Marketing Memories: How to Sell High School Memorabilia to an Instagram and Twitter Generation

INSIGHT-Mooty-2Remember that glossy hardcover tome that documented school politics, embarrassing hairstyles and ridiculous fads? Whether it’s prominently displayed on a bookshelf or gathering dust in your parents’ attic, you probably have one somewhere. Chances are, you also sprang for a high school class ring—after all, nearly everyone did. You probably still could preserve many of your memes in photos printed on books or kept in albums as company PrintedMemories can take care of that for you. But why don’t people do that any longer?

That’s not the case anymore though. At a time when teenagers are self-documenting their lives on a daily basis, the concept of investing in a time capsule capturing high school life seems as outdated as a 1980s-era Farrah Fawcett flip hairstyle. Little wonder then that sales of traditional-style yearbooks have been declining by an average of 4.7 percent for several years now.

Unfortunately, there are a number of companies in the business of making and selling those memory-preserving keepsake class rings and yearbooks. Minneapolis-based Jostens is one of the largest, a $700 million company best known for producing school yearbooks and high-end customized jewelry (aka school rings).

“There’s no doubt we’re up against a cultural shift.”

“There’s no doubt we’re up against a cultural shift,” admits Chuck Mooty, who has been striving to make the 117-year-old company more relevant in today’s digital age since taking the CEO seat in January of 2015.

Mooty is no novice at leading transformation. He came to Jostens fresh from bringing a troubled mill, Faribault Woolen Mills, back from the brink of bankruptcy, having previously steered Fairview Health Services through a crisis. During his 18 months at Jostens, he moved quickly to bring new products to market, incorporate digital platforms in existing ones and explore new lines of business.

“We realized that we just haven’t created a lot of new products—haven’t tried to figure out the next generation of our product offering,” he explains. Mindful of the need to compete with the instant gratification that social media engagement can offer, Mooty worked to incorporate mobile apps and digital tools in the yearbook-creation process.

Jostens recently rolled out Replay It, a mobile app that lets students, parents and faculty upload photos and videos to a centralized yearbook website. “It serves the purpose of helping to feed material for the yearbook production, but it also lets you create your own customized subsection of photography and video that you want to encapsulate,” he explains.

In the company’s custom-jewelry business, two new, more contemporary style options have given students more ways to personalize their school rings. The launch seemed to deliver a bump—
new jewelry products made up 20 percent of the company’s 2015 class ring sales, they are also aiming for a cocktail ring design. Perhaps more significant, however, is the effort Mooty is leading to leverage the company’s core capabilities
to reach new markets. Recently, for example, Jostens convinced the Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES) to let the company design custom jewelry for members of the military.

“We are actually providing engagement rings to servicemen and women,” says Mooty, who notes that the company’s technology enables customers to produce a customized product within 10 days. “When you can offer consumers the ability to create what they want and know that they will have an American-made product on their doorstep within seven to 10 days, that’s very powerful.”

Since school rings tend to be a seasonal business, Jostens has historically run at about 60 percent capacity—which gives the company plenty of ability to serve new markets. Mooty-3“With the AAFES project under our belt, we can now go to other potential retailers with an offering,” Mooty explains. While Jostens’ hoped-for transformation is far from over, signs suggest that Mooty is making inroads. “We have actually already started to turn the tide,” he says. “We were in nearly a 10-year decline in rings; and this year, we will actually be slightly positive as far as ring volume, which will be a huge change.

“Going forward, the development of our brand will be about creating brand relevance for our products, as well as the services and technologies we provide. That really is our purpose and vision of our organization.”