How a social engagement program has helped Barilla's bottom line

Pasta and sauce maker shares how customer advocacy through social channels is helping the brand's success

Getting to know your consumers can better can be a difficult challenge for FMCG companies, with no real chance to engage in anything more than a one-sided conversation in the lead-up to and during the sales process.

Pasta and sauce maker, Barilla, has tackled this challenge head-on with a social engagement program that is identifying and engaging directly with customers to uncover insights and build advocacy, in conjunction with social media agency, Digivizer.

According to Barilla’s marketing manager, Carly King, this is a big step forward from what the company was doing when she joined six years ago.

“We were traditionally using mass media to drive awareness,” she said. “The messages from that are based on research, but they are very inward looking.

“For the past couple of years, we have been working with Digivizer and really listening to how consumers talk about our brand and the general product of pasta, pasta sauce, cooking and so on, and getting a better understanding of those consumers.”

The relationship came together in 2015 when Barilla was launching a new range of gluten-free pasta. Digivizer was engaged to listen in to social conversations and identify the most relevant and influential people to connect with.

King said the exercise quickly uncovered previously unknown insights from gluten-free buyers.

“The thing that we hadn’t taken on-board was they were saying they didn’t have to cook a separate meal any more, and could feed it to their family and they’d never guess it was gluten free,” she said. “We were able to take that insight and put it into the broader digital advertising, which we then pushed out about six months after launch.”

The results were clearly reflected in the sales performance of the new line.

“In the 12 months on the market, in one retail channel we achieved 13 per cent of the market, which is significant,” King said.

The social listening platform has also helped Barilla respond to any issues, even when the conversation is not specifically directed to the company. While it continues to use focus groups, this is now mostly for finessing advertising content.

King said she is revelling in the opportunity to be closer to her customers, and this has enabled her to optimise her media spend.

“We are still a challenger brand in this market, so part of the job to be done is still driving awareness,” she. “But we have reduced our spend on TV in favour of being present in digital.”

Barilla’s share of voice in social has also produced data that has been useful in negotiation with its distribution partners.

“From a marketing perspective I can talk to their people about how we leverage off each other,” King said.

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