People at ice cream marketer Ben & Jerry’s like to think they wrote the book on experiential marketing, ever since founders Ben and Jerry started touring the country in the Cowmobile back in the 1980s. But maximizing its social media budget has been as perplexing to the Burlington, Vt.-based company as it is to the next advertiser. Jay Curley, integrated marketing manager at Ben & Jerry’s, tells Marketing Daily how using Twitter as an integral part of its sampling program has boosted its ROI.
Q: Just about every marketer is using Facebook and Twitter, but not many are sure they are using it well. How did you start the Sweet Tweets program?
A: We’ve always used sampling, ever since the Cowmobile. We humbly think we make the best ice cream in the world. But even with social media, we did it in a very old-school way. We’d say, 'Here we are in New York City -- come get ice cream.’ In the course of an afternoon, we’d probably reach a few thousand people. But in the summer of 2010, in just a little part of the program, we flipped it and asked our fans: 'We’re in New York, south of Houston Street. Who wants ice cream?’ It worked so well that by the end of the summer in our New York and Boston programs, 90% of the time we were just taking requests via social media, mostly from Twitter.
Q: So you actually deliver?
A: Yep. Right away, saying 'Who wants ice cream?’ generates a lot of conversation -- a lot of ways to connect with many fans on Twitter and Facebook. And then, let’s say, we select Bob, and go to Bob’s office with 20 people and serve them ice cream. Bob, of course, is tweeting, and likely has a few hundred followers and a few hundred friends. And we’ve made him the hero. His coworkers tweet. And when they tweet “I love Ben & Jerry’s,” it means more. So this is a much more personalized experience -- it’s more enjoyable … and while we’ve only give 20 full-sized ice cream cones away, we’ve potentially reached many more people.
We’re scaling our sampling, so that one sample makes 600 to 700 impressions. And they are social impressions, coming from friends, so they reach people in a much more meaningful way than just seeing a truck on the street offering free cones. We always knew sampling was good and felt right for our brand, but we could never show an ROI like this.
Q: And you’ve expanded to more markets?
A: Last year, we took the program national and went to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston. This year, we’re adding Washington, D.C., Portland, and Seattle.
Q: Is the point really to introduce new flavors? Or just share brand love?
A: In the past, we’ve sampled with core flavors. This year we are using sampling to introduce a new line, the Greek Frozen Yogurt. Fans love it, and so it is proving just as effective with a new line as with established flavors. We know we exist because of what happens when people try our ice cream. Those who love us really love us, and we try to love them back.