Agion, a biotech company, had a problem: It had a great new odor elimination ingredient, but practically no budget for a B2B effort to convince apparel companies to use it. So Cyndy Hunter, VP/marketing, decided to spend the $25,000 budget on a consumer effort instead, leveraging social media to get as many people as possible to talk about …body odor.
So far, its “Stink At Nothing,” a PR and social media campaign, has generated 800,000 visitors to its Web site. And it has given the company reams of data to woo marketers like Reebok, which she says is now using the fiber in its professional hockey uniforms, and Under Armour, which plans to include it in its fall hunting line.
The 14-year-old Wakefield, Mass.-based company, which primarily sells products into the antimicrobial space, already had solid relationships with many apparel brands. “We’re a branded ingredient company, like Intel or Nutrasweet,” she says. “Over 40 brands of footwear carry the Agion tag.”
But Agion Active -- the odor elimination ingredient -- was new, and there are plenty of other scent-control products available. “The problem is that it’s an ingredient -- you can’t see it, touch it, feel it, or smell it,” she says. “You have to try it. Our hope was that high consumer demand would spark the interest of brands looking for the latest in performance features,” she says, “so we asked consumers to send us their story, and why they thought they were qualified to test t-shirts made with the product. Within six months, we had 80,000 entries, with 4,000 receiving shirts and instructions to post videos about how well they performed. (Ultimately, more than 100,000 signed up to participate, from 147 countries.)
Soldiers wore the shirts through boot camp; moms Strollercized in them. Firefighters, rock climbers and park rangers all tried them out. And many of the 4,000 testers posted video testimonials about how well the shirts controlled BO, wash after wash. Some of the entries were extra impressive, she says, including a couple that hikes 360 days a year.
In addition to providing feedback from “just about every walk of life, we were building a huge database. We got over 70,000 consumers to say what other products they’d like the fiber in, for example, and how much they’d be willing to pay."
“We are a very tiny company,” she says. “We never advertised, and relied on PR. When we got coverage in Backpacker, it crashed the site! So we spent about $25,000 on the effort, including PR and t-shirts, and I would say it’s paid us back tenfold. The big lesson for us is that while we knew consumers like to be engaged in the process of discovering new things, we didn’t realize how enthusiastic they’d be, and how much we could leverage that with social media. And that odor is a problem, and what’s out there is not serving consumers well.”
And by reaching out to “passion” groups who are active in social media -- whether it’s karate, swimming or law enforcement -- “we got a whole audience of bloggers as well. Even if you’re small, there are creative ways to use social media.”