Monday, January 14

Employing Social Media: Del Monte Foods

According to The Wall Street Journal, Del Monte Foods employed social networking while considering a new breakfast treat for dogs. It sent out a note to its private online community of dog owners called “I Love My Dog," asking them what they most wanted to feed their pets in the morning.

The consensus answer was something with a bacon-and-egg taste, which led Del Monte to introduce its Snausages Breakfast Bites. They are flavored like bacon and eggs, and contain an extra dose of vitamins and minerals, which the dog owners said was also important to them.

"It is not just a focus group that you see for three hours; you are developing a relationship with these pet parents," Gala Amoroso, Del Monte's senior manager of consumer insights, told The Wall Street Journal.

As far as I know, Del Monte Foods doesn’t have a blog, but it is exploring social media in other ways. As Emily Steel points out in her article, using the Internet as a tool for consumer research is spreading to diverse companies such as Coca-Cola and Walt Disney.

Last year, Southwest Airlines, which does have a blog, did something similar when it asked its readership whether assigned seating would be a welcomed change. Their readership provided a mini-focal group, which overwhelmingly provided Southwest with an overwhelming “no.”

All of this adds up to some interesting approaches on how companies are employing various techniques and tactics with social media, some of which are not transparent but a step in the right direction. Consumer engagement is alive and well online.

Sure, there may be wrinkles at times. For example, the makeshift online input employed by the producers of the “camptasic” Snakes On A Plane didn’t necessarily help the movie with their experimental approach to engaging future fans. But that’s the way it is with focus groups, formal or informal.

Consumers and brand evangelists are great, often providing insights never conceived by those closest to the product or service. However, like traditional focus groups, they can also lead companies in the wrong direction for any number of reasons, including influencers who intentionally or unintentionally hijack a group, advertising rule number 5 (people sometimes lie), and my personal favorite, “developed by committee.” (Many of us know what that is like).

As with most things, objective reasoning provides the potential to carry the day. Somewhere in between the qualitative and quantitative research from consumers and individual experience and analysis is the truth. In other words, sometimes consumers know what they want and sometimes they really do not.

For Del Monte Foods, they seem to have a leg up on hitting the middle. Selected participants provide input, and then the company accurately translates it into a product that makes sense for everyone. Pretty smart, not to mention some interesting evidence that suggests companies are more engaged in social media than “blog counting” might lead some to believe.



Rich on 1/15/08, 4:58 PM said...

More Words From WSJ:

"Some have created profiles on popular social-networking sites such as Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace, while others, including Procter & Gamble, have set up their own social-networking sites. But many of those efforts have fallen flat, because people typically join a social-networking venue not to talk about brands but to socialize with friends."

Yep. That seems right.


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