News & Views

Opinion / Cultivating a Brand, One Online Community at a Time

by Contagious Contributor

Emily Schildt, director of digital engagement at Chobani, on how smart companies can amplify popular opinion

This article is taken from The SoDA Report, a trend report from the Global Society for Digital Marketing Innovators.

What few companies are willing to admit is their greatest opportunity: the consumer defines your brand. With the saturation of social media today, the best planning and strategy in the world can't account for the amplification of popular opinion. Smart companies leverage this with heavy emphasis on listening, adhering to consumer interests, behaviours and demands, and allowing insights to drive innovation, communication and marketing. 

Without any traditional advertising, Chobani Greek Yogurt rose at rapid speed to the top of its category. From the beginning, we made a conscious effort to focus on social media, investing in cultivating a passionate following to authentically influence others, all the way to the checkout lane. With communication standards matching the excellence of our products, and 'giving back' a core corporate value, no tweet and no Facebook post went unanswered without a human response. That was the simple start of it all - top-notch customer service. As Chobani's popularity grew, so did its fan base - resulting in the pleasant surprise of an echo chamber of delight among vocalists online. 

The function of social media quickly advanced from customer service to proactive conversation. As we listened closely, key influencers weren't just talking about our products -- they were talking about our brand. Consumption was habitual, rooting Chobani in an everyday healthy lifestyle. It was associated with highs, lows, routine, milestones, emotions and hobbies. To propel conversation, our model evolved to organising communities around these shared interests, and reaching like-minded audiences beyond the yogurt-enthused. 

Internally, we restructured to focus on these communities, developing everything from content to experiential activities. With a laser-focused team, we could capitalise on topic trends and platform-specific opportunities per community, and allow external agency talent to support larger campaigns, initiatives and fresh thinking. 

Many companies choose to put their community management efforts entirely in the hands of their external agency partners, often losing the speed, agility and intimacy necessary to sustain an ongoing drumbeat of conversation. While time-consuming and demanding of human resources, we believe our commitment is in keeping this practice in-house - which we owe much of our success to.

Apart from a steady share of voice, our social media engagement has allowed fans to play an active role in molding our brand into what it is today. The feedback loop has informed everything from product development to marketing and communication. Tweets line the halls of our offices across the globe. 

We know that modern consumers make decisions based on functional benefits and price, but also on participative and emotional benefits. Millennials seek brands with which they share values and a sense of ownership. With an overwhelming array of options in every aisle, each purchase is a statement of identity. And as we move forward as a company, we'll continue to ensure we're dedicated to listening and evolving our brand to excite, delight and collaborate with our core consumer base.

Emily Schildt is director of digital engagement at Chobani, Inc