Leadership Talk Tracks - Truman Factory

Leadership Talk Tracks: Truman Factory

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In the summer of 2016, Truman Wilson, an 11-year-old individual, was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit displayed by young individuals on the popular reality TV show, Shark Tank. Motivated by this, Truman embarked on his own business venture, establishing The Truman Factory. Over the years, The Truman Factory has gained particular recognition for its signature product, the Truman Bar. This delectable chocolate treat is exclusively crafted by Nassau Candy/Chocolate Inn, located in Hicksville, New York. Notably, each Truman Bar contains a golden ticket voucher, reminiscent of the renowned Willy Wonka, promising fortunate recipients a variety of prizes, ranging from video games to drones. I’ve had the privilege to sit down and speak with Eric Aaberg, the head of social media strategy and marketing for TGR Creative, who oversees the social media and marketing efforts for The Truman Factory. TGR Creative is a local creative agency that focuses on Gen-Z social media strategy, brand marketing, and much more. They’ve had the privilege to represent Truman Factory and help them expand throughout the metroplex and beyond.

Grayson Mask: I’m curious about the original founding of this business. When did it start, and what was the inspiration behind it?

Eric Aaberg: Absolutely! Our business, Truman Factory, started in 2016 and was founded by Truman Wilson, named after him. He’s the son of Derek Wilson and plays a significant role in our brand, being featured in our social media content and leading the brand’s day-to-day decisions. Truman was inspired to start the company after watching Shark Tank. He thought, “If all these other CEOs can start their own business, why can’t I start mine?” So, at just 11 years old, he collaborated with his dad to establish The Truman Factory. The brand’s initial motivation was the desire to do something new and different. This month, in fact, marks our seventh-year anniversary. Although the brand has evolved over the years, we remain true to our origins. My agency’s team joined Truman Factory back in July, so we’re entering a new, exciting chapter for the brand.

Roughly two years ago, Truman Factory underwent a strategic rebranding to resonate more with the vibrant gaming community. Trademarkin the tagline “the official candy of gaming”, we signified a pivotal evolution in our brand narrative. Though our roots, established in 2016, weren’t originally anchored in gaming, they were always centered on innovation and the thrill of discovery, intertwining delightful prizes into each candy experience. Our refreshed branding draws inspiration from the iconic golden ticket, making each chocolate bar and gummy bag we produce a gateway to a unique adventure. When customers open up their treats, they’re greeted with this golden ticket, which leads them to TheTrumanFactory.com. On our platform, they’re immersed in the “Epic Prize Vault,” an interactive space crafted with a distinct gamer flair. Every golden ticket code not only amplifies the candy experience but also offers the thrill of potentially winning sought-after prizes, from next-gen gaming consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Steam Deck to popular game titles such as Zelda, Call of Duty, and more. By introducing “seasons” related to trending games, we’re not just participating in the gaming dialogue; we’re shaping it and reinforcing our commitment to the community.

GM: You’ve mentioned aligning the candy as the official candy for gaming. What was the strategy behind this? Did the candy specifically target Esports, or were there events catering towards gaming?

EA: Two years ago, Truman Factory CEO, Derek Wilson stepped into a prominent role by entering the investor group of OpTic Gaming. It’s worth noting that Truman Factory’s roots trace back to its incubation within the very walls of OpTic Gaming’s headquarters. This fortunate beginning led to Derek, and I’s paths crossing during my time on the social team at OpTic back in 2021.

Acknowledging the ever-growing, passionate gaming community, especially the younger demographic’s affinity for video games, we harnessed an opportunity. We reshaped Truman Factory to further resonate with gamers, enhancing our prize offerings with newly-released gaming consoles and ensuring our candy products were crafted not to disrupt gameplay with nuisances like sticky residues.

We’ve had the privilege to collaborate with OpTic and a handful of upcoming creators in the space in the past, too. As we now step into this next chapter, we’re thrilled about soon unveiling our expanded partnerships within Esports and the gaming industry. It’s essential to emphasize that while our affiliation with Esports is robust, our ambitions span even beyond.

GM: Earlier, you mentioned events and activations, specifically highlighting the recent success with the SMU campus. Could you expand on that experience? Were there any unique challenges with that campus compared to other events or distribution strategies in the past?

EA: Indeed, our footprint extends across various retailers nationwide, with a particular emphasis on the DFW region. Notably, our candies can be found on the shelves of select H-E-B stores, every Micro Center location across the country (boasting 26 stores), and also in District E. in Washington, DC. Our partnership with Southern Methodist University (SMU) streamlined significantly, thanks to our prior status as a verified vendor with Aramark, which is the chief food and dining distributor for the university. Presently, students and faculty can enjoy our products at two key spots within the SMU campus: Mac’s Place and The Market.

It’s noteworthy that our product at Mac’s Place is highlighted, and soon, we’re in the works to advertise it more on campus as an SMU student-founded brand. We’ve been there for about four weeks, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, even without us pushing our marketing efforts. We’re planning some pop-up events on the SMU campus. College students are indeed within our target demographic. They appreciate freebies, have an affinity for candies, and resonate with the Gen Z brand vibe we’re aiming for. We aim to make our brand relatable, infusing humor and interactive experiences, differentiating from traditional candy brands. While the candy industry in itself is fantastic, our goal is to appeal more to the Gen Z demographic (as well as casual gamers of all ages). By turning candy consumption into a fun, prize-winning experience, we hope to connect more with our audience. We’re also planning to foster a robust gaming community, maybe through platforms like Discord, and are in preliminary discussions about hosting a seventh-year anniversary pop-up event. In terms of storefronts in DFW, Truman Factory’s candy product is sold in 25+ locations in the metroplex.

