Savvy Marketers Let Consumers Call the Shots
By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Updated: 03/24/2011 1:10am
When Baskin-Robbins launches its newest ice cream flavor in June, it won’t be one that was whipped up in the ice cream icon’s supersecret test kitchen.
This one was concocted by a 62-year-old grandmother of four. And she did it online.
“When I wake up on June 1st,” says Diane Sroga, the Chicago resident and professional numbers cruncher who created the flavor, “I’ll probably stop at Baskin-Robbins before I go to work — just to make sure it’s real.”
Once she sees it on sale, she says, she’ll know it’s not some dream. Sroga is one of more than 40,000 consumers who competed in an online contest to create the chain’s next flavor — and her Bunches of Crunches concoction (since renamed Toffee Pecan Crunch) won out. She is part of a new breed of consumer who has combined talent, digital media and moxie to move from the sidelines to the playing field of product creation.
In a world where consumers demand to call the shots, savvy marketers increasingly are finding ways to let them do just that — even in the creation of products. Mountain Dew was among the first to let consumers become fully involved in its product creations, even letting them help design new bottles and cans. More recently, Lands’ End let two kids — ages 9 and 11 — design T-shirts that it sold online.
It’s one thing to let consumers create brand commercials — as Doritos and Pepsi have done in recent Super Bowls — but it’s something else entirely to ask folks to concoct a product that could conceivably be their Next Big Thing. One thing’s for sure: Companies aren’t doing it just to be nice.
They’re doing it to keep consumers engaged with the brand. They’re doing it in response to social-media-wise consumers who demand to have a direct say in the products that companies make. And they’re doing it because a growing number of brands recognize that some of the best ideas come from outside, not in.
“It’s a provocative idea to let the consumer have the keys to the castle,” says Amy Cotteleer, president of A Squared Group, which specializes in [experiential] marketing. “But people are demanding that they have unfettered access to the brands and products they use.”
By letting real consumers play a hands-on role in creating products, the big brands are giving their best customers plenty to chirp — well, tweet — about. Beyond that, Cotteleer says, as each company looks for what’s “next,” there’s increasing realization that — unless you’re Apple — the answer might not be within the company’s own doors.
Which is precisely what Sroga did. She remembers receiving an e-mail — out of the blue — about the contest. She received it because she had previously registered her grandchildren to receive free Baskin-Robbin ice cream cones on their birthdays.
“I’d never entered a contest of any type,” she says.
But this one interested her because she’s an ice cream junkie and every summer makes homemade ice cream with peaches she picks from the tree in her backyard.
So, during one lunch hour at work, she concocted a recipe online using the ingredients she loves most: chocolate, nuts and caramel. What she ultimately created, she says, “sounded more like a chocolate candy turtle.”
Shortly after submitting the entry, she forgot about it. But about a month later, she received an e-mail from Baskin-Robbins informing her she was among the 10 finalists — one of which was to be selected by consumers through an online vote. A month later, she received a phone call at home that she’d won the whole shebang. The company brought her and her husband to its Boston headquarters and filmed her mixing a batch of her creation. It also gave her hundreds of dollars in free ice cream certificates.
“I’m still surprised by it,” she says. But Sroga says she knows exactly what Baskin-Robbins is up to. “It really is possible for an everyday person to come up with something that a company might be looking for.”
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Copyright 2011 USA TODAY