BrainTrust Query: Raising Iconic CPG Brands to Social Relevancy

Apr 06, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from an article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research blog.

Remember when retail coffee brands ruled the roost? The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup. The world cups of Maxwell House. The iconic El Exigente for Savarin coffee? Now all the cup of joe mojo is with Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, with a bit of Keurig thrown in.

Where did the big CPG companies go wrong? How did they become commoditized brands in comparison to the high levels of attachment that people have to the coffee house brands? How can they get it back?

Now, before you say, "Well, Folgers and Maxwell House are packaged goods brands bought in stores so that is why no one talks about them or searches for them online," consider Red Bull, which leverages the same desires as the ritualistic coffee in the morning leverages. It is also bought in a store rather than a coffee house but it has 27 million fans on Facebook, gets 8,000 or so tweets per day, and has 10 times the number of trademark searches on Google.

You would think that many more people drink Starbucks or Red Bull in the morning than Folgers and Maxwell House, but I believe it is the other way around. Consumers just don’t care as much about it, but they should. In fact, digital and social media marketing is built to make people care about the brands they buy.

Here are six principles for marketing in a digital age to get people to care about a classic CPG brand again:

  1. Define your competitive marketplace beyond the brands next to you on the shelf. Brands in the digital and social world compete in a mental marketplace to become forces of attraction for lifestyles, behaviors, and interests.
  2. Become the expert. Encourage people to seek you out for guidance.
  3. Create a content strategy to bring your values and expertise to life.
  4. Make search the focal point and acid test. If you use the key words that describe your brand expertise, you should be on the first page of organic search results for each search term.
  5. Turn expertise into joining. Once you stand out for something that a segment of consumers really care about, encourage them to join your brand on Facebook, Twitter, and to talk about you.
  6. Turn every one of these performance goals (Facebook, Twitter, search, etc.) into metrics to define success.

Branding advantage comes from you becoming the leading expert on something central to that person’s lifestyle.

Discussion Questions: How important is a strong social media presence for well-established CPG brands? What do you think of the suggestions mentioned in the article for increasing social media awareness?

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11 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Raising Iconic CPG Brands to Social Relevancy"

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Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
5 years 5 months ago

Strong social media presence is in its heyday and has an important value to CPG brands and many other things. I’m certain that CPG companies know that their winning horses get old and lose their stamina and constant appeal, which prevents them from winning forever. Times change, attitudes revise, “winning horses” tire and new mores materialize from modern methodology.

Turn back the clock several decades: Coffee had become a commodity and drinkers were making more cups of coffee each year from a pound can of coffee. Soon coffee was wishy-washy and that presented a great opportunity to modern-day “experts” such as Howard Schultz who convert a commodity into a powerful-tasting social necessity … and at a premium price.

Until a possible new age replaces the digital age, CPG companies should communicate where most people today are looking, listening, learning and leaning.

Nikki Baird
First, I agree that a strong social media presence is important for CPG brands. And while Facebook may come to mind first, I have to say I have personally viewed more CPG ads on YouTube lately, almost more than I’ve seen on broadcast TV these days. So don’t ignore that particular channel (just had a friend email me a link to a Coca-Cola ad on YouTube this morning!). However, I think that Joel misses an important distinction between Starbucks and Folgers/Maxwell House. And it’s one that is missing from his resulting list. Starbucks provides an EXPERIENCE. You don’t just “drink” Starbucks coffee. You go to their shop, you hang out. You use it as your office away from the office, and it has become as important in easing homesickness for travelers — international especially — as McDonald’s used to be: thanks to consistency of the…experience. Sure, you can buy Starbucks coffee right next to Maxwell House in a grocery store these days, but you’re not buying coffee, you’re buying all of that experience-ness that is now wrapped up in the brand. Maxwell House once tried to open coffee shops and I think that lasted about a millisecond. But it’s because… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman

Starbucks’ model begs for a number 7 and 8:
#7 Become ubiquitous. Starbucks’ decision to expand its presence outside of its traditional outlets by making the brand available in grocery stores ensured Starbucks’ participation in new coffee occasions with new consumer groups. You can’t escape the brand now.
#8 Own the hardware and the software. On the heels of its deal with Green Mountain to provide single K-cup packs, Starbucks is going up against Keurig by launching its own espresso machine, the Verismo. Starbucks jumped on the one innovation that transformed a commodity into a value-add (single serve) and now they are going on to bring a delivery system to market.

