What real word of mouth looks like

Gather ’round, kids because I want to share a case study with you that I just can’t seem to get out of my head. It’s about a year old now, but the lessons you can learn from this one will stick with you for a long, long time. It’s got everything: an unsexy product. An audience in middle America. Oh, and word of mouth marketing at its finest.

I’m talking about the kids over at Fizz and their work with the American Dairy Association of Ohio.

You can read the full, award-winning case study here, but let me give you a recap.

Challenge: Milk sales in Ohio were slumping (just like the rest of the country). If fact, consumption had dropped over 50% since the 70s.

The Legwork: Fizz dug into the ethnographic research and found that 65% of Ohioans live in cities under 50,000 people and 22% live in towns under 10,000. In other words, just like we learned with the teen anti-smoking movement in South Carolina, if you want to reach the majority of people in a rural state, you have to take the message to them.

The next big thing they discovered is that there is a solid case to be made for chocolate milk as a sports recovery drink. Seriously, look it up. “Researchers and nutritionists at Indiana found that chocolate milk, the drink of little kids, was the perfect beverage to drink after strenuous activity. It was, in reality, a better for you, high tech sports drink.”

But the big A-HA moment came when Fizz was identifying their influencers for this campaign. Did they go to food bloggers? No. Health and wellness bloggers? Sports bloggers with big Twitter followings? Nope. In fact, they didn’t use online influencers at all. So think to yourself, who, in rural towns across Ohio, would be the go-to person(s) when it comes to sports, nutrition and performance – all wrapped up in respect and a source of authority?

High school football coaches.

Smart, right?

Think about it. Football is huge in small-town Ohio. It’s an honor and privilege to be on the team. So if you’re on the team, your coach’s word is law. And also if you’re on the team, you’re more than likely a popular kid in the school – so you have people watching and looking up to you. Coach says drink chocolate milk because it’s good for recovery, you drink it. Others ask you why and then they drink it, too. This has a huge trickle-down word of mouth effect.

Results: Straight from the case study:

Kroger’s chocolate milk sales in the Cincinnati region increased an incredible 475%. That is a Kroger system-wide record for increase in milk sales;Kroger management could not believe so much milk was being sold. In markets across Ohio, milk consumption increased 12-28% YTD as verified by IRI Scandata. This was 10 times the rate of the rest of the country. The sales rise was so dramatic that concerned convenience store owners even contacted the agency staff about chocolate milk’s possible illicit use because of the unprecedented sales to teenage boys (remember “Whipits?”).

There is a lot more to the WOMMY-winning case study that you’ll find interesting, so be sure to head over to the Fizz site and take a look.

The biggest take-away for me is this: Influence comes in all shapes and sizes. And it takes carefully planned, insightful digging to find out where your story is going to resonate. The days of making a list of influential bloggers and then pitching them are waning. Because the very definition of online influence is changing on a daily basis. It’s a moving target. And if it’s where you put all your hope (and money), you’re bound to fail. The social media marketing world is falling into a Facebook, Twitter and blog rut. As John Bell said at the recent WOMMA conference: “It’s our job to build belief in the fundamentals.” How true. When we forget the basics, we will fail. When we forget that 90% of word of mouth happens offline, we will fail. But when we combine online and offline in meaningful ways, it opens up a whole world of opportunity. Easier said than done? Of course. Impossible? Not on your life.

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