Top 10 Innovative Brands 2013: #1 Target

One of the most visible brands in event marketing, the retailer continues its reputation for innovative events and engaging marketing tactics.

By Anna Sekula June 12, 2013, 7:00 AM EDT

In anticipation of its 2013 launch in Canada, Target hosted a one-day pop-up shop for its Jason Wu collection in Toronto in February 2012. An enormous billboard—a bright red sign combining the bulls-eye logo and colors with that of the Canadian flag—made it hard to miss the retailer's first effort in Canada.

Photo: Vito Amati

When it comes to experiential marketing, Target is a powerhouse, hosting and sponsoring more than 400 events a year in the United States. For retail marketers, it’s the one to watch and the competitor to top, regularly experimenting with new concepts and producing highly visual and engaging affairs. And ­although the company is just starting to move into the international space, expanding into Canada this spring, its image commands attention on a global scale, landing a spot in the Forbes World’s Most Powerful Brands list as well as Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies rankings. Such recognition has an ­impact on sales (and vice versa): Target posted $16.60 billion in revenue for the third quarter of last year, a 3.4 percent increase compared to the same period the previous year, and a 14.8 percent increase in net income.

Responsible for the Minneapolis retailer’s strategic marketing is executive vice president and chief marketing officer Jeff Jones, who previously served as executive vice president of global marketing for Gap and held leadership positions at ad agencies McKinney and LB Works. “Creatively, we’re known for brave execution. The way we connect digitally is the next evolution of where we’ll continue to press,” Jones told Forbes in June 2012.

Just three months later Target debuted its first shoppable video, an online romantic comedy series starring Kristen Bell that not only let consumers purchase products while watching the shorts, but that also was integrated into a live event broadcast on the Web. Blurring the lines between entertainment and advertising, the initiative for the fall campaign effectively blended the digital with the experiential and turned the brand into a content producer.

The retailer has also continued to promote its brand—and its extensive corporate responsibility program—by hosting affairs during high-profile events. Last year Target hosted an activation in England for the London Olympics, a pop-up shop during Fashion’s Night Out, and a fitness-­focused gathering for kids at the New York City Wine & Food Festival. This year, Target even made a splash at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, gathering Vice President Joe Biden and 10,000 volunteers to assemble care kits for the military the day before the official ceremony.

Helping broaden the scope of these events to the wider online audience is the company’s active social media presence. Target has community managers responsible for handling social media for each of its sub-brands (such as Target Baby and Target Style), and these managers are expected to be on site at relevant promotions and product launches.

“They really know what our ­communities are looking for,” says Target social media manager Joe Curry. “So it’s important to have them there, communicating to partners and influencers who are at the events, as well as to those following along online.”

One of the next big steps for the brand is moving in on Canada; stores opened there in March this year. Target has already started building buzz through events, including a pop-up shop for its Jason Wu collaboration, a branded space within the Templar Hotel for the Toronto International Film Festival, and a cross-country mobile marketing tour that included a free concert with Carly Rae Jepsen in Mission, British Columbia.

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