Social media may have increased awareness for these initiatives but aggressive brand innovation is winning the day. In the meantime, musty grocery brands have remained in price-driven commodity hell. Still plenty of them on grocery and pantry shelves but no loyalty beyond.

Bob Phibbs

Funniest moment in CPG coffee from 2003: Maxwell House ad, “We saw this coffee craze coming.” Basic rule of advertising: Know who you are and aren’t. I would suggest no one is looking to Maxwell House for coffee knowledge on social media or anywhere else.

Lisa Bradner
Lisa Bradner
5 years 5 months ago
I think Nikki nailed it with “experience” — and experience brands carry a much higher cachet with consumers right now (e.g. Starbucks, Apple, and Nike). They are also statement brands, as Red Bull is. Drinking Red Bull in the morning makes a strong statement about my age, my attitude and my individuality — characteristics the brand has cultivated through guerrilla marketing since its inception. I think I would challenge Joel’s principles a little bit because most CPGs don’t have that much content or that much to be “expert” about: knowing what to say to consumers once they engage them other than ‘here’s a coupon” is one of their biggest challenges. It starts, for me with the consumer path to purchase and understanding where and when they want to hear from you, what they need from you, and how you remain relevant and provide utility. If you can create a legitimate experience that extends the brand, great — Charmin’s sit or squat app comes to mind — but start with a realistic frame of where you fit (Joel’s first principle can be applied here), how far up the value chain you can legitimately go, and then build your own brand “experience”… Read more »
Gene Detroyer

STOP! STOP! STOP! Social media is anathema to traditional CPG brands and marketing strategies. The product profile of CPG brands and the business model of CPG companies are all about mass. Social media is all about individuals. The two will never go together. To paraphrase what I have already written today in another discussion …social channels are replacing the channels that CPG companies have been using for the last 70 plus years. The challenge is going to be how to use this social media. My advice to the companies is simple. Don’t try to use it. Let it use you. Try to make it happen through good products and services. Social will never be mass.

Joel Rubinson

I’m struggling a bit with some of the excuses as to why Folgers or Maxwell House should not be expected to have the same social media traction as Starbucks. First, Coke has more fans than anyone … packaged goods, sold in stores just like Folgers. Second, I didn’t say much about experience because that is all brands really are … they deliver experiences which can be functional (drinking) or virtual (wrapping my hands around a hot cup of coffee). The point about making a statement … nothing makes more of a statement than being into coffee. You are an achiever. You are high octane. You are an aficionado in an elite club. Why should Red Bull make that statement more than Folgers? Finally, why should Maxwell House not even show up on the first page of search results? They are missing 10s of millions of impressions that would lead to concrete purchases. If there was ever a time to say metrics matter and that these brand teams (and digital support functions) are not cutting it, it would be here…IMHO.

Matt Schmitt

Brands are increasingly becoming more like media companies. Capturing mindshare and forging brand affinity with consumers requires more media and a focus on all available channels to connect with the audience. Social Media is a channel of communications, and needs to be a spoke in the strategy wheel of the brands.

Joel Rubinson

Matt, that is correct-amundo.

Ralph Jacobson

I’d like to respond to Gene Detroyer’s comments. I believe social IS, in fact, “mass.” 30M fans constitutes mass in my view. When a brand puts out a message to that group of “individuals,” it is indeed a mass marketing effort. I know of at least one CPG brand that changed their entire marketing strategy based upon listening to social channels globally. The cool part of that story is that 98% of the product is sold in one country, however 1.5 billion posts in 38 languages were talking about that product. Ever hear of Vegemite?

James Tenser

I suppose a simple guideline for any brand is this: If your brand can be perceived in any media channel, then you’d best define a strategy to monitor and influence that channel.

This will be true in social, digital and mobile every bit as much as for mass-oriented “push” media. For many traditional, mass brands, the long track record of power marketing using mass channels may have left their flanks vulnerable to upstart brands that defined their identities along with the emergence of new media. In other words, brands like Folgers and Maxwell house find themselves at a vulnerable moment in their life-cycles, where they and their entire category are beset not just with Starbucks but also with 5-Hour Energy. In that scenario, a new Facebook page or mobile media promotion is is a mere Band-Aid. Older brands must re-consider their core identities and manipulate their DNA to survive.

The good news is that the crucial strategic hints may already be crystallizing within the SoLoMo mediaspace. Mine deeply and thoughtfully, because the answers will be found in the hearts of your most brand-loyal customers.


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