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Case Study: A Spoonful of Social Sampling

$html.esc($author.firstName) Bells By Karen Bells on May 27, 2015

Chirpify and General Mills partnered to use the power of social media – and freebies – to spread the word about the relaunch of French Toast Crunch.


It’s good to be missed, as General Mills found out recently. The food manufacturer reintroduced its French Toast Crunch cereal after nearly a decade off U.S. grocery shelves, to Internet raves.

The company got the word out about the relaunch in multiple ways, including its website and traditional mailers. But it was a “social sampling” campaign – marrying the reach of social media with the appeal of freebies – that put the product into the hands of its most loyal, and connected, fans. In some cases, within hours.

To design and run the campaign, General Mills tapped Portland, Ore.-based Chirpify, which helps brands such as Oreo and L’Oreal convert mobile and social actions into rewards and brand loyalty. Chirpify had previously worked with General Mills, which posted 2014 revenue of $17.9 billion, on Cheerios as well as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the brand umbrella under which French Toast Crunch lives.

Rather than just virtually shouting at everyone on social media, General Mills took a targeted approach to create one-to-one conversations with those who really like the product – and are willing to tell their friends, said Chirpify Senior Marketing Manager Jessica Williams.

Here’s how it worked:

The Challenge

The primary goal was to get French Toast Crunch into the hands of the company’s best and most socially connected consumers. Along the way, the campaign also aimed to earn new social media exposure and followers and, critically, to close the loop between social engagement and a quantifiable metric that contributes to grