Community action

When a TV ad shares a yummy recipe for Baileys-laced frappuccinos it might catch your eye, but when that same tip comes from a girlfriend, you're much more likely to actually haul out the blender. That's why brands like Baileys Irish Cream are reaching out to their target markets through communities, particularly virtual ones. The idea is that a one-on-one exchange with a few consumers will lead them to tell their friends - and so on.

When a TV ad shares a yummy recipe for Baileys-laced frappuccinos it might catch your eye, but when that same tip comes from a girlfriend, you’re much more likely to actually haul out the blender. That’s why brands like Baileys Irish Cream are reaching out to their target markets through communities, particularly virtual ones. The idea is that a one-on-one exchange with a few consumers will lead them to tell their friends – and so on.

Baileys is tapping into Toronto-based urbanmoms.ca, a social network founded by former marketer Jennifer Maier after she became a mom and realized that advice from maternal friends became crucial.

Turns out Maier, who has worked in alternative media marketing for eight years (four years at Nestlé), is not alone, as suggested by a December survey of 330 urbanmoms.ca members from across Canada (of 5,000 total members). When asked ‘what typically encourages you to purchase a new product or service?’ 63% of respondents cited a recommendation or sample from family, friends or colleagues, versus 13% who picked advertising. The survey also confirmed something else – that just because moms have kids does not mean they have lost interest in things like fashion and technology. In fact, in most cases, their interest in these other products became amplified. Baileys hopes this is the case and aims to get consumers to consider the liqueur in warm weather. Talya Gaborieau, marketing director for liqueurs, tequila and gin at Toronto-based Diageo Canada, wants to achieve that this summer, by enticing moms with iced cappuccino and frappuccino recipes on urbanmoms.ca.

It won’t be the first time Baileys has been featured: A successful promo and contest that ran during the holiday season paved the way. ‘Our target consumer is generally 25-39s, who are social, busy and really value time connecting with friends,’ explains Gaborieau. ‘Moms are [so] busy that when they finally have a moment to breathe and relax, it’s really time they appreciate and they want to get the most out of that.’

Having joined urbanmoms.ca herself after hearing about it from a friend, Gaborieau also recognized that moms are more likely to interact with their peers than to spend time with traditional media. ‘Moms are logging onto the site because they want to…they feel it’s a great source of information or connections.’

For six weeks in December through to January, Diageo ran one contest per week on the site, asking women to describe how they celebrate New Year’s or winter with their pals. Some of the submissions actually included mention of Baileys. Each week, the company also offered a new recipe on a sponsored page called Baileys Girls Night, with a link to the brand’s website.

‘Word of mouth is huge, and I believe that the community on urbanmoms.ca is the influential community, and if you can get a couple of those consumers to see how Baileys fits into their entertaining and connecting lifestyle, then that’s a great fit for the brand,’ says Gaborieau. ‘Baileys has such high household penetration, but low top-of-mind awareness, so if we can go narrow and deep with a consumer group, then that’s exactly what we need to build the relationship. And we’re not going to get ROI on the 100, 200 or 500 moms, it’s on the group of friends they connect with.’

Having said that, Gaborieau was pleased with the impact the campaign had on urbanmoms members. Of those who responded to the survey, 50% visited the Baileys section of the site, 43% had recommended the brand to family or friends in the previous four weeks and 90% were aware of the contest. Also, 230 members contributed submissions for the contest, which gave away a Baileys indulgence pack, and the Girls Night section attracted 2,000 unique visits. But, she admits, it’s difficult to correlate sales results back to the effort, because mass advertising was also in the mix during the holiday period. Gaborieau is hoping to get a cleaner read with the spring/summer effort.

Advertisers can not only sponsor pages on urbanmoms, they can also use the site for research, by tapping into the online network’s offline events (including both large-scale events and smaller in-home get-togethers) as well as its ‘research and testing panel.’ Palm, for instance, has utilized the latter in the past; its new tech toy Palm Z22 organizer was sent to moms on the panel (there are thousands currently participating), who decided they loved it, enabling it to be featured as editorial on the site.

A similar network from the States, called Sisterwoman.com, launched in mid-April and ‘allows women to celebrate girlfriendships.’ As president and co-founder, Allie Savarino, formerly SVP at online advertising solutions firm Unicast, has since seen advertisers come on board, just as she expected.

She views her site and those like it as the online version of ‘town halls,’ which for marketers provide ‘a perfect environment, because if I can introduce myself to target consumers in situations where they are most at ease, then I can become part of their routine, which means [the brand] could become fully embedded. The premise is absolutely one that everyone [is interested in]; the trick is doing it in a way that isn’t going to be discredited, because the message is delivered in an environment that’s skeptical.’

Still, it’s imperative that marketers take that risk. For one thing, the consumer is no longer an easy target. As Savarino says: ‘Happening upon them isn’t what it used to be.’ She adds: ‘If marketers don’t engage in that one-to-one communication opportunity, they will miss a lot of their marketplace.’

Along with display advertising (Sisterwoman offers in-page box units that can hold video, interactivity, animation, etc.), marketers can sponsor a ‘circle,’ which can be open (i.e., any member can join) or closed. Since the site’s conception, 400 new circles have been formed by members.

‘We allow a limited number of advertisers to create their own circle talking about their product or service, on the condition that it’s never static,’ says Savarino. TLC is one marketer that’s done this, in an effort to get feedback on programming. Neutrogena is another. The skin care brand has established a circle to discuss its Advanced Solutions At Home Microdermabrasion System, fostering consumer comparisons to more expensive dermatological treatments, for instance. ‘Advertisers are realizing that the endorsements from other women carry so much weight,’ says Savarino, who adds that it costs between US$25,000 to US$75,000 to sponsor a circle. ‘What we have found is that women are very open to consuming advertising. But what they want to do is not only consume, but be able to talk about it.’

And she gives marketers like Neutrogena and Baileys credit for engaging communities before every other marketer leaps into action. And that they will, she says. ‘The days of people just latching onto a product or service because they saw a commercial [are running out] because branding is changing – it’s not just about what the advertiser can do, but also what they can get existing loyal consumers to do on their behalf. That’s the most important thing about community – it’s ‘Can you mobilize the people you already have invested in your product?” So, can you?

Propel runs with it

It’s not just online communities that can help marketers connect with consumers on their own turf. This summer, Pepsi-QTG’s Propel brand will be on hand during running clinics offered by Alberta-based retail chain The Running Room. The clinics, which run in local markets across Canada and attract 50,000 consumers annually, feature advice from nutrition and fitness experts. Propel will be sampled during the sessions.

Jason Stanton, advertising and promotions manager for The Running Room, says clinic participants have an average income of $62,100, a median age of 34 years old and skew 61% female. ‘These are influencers – they are vocal,’ he says. ‘The clinics and running groups are as much social as they are exercise. Participants are more interested in getting good knowledge and having a good time, rather than just focusing on the successes of running alone.’

According to Andrew Shulman, associate marketing manager for Gatorade, the CPG firm aims to drive trial and awareness of Propel Vitamin Supplement, and to communicate its product benefits (that the water is vitamin-charged, low-cal and lightly flavoured). The Running Room provides the ‘opportunity to speak to our target (active men/women, 25-35 years old) outside of traditional packaged goods channels,’ he adds. ‘We may not get a chance to contact all these people in a grocery store, and here we can get in touch in an environment they’re comfortable with. The marketing benefit is getting that buzz. It’s more credible getting the information from a friend who says: ‘This well help you stay hydrated.’ They’ll believe that versus a TV ad.’

Another benefit, he adds, is that Propel has access to both competitive and novice runners through The Running Room, which is important since its target is ‘less intense’ than the typical Gatorade consumer.

Specifically, the campaign’s goal is to encourage consumption of Propel’s 6x500ml pack by offering a 20% off coupon for all regular-priced merchandise at The Running Room on 400,000 SKUs. POS in Running Room locations plus select grocery banners across the country are also part of the promo, as are e-mail blasts to the specialty retailer’s 800,000-strong distribution list.

The summer promo is a follow up to an effort that ran last May and saw The Running Room hand out 70,000 bottles of Propel to weekend shoppers, supported by in-store advertising. Since then, says Shulman, the retailer has become a vendor for the product.