GM: You mentioned the unique attributes of your candy, like not leaving residues on fingers, which is crucial for gamers. Could you talk about the current items you offer? And have you noticed any trends in sales, like a preference for sour or sweet candies?

EA: That’s a great question. We’re entering a new era for the brand. Although we’ve been around for seven years, our intensified marketing efforts, particularly targeting Gen Z, began just two months ago. So, while I can provide some insights, a comprehensive answer regarding sales trends might be more accurate in about a year.

To offer more insight into our market research, we’ve partnered with the University of Texas at Dallas (School of Management). As a part of their curriculum, marketing seniors at UTD work on a capstone project, and our brand is one of their projects this year. We’re thrilled to have around 10 student interns working on our brand, conducting focus groups, market research, and sharing their insights. This initiative provides us with valuable feedback from our target demographic. In terms of our product line, we currently offer five gummy flavors and two chocolate bars, one dark chocolate and one milk chocolate. We aim to cater to varied preferences, be it gummies or chocolates. Our ongoing market research and feedback from focus groups will inform potential changes in packaging, flavor options, and other aspects to better serve our audience, especially within the gaming community.

GM: With the involvement of interns, focus groups, and mentors from UT Dallas, have there been any unique insights or perspectives that changed your view of the brand?

EA: It’s a blend of affirmation and fresh perspectives. One thing to note is that our entire marketing team belongs to Gen Z. In fact, half of my marketing team are seniors at UTD, with the rest being alumni. As we onboard our project marketing interns, we continue to gain diverse views, including those from individuals who might not be avid chocolate fans or gamers. Such varied perspectives are invaluable.

While the interns are diligently working on several initiatives, the majority of their findings and contributions will become public in December, marking the end of their semester and internship. Currently, we’re channeling our efforts into understanding how different segments of Gen Z – from avid gamers to casual ones and even those indifferent to gaming – perceive our brand.

Our dual taglines, “the official candy of gaming” and being “the first-ever candy with a prize,” guide our brand direction. While we’re planning numerous events targeting the gaming community, our vision extends beyond that. We aim to entice a broader audience, those intrigued by the idea of winning prizes or simply finding our concept appealing. Our overarching goal is to create an inclusive community, encompassing a broad spectrum of Gen Z, whether they’re based in DFW or scattered across the state.

GM: You’ve mentioned the distinction between hardcore and casual gamers. Are your marketing approaches for these two groups distinct? And have you found a preference for specific social media platforms, like TikTok or Instagram, in targeting them?

EA: That’s an insightful question. When it comes to our gaming and Esports community, they predominantly reside on Twitter (X), although we’ve seen some transitioning to Threads and other platforms. While I have reservations about Twitter’s recent changes, it undeniably remains the hub for our hardcore gaming audience.

Instagram serves as our ‘hero platform’ concerning visual content. We foresee significant engagement with college students on this platform, especially based on our initial interactions with the SMU community. TikTok presents a unique dynamic: it pushes content to a vast audience, irrespective of specific target groups, due to its “For You” page algorithm. Interestingly, we’re planning some engaging content related to the upcoming Wonka movie, which will manifest predominantly on TikTok in the form of short videos.

Addressing your question on specialized marketing for different gamer types, we strive for content that feels inclusive. The goal is to intrigue both the competitive and casual gamers. While some content, particularly our Esports partnerships, specifically resonates with the former, we also emphasize general content that’s humorous and engaging.

In essence, managing a brand on social media is akin to cultivating a personality. It’s about striking a balance between humor, relatability, and catering to specific interests, be it gaming or broader Gen Z trends. That’s the challenge and the fun of it!

GM: Given the brand’s association with Esports, can you share insights about the current state of the Esports industry? Is it growing year by year? And are more brands looking to get involved?

EA: Absolutely. Having been involved in Esports, I’d say the industry experienced some hiccups this year, as many sectors did, perhaps due to economic recessions. However, viewership is undoubtedly increasing. Some titles or platforms might observe short-term dips, but the overall gaming and Esports community is on an upward trajectory. Regarding our brand’s involvement, we’re adopting a strategic approach to partnerships in Esports. While I can’t reveal all our plans, I’m truly excited about our roadmap and future engagements. The core idea is always about building and nurturing a community.

Brands seeking to sponsor Esports events or teams have multiplied. Their objective is to find fresh, engaging ways to resonate with the audience. For instance, OpTic Gaming’s sponsorship landscape today differs significantly from what it was just five years ago. Brands are no longer just plastering their logos everywhere. They’re integrating into the Esports milieu in meaningful, entertaining ways. The challenge is to elevate a brand from mere visibility to embodying a persona within the Esports ecosystem. During my tenure at OpTic, I recall our partnership with Jack Links, where the Sasquatch mascot became an entertaining fixture, symbolizing how brands can personify themselves in this space. Similarly, on digital platforms, brands are personifying themselves, forging connections either through partnerships or their own initiatives.

We’re exploring multiple avenues, including hosting gaming tournaments to reach college students. There’s been some hesitation in the industry in recent months, perhaps attributable to the growing pains it’s undergoing. The Esports domain isn’t as mature as traditional sports, so such phases of recalibration are expected. However, the overarching trend is positive growth, punctuated by innovative partnerships and activations.