August 08, 2007
Case Study

How CPG Marketer’s Guerrilla Campaign Landed Coveted Space on Whole Foods' Shelves

SUMMARY: Don’t you love hearing about guerrilla marketing tactics that actually work? If so, you have to see how a small organic shaving product company enlisted consumers to help it reel in the biggest retail fish in their niche: Whole Foods Markets.

That feat alone increased their wholesale revenue 39%, and they had a 65.75% redemption rate for the coupons they used to get consumers onboard. Plus, some big lessons learned for next time.
Stan Ades, Founder & President, Pacific Shaving Company, got a big break marketing his organic shaving product a few years when Magellan’s catalog came on as a wholesale buyer. And while online sales were humming along, thanks to a 35% customer repeat rate, Ades and his team were eager to reel in another “whale client” on the wholesale side.

“We needed a way to show retailers that the demand for our product at the street level was real without spending a huge amount of money on a national ad campaign,” he says.

Rather acutely, they decided to take the great selling point they had going for them -- extremely loyal consumers -- and turn them into an army of grassroots/guerrilla marketers. To do this, Ades’ team set up a link on their homepage and offered a 10% discount that led viewers to a form encouraging them to tell one of five retailers how much they would like to buy the product locally.

Here are the six steps they took to get there:

-> Step #1. Isolate retailer prospects

First, they had to determine which retailers to target. After a variety of research efforts on chains with an emphasis on natural products, Ades and his team narrowed the list to five:

- Bartell Drugs. This brand had a considerable presence in the Pacific Northwest, a fact that supported Ades’ strategy of becoming a player in that region before scaling nationwide.

- Pharmaca. They also had a considerable presence in the Pacific Northwest.

- Vermont Country Store. Ades grew up with this Northeast brand and understood their customer aesthetic.

- Whole Foods. Ades thought their product meshed perfectly with this 155-store brand, calling them the “whale account” they were truly fishing for.

- Wild Oats. Similar to Whole Foods, another “whale account.”

-> Step #2. Add the right lure

Because real-life customers were needed to drive the campaign for the plan to work, they didn’t push the promotion with outreach ads or an email blast. They wanted the testimonial letters to be authentic and avoid any appearance of looking as if they were written by coupon collectors.

In the end, they set up a discount link on their homepage, which used the copy, “Take 10% off your purchase today! Learn how...”

To receive the coupon, visitors were required to:
o Select a retail chain
o Submit their first/last name, email address and ZIP Code
o Write a comment/letter

-> Step #3. Consumer participation

To discourage any kind of misdirected letter-writing, Ades and his team described their goal to the consumers thoroughly with the following message:

“In the comments field, tell the retailer how you would like the convenience of being able to purchase Pacific Shaving Company products at their store.”

If nothing in the content caused it to be flagged by the system, three things would then occur:
o The message was sent to the executive buyer for the retailer
o Ades received a copy of each letter in his inbox
o A coupon code email was sent to the consumer

-> Step #4. Collect consumer names

A separate database file was created to collect names from the campaign because Ades didn’t want those consumers to receive any messages that they hadn't signed up for. Also, when the executive buyer received the email, the individual consumer’s name would appear in the “From” line, while the return path was to Pacific Shaving’s server.

-> Step #5. Delete bad testimonial letters

In terms of the testimonial letters, Ades’ system automatically scanned the messages for meaningless content before they were sent to the executive buyers. It specifically attempted to weed out coupon collectors, who would only type something to the extent of “blah blah blah” or “dfjksl.”

Invalid email addresses were also deleted out of the promotion.

-> Step #6. Follow-up email

To push redemptions for the coupons and encourage the submission of comments, they set up an auto-responder email. While the subject line said, “Your 10% Email Discount Code,” the email body involved a campaign code and a link to the ordering page.
The campaign paid off tremendously, hooking the biggest fish in their target niche: Whole Foods Market. On August 8th, 29 stores in the Whole Foods chain began carrying Pacific Shaving Oil.

This increased Ades’ wholesale revenue 39% compared to the recent months’ average, while lifting the company’s overall revenue 8%. They also saw a nice sales spike from the 65.75% who redeemed the coupons.

However, there were definitely some bumpy spots along the way. Two months into the campaign, Ades received an unpleasant email from Whole Foods’ executive buyer.

“My first reaction when I saw it unopened in my inbox was, ‘Oh man -- I cannot believe this worked. But, she was furious, writing in all caps, ‘I’VE BEEN GETTING 30 OF YOUR EMAILS IN MY INBOX EVERY WEEK FOR THE LAST TWO MONTHS. THIS IS SPAM. I AM GOING TO CONTACT THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU.’ ”

Of course, Ades had known that allowing the emails to go directly to the buyer wasn’t a fool-proof idea. But that email eventually led to a phone conversation with the buyer. “I started out apologizing, falling over myself that I wasn’t trying to spam or offend. I told her that I wanted to show that there’s real demand for this product on the street level. I told her that these were not my customers telling her there’s a real demand for this product, but her customers. I said, ‘Let’s put our differences aside and do what’s best for the customers.’ It struck a chord with her.”

Indeed, the buyer ended up helping Ades get into the somewhat exclusive United Natural Foods distribution system -- which he expects will open channels to other wholesale-to-retail relationships. “The moral is that, while there are plenty of ways to establish mindshare. You should not be afraid to do things that are out-of-the-ordinary.”

But, ultimately, the way this unfolded caused Ades to have his team temporarily scrap the system where the retail buyer immediately receives the emails. Now, once they collect enough testimonials specifically for a new target, they will take the comments and names, compile them into a document, call or email the buyer and send a digital copy so they can see the proof for themselves.

At the same time, he suggests that marketers wanting to use the automated version of this system to do so by pre-emptively taking out some of the guerrilla tactics while keeping the grassroots part. “I’d recommend that they call the buyer and say, ‘I am consistently receiving requests for you to carry my product. Can I send you them as they come in?’”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Pacific Shaving Company's guerrilla campaign:

Cendant Inc. - hosting service for the coupon auto-responder:

United Natural Foods:

Whole Foods Market:

Pacific Shaving Company:

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