CHOmobile: Chobani's digital marketing strategy augmented sampling vans

 Exhibit 13.4   Chobani features extensively in blogs such as sweetdealin and mealsandmovesblog where this CHOmobile visual has been sourced from.

Unlike Maria Sharapova, Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, did not have a large fan base on social media when he first ventured into the yogurt business. Hailing from a dairy-farming family from Turkey, he came to the U.S. in 1994 to study.

Eleven years later, his decision to purchase a defunct yogurt factory from Kraft Foods, was based primarily on his conviction that consumers would prefer the thick, strained yogurt which he grew up with in Turkey, as opposed to the “sugary, watery and artificial” varieties that were available in the market in 2005.

Starting with just 5 employees, and lacking a big marketing budget, Ulukaya made use of the internet and social media to reach out to a large base of bloggers, and connect with consumers on Facebook and Twitter. The online buzz that these initiatives generated was instrumental to the success of the brand during its infancy.

Sales accelerated in 2010 spurred by the CHOmobile (Exhibit 13.4), a sampling truck, which handed out free cups of Chobani yogurt at festive and family-friendly events all over the U.S.

Chobani grew into a $1 billion empire within five years of launch, leading the U.S. yogurt by 2011, and Greek yogurt’s market share in the U.S. surged from less than 1% in 2007 to more than 50% in 2013.

Since 2013 Chobani’s yogurt sales have tapered and started to decline, and the company has expanded its product range to include Chobani Mezé yogurt-based dips, yogurt drinks, and foods for toddlers containing ingredients such as Omega-3 DHA and live and active cultures, in addition to yogurt and fruits.

To a great extent Chobani’s success may be attributed to its highly effective social media strategy. According to Ulukaya, “We knew we had a great tasting, good-for-you product, now we just needed to get people to try it. Sampling and word-of-mouth was huge for us, especially at the start, as we had no money for traditional marketing or advertising.” And so, from the onset, consumer-driven social media marketing was the preferred approach.

Chobani’s website is littered with stimulating recipes and photos that evoke excitement and interest. As mentioned earlier, the company reached out extensively to bloggers, and it is heavily engaged and active in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram, where it strive to create an atmosphere that is “warm and quirky, engaging and inviting”. Chobani also uses the foursquare search-and-discovery mobile app to promote tours and events, and to help consumers locate CHOmobiles.

As of October 2016, Chobani has over 1.3M fans on Facebook, which takes it well ahead of other yogurt brands. Their YouTube channel has 16 million views since its inception in 2009. And according to company sources, they garnered over 10 billion earned media impressions, during 2013.

A good social listener, Chobani gained valuable insights that shaped the development of new flavours and new products. One of their bestselling flavours, black cherry, came about from a consumer request.

Always responsive to consumers, Chobani exhibits exemplary social accountability, and effectively manages word-of-mouth. Company sources claim they respond to every consumer inquiry, and as can be seen from their Facebook page, they are well engaged.

In 2012, when there was a voluntary recall for some of their products due to mould contamination, the company responded by sending personalized letters from CEO Ulukaya. According to Chief Marketing Officer Peter McGuinness, “He wanted to write a personal letter to each of the 150,000 people that had an issue with our product because he takes it very personally and very seriously, and he wanted to thank them for ... sticking with us and standing by us.” Taking this a step further, Chobani sent trucks across the country to celebrate with their consumers by throwing yogurt parties. Giving away free products was their way of rewarding fans for their loyalty.

Chobani’s brand identity centres on goodness, nature and health, and this is reflected in their taglines “Nothing but Good”, “Simple, Pure food”, “You Can Only Be Great if You’re Full of Goodness” and “No bad stuff”. The brand’s image and identity is interwoven with consistency across the social and conventional media.

One of the interesting facets of Chobani’s media strategy is the emphasis on the values, lifestyles and causes. Their communication is not always product or brand centric, and, according to company sources, web metrics reveal that consumer engagement ranked highest for postings about their “brand’s values and personality but not directly about yogurt”.

This may partly be the outcome of the company’s humble beginnings. The Hamdi Ulukaya story inspires people, and it has helped associate the Chobani brand with a dose of aspiration and the spirit of achievement — “Our story proves that the American dream is alive and well”.

The company’s willingness to take a stance on social matters is reflected in the “To Love This Life is to Live Naturally” campaign which showcases LGBT acceptance, as also to their opposition to Russia’s anti-LGBT law, and their defence of LGBT athletes in the Sochi Olympics. It supports social causes through its participation in community activities, and by donating a proportion of its post-tax profits to charity.

Chobani is no longer a small company and their marketing budget has grown substantially as can be gauged from their sponsorship of successive Olympics and Paralympic Games. These sponsorships where athletes have free access to an array of Chobani product, are among some of the company’s greatest marketing feats. The company’s presence and actions at these events has spawned a wealth of stories that have helped to feed the interest and excitement for Chobani in social media.

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