Tell me a little bit about Signing Time.
My sister Emilie Brown and I created Signing Time ten years ago. We didn’t realize my daughter, Leah was deaf until she was one-year-old because back then they weren’t doing the hearing test at birth. At 14 months we started signing with her and by 18 months she had over 50 signs. Of course we were signing because she was deaf, but we soon realized there are benefits to any child even if they’re not deaf. With sign language, kids can give clear, concise, brilliant information before they have the ability to speak.
My sister taught her son Alex signs so he could communicate with his deaf cousin Leah. Both kids were using finger spelling and they were reading words before they were two, but I was frustrated with how few people could communicate effectively with Leah. I hated to see her isolated because people didn’t know sign language. So when my sister called me and asked me if we could make a video that teaches children music, I told her I’d rather make a video that teaches kids sign language. We started out with one little video, a VHS tape that took us a year to make. We did it on credit cards and favors from friends and family. We didn’t have investors and we were busy moms.
How does social media play a role in marketing and publicizing your brand?
It takes out the middleman, and that‘s good and bad. It’s cool to be that in touch with the people who love what you do. People seem genuinely surprised that I actually respond. I don’t know what that’s a symptom of. I have a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. When I’m traveling, I let people know where I am performing and where to buy tickets. My Twitter account also has personal stuff too, like when my youngest, Lucy was in her spelling bee and people were cheering her on, virtually of course. My accounts are really me, it’s real interaction. Once someone suggested I hire someone to manage those accounts, pretending they are me. I would never do that. I think the reason is that when I was seventeen I wrote to my favorite band. They wrote back and invited me to shows and they even ended up having my band as their opening act when they came through town. I was so moved by that and thought that if I’m ever in a position like that, I’m going to be generous. I think it’s silly when celebrities act resentful of the people who house and clothe them. Social media keeps everything fresh. It helps me keep a finger on the pulse of what our consumers, fans and friends really want.
How did you grow your brand from a small family venture to a large-scale enterprise that services people across the nation and around the world?
Emilie has always had a marketing mind. We bought the website SigningTime.com and put our videos on it. We quickly saw how word of mouth really made a difference in selling our product. Our brand grew because speech therapists told their clients to buy our videos, pediatricians wrote down our website on prescription pads for patients to browse, and friends told friends. We have enjoyed some great publicity because our company story is the personal story of our family. We’ve hardly invested in advertising in all ten years. It’s been a real grassroots effort. And I know that we still have a lot of room to grow.
We’re on public television and we also have music videos airing on Nick Jr. We now have 26 DVDs in the Signing Time series, and 4 Baby Signing Time DVDs. About a year and a half ago, we launched The Signing Time Academy, so that people who are passionate about Signing Time, and about sign language, can become certified to offer Signing Time and Baby Signing Time classes in their communities. We now have over 700 instructors in the U.S., Canada, China, Brazil, and Australia. We have them all around the globe. We started Signing Time 10 years ago, and I love that there are still avenues for us to reach people we would never have otherwise reached.
I think in the next five years sign language will get the recognition it deserves as an essential part of parenting. Ten years ago, when someone would see someone else signing with a child, they would ask if that child was deaf. Now, when people see someone signing, they often ask, do you have Signing Time? I think that‘s great.
How does Signing Time make its unique mark in the business world?
I think it’s coming. We’re in the process of creating some amazing things. We’re looking at ways of educating children that haven’t been done before. Signing Time was a great idea, but it may not be the best idea we’ve had yet. Emilie and I come up with new ideas for new products all the time and we have a couple of things brewing that we think will be revolutionary. Signing Time gave us credibility through exposure on public TV as well as cable, and the Emmy nomination, people see that we know what we’re doing. Our audience will always be children and their families and teachers, and we are really good at creating music with heart that’s catchy or inspiring. We have some ideas that aren’t focused on sign language. Most of our little fans are zero to four and we’re looking at what’s next for them. We have a number of really cool things on the horizon. So far, we have a track record of surprising others, and ourselves. We intend to keep that up.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I think what a lot of us on Etsy try to do is to take something we like and (hopefully) bring the joy of that creation/product into the lives of other people. But, how do you take something that makes your life more difficult, more of a challenge, and turn that into a booming business?
Brand Channel has a great career profile going on of Rachel Coleman from Signing Time. She is an inspiring woman who took her daughter's deafness and made it into a positive to help parents all over the world, and to help her daughter have more people to communicate with.
Here are just a few of the questions from the Brand Channel article, and please click here if you would like to read the rest.