you have a lot of hurdles to jump through what is speed in your business, what would it mean to have a rapid change? Is it a couple of months, couple of weeks?

[00:24:45] What it would it mean to have a product finished quickly project finished quickly is that a couple of months is that a year is a fast turnaround and extended period of [00:25:00] time. Think about the costs associated with speed. The time, the extra time, the extra employees that it takes to get something done.

[00:25:11] How does that change your perception of speed in your business? Alexis talked about research and knowing her customer, obviously hallmark and the Mahogany brand have done a ton of research to fully understand not just the surface level details about who their customer is, but what she wants, what she needs in the world, her feelings, her aspirations.

[00:25:40] And they’re working to serve those things. What do you know about your customer? Where are you turning for that information? Is that information reliable? Are you operating purely on gut instinct or is it informed by data? [00:26:00] Is the customer that you are targeting in your advertising? Is it the same one that actually ends up buying your product or engaging with your service?

[00:26:09] Is there alignment in that? Are you serving what that customer really needs? Are you aligning with what they’re asking for or what would make your service more valuable? Is there an opportunity. Take one of these questions, maybe two, but sit with it in your car it, while you’re washing your hair any opportunity that you have to just think through what one of these questions would do in the environment and in the context of your own business, and maybe come up with something new.

[00:26:46] If you are so inclined, jump onto TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, really anywhere anywhere, track us down, send us a video or a comment. And I would love to brainstorm with you more around these ideas.

[00:27:08] Thank you for joining today’s conversation before you leave, hit that subscribe button so that you never miss an episode of Maven Minds. And whether you are a first time listener or you’ve been following along for some time, you are invited to join the discussion in our communities on. Instagram or TikTok.

[00:27:28] We love your insight on the topics we’ve covered today. So join us on social or mavenminds.com and inspire others to keep blazing these trails in modern business. We’ll see you in the next episode of Maven Minds.

Episode details

Guest: Alexis Kerr, VP of Hallmark Mahogany
Host: Laura Crossley, Maven Minds
Producer: Cassidy Hallesy, Episode Ready

Runtime: 27:54
Release date: July 19, 2022

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