Cottage cheese is a pretty dull category in supermarkets. A relatively tasteless, low calorie (therefore it must taste crappy, right?), price competitive, group of products.
Yes, so we thought.
Years ago, 25 years in fact, I was the GM Marketing of a major Australian diary company with the leading brand of Cottage cheese. I thought all of the above, and we struggled to make any return, let alone one that was a competitive use of the capital tied up.
We had very good data, for the time, remembering this is pre-internet. We knew who sold our, and competitive brands in what quantities, and pretty much to whom, as we had good U&A (usage and attitude) data. As a result we were able to segment the market pretty well by usage, demographics, geography, and basket. However, whatever we did, we had trouble moving the sales needle.
Almost as a last resort, we ran a small recipe competition on the side of the packs, easy, low cost, a prize draw of a holiday at a health resort on the Gold Coast. We got a few hundred entries, a failure by our pre-agreed metrics, so we thought we knew something else that did not work. However, because there were so few, we took the time (there was a young work experience person to utilise at the time) to write back to all the entrants saying thanks for entering, and sending them a few of the top recipes we had received, just to be polite.
The response astonished us.
A very high number wrote back saying thanks for the recipes, and telling us how they used the products, what was right and wrong about them, all sorts of information we did not have, or had not thought was relevant.
Turned out, cottage cheese was not a “calorie avoidance food” it had uses in all sorts of areas by all sorts of people we had not seen as in our market, in fact, had not considered. The job we assumed was being done by cottage cheese, deduced by looking at our data, from our perspective, was not the job that consumers were hiring the product to do.
Long story short, we slowly built a database, all done by hand and snail mail, so it was a significant resource sink, a cottage cheese club in effect that shared recipes, stories, and funny events. All pretty mundane these days with the tools available, but a major undertaking in 1988.
Our sales went up, our promotional spend with retailers dropped, our price sensitivity reduced significantly, and had several successful range extensions, and we suddenly were making very good returns.
The moral is, make sure you understand the job that consumers hire your product to do, make sure you see it through the consumers eyes, not yours.
Oh, and two more lessons,
1. Social media marketing is not new, just the tools now availabel make it easier, so now everybody is doing it.
2. Cottage cheese is really very nice, 20 years after leaving the company, i still buy and use the product, in all sorts of odd ways, learnt from the “clubbies”. Brand building by another name.