Building brand recognition

How to run a champagne ad campaign on a beer budget

By Teri Ditisch

Editor’s Note: Ditisch is communications
specialist for Cooperative Solutions,
a federated cooperative in Arizona that
provides management services to its
member/owner cooperatives:
(a drywall distributor co-op), NEMEON
(a roofing distributor co-op), and YaYa!
Bike (a specialty bicycle retailer co-op).
This article is reprinted from the October
2002 issue of CCA News.

sk me.” How could this phrase help your co-op get noticed? Sending members out into the world wearing “Ask Me” t-shirts is one way Cabot Creamery of Vermont started building name recognition for the dairy co-op.

The t-shirt campaign was the brainchild of Roberta MacDonald, vice president of marketing for Agri-Mark, a dairy co-op owned by 1,400 New England and New York dairy farmers who own Cabot cheese. Her award-winning, “out-of-the-box” promotional campaigns have helped turn Cabot into a nationally known brand.

Cabot has been dairy farmer-owned since 1919. It began developing its signature brand of dairy products in 1984. When MacDonald arrived in 1989, the co-op had an annual marketing budget of $100,000. Today, Cabot products can be found in grocery stores around the nation and the marketing budget has grown to $10 million, which is still a small amount compared to its national competitors.

During the Cooperative Communicators Association 2002 Institute in Vermont, MacDonald shared her secrets about how to “make a modest marketing budget look like a million.”
  1. Invest in modest research to know as much as you can about your customers. Who are they? Who are their families? Find out what they like and dislike about you. What gets them excited? Do not spend money on public relations or advertising without research. “We know everything we can about a community before we spend one dollar of dairy farmer money,” MacDonald said.

  2. Take your goods or services to where “like” people are, such as tourist attractions, historic sites, parks or large community events. Cabot has “lobbed cheese hunks at tourists on ski slopes, at golf courses and in state parks” for 5 years, and they still do.

  3. Take advantage of the success of others or borrow liberally from the better-known brand, team and personality. Use what consumers know to your advantage. What are the major players doing? Start doing it.

  4. Take advantage of any competition and WIN! Cabot has won every major award for taste. If there isn’t a contest in your field, make one up and win it. Example contests might include customer satisfaction, cutest couple for Valentine’s Day, best energy savings idea or smartest college savings strategy. “Use the win. Get it out there,” MacDonald said. “Make sure it is known you are a winner. The public loves a winner.”

  5. Take advantage of public relations. Use the media. Slow news days happen, so have your story ready but don’t include a date. Make any event fun and any event can become news. “Use PR; it’s cheap compared to advertising,” says MacDonald, who spends 20 percent of her budget on public relations. She spends very little media money. Make connections with other cooperatives. Give free or discount coupons. Make outrageous connections. Cabot made alliances with museums.

  6. Use your members to illustrate who you are. Cabot put the faces and farms of its members on center stage in its ad campaigns. But beware, some doubting consumers wanted to see if the faces were real. The skeptics actually visited the farms and, to their surprise, were greeted by the same farmers they saw in the ads. Be sure that anyone who participates in a campaign is someone who could serve as a brand ambassador.

November/December Table of Contents