Commentary

Oberto Beef Jerky's Social Media, And Sales, Take Flight

As aficionados of lean, high-protein meat treats surely know, Sunday is National Beef Jerky Day. And those aficionados — bolstered by more and more aficionadas — are growing in number. In reporting that the market hit $2.5 billion last year, in fact, a Fortune story wondered if jerky might be “the new cupcakes.”

Kent, Wash.-based Oberto Brands is celebrating the day with a YouTube spot that features a drone — purportedly operated by CEO Tom Hernquist — delivering bags of its “all-natural” jerky to a lineup of its star athlete endorsers, including NFL standouts Rob Gronkowski and Richard Sherman, San Francisco Giant outfielder Hunter Pence and motorsports icon Travis Pastrana.

The execution by Court Crandall’s Positivity, the same one-man shop that does its TV and radio spots, buzzes with playfulness. There’s a business reason behind that, as well as a creative one.

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“One of the things that we’ve been focused on from the beginning, as we’ve been bringing on athletes, is to make it fun for them,” says Oberto senior brand manager Stephen O’Hare. “We’re not a Nike. We’re not a Coca-Cola. We don’t have an endless budget. So the way for us to get those guys to want to be part of the overall strategy is to do things that they really enjoy.”

That overall strategy is, in fact, right out of the teamwork playbook that the company, established in 1918 as Oberto Sausage Co., now employs.

Oberto’s share of market is “not where we want to be,” O’Hare says — about 9% in grocery and “a little less in convenience” — but it has climbed a point and a half since the beginning of the year. Credit is due not only to the way it has executed its social media efforts but also to how seamlessly that strategy is integrated with its TV, promotional and other digital efforts.

'Everybody Works Together'
“What we’ve tried to instill with our agencies, and internally, is that everybody works together,” says O’Hare, who came to Oberto from Starbucks, where he worked on Via instant coffee, 18 months ago. Before that, he was with Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which had a policy of a once-a-week call with all of its agencies.The Oberto team now does the same with Positivity, Horizon Media, DKC, its PR firm, and its new social media collaborative headed by Chris Corbin and Mario Schulzke.

“Last year we had a solid agency helping us out on the social media, but it was very, um … cumbersome,” O’Hare says. In other words, there was too much “procedure” involved in responding to consumers’ questions and comments.

“Social media is all about being in the moment and engaging the consumers on their time frame, not ours,” says O’Hare, explaining why its new team is "always on" 24/7. “We felt that if people really understood the brand, we could give them the latitude. I didn’t need, as the brand manager, to approve every single thing that was communicated.”

Also integral to the process is that everyone on the weekly call is encouraged to have a say. “We’re all part of social media. And we all have ideas,” O’Hare says. “We’re really trying to keep it as a collaborative group environment among the agencies -- and it’s worked very well. It’s kind of our secret sauce.”

The payoff, according to Oberto’s tracking, is that it has a 97% engagement rate on Twitter, and it “dominates the beef jerky conversation” on Facebook, “with a rate of 77.5% of people talking about the brand.” Since the beginning of the year, its Facebook following is up by 26%, Instagram has grown 95% and its Twitter following has soared by 417%.

Not coincidental to those stats are these: Grocery sales are up 27% this year, while convenience sales have risen 38%. All those figures should spurt on National Beef Jerky Day, if CEO Hernquist’s pitch at the end of the new spot has its intended impact. To celebrate, he tells viewers, Oberto will be giving away product every hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. PT, pointing them to its social media channels for more information.

“I think this year we’ve really come into our own,” O’Hare says. "I wouldn’t say we’ve figured it out, because I don’t think anybody has really figured out everything — it changes every day — but we’ve hit our stride, and we continue to experiment quite a bit. I think that’s what has contributed to our success.” 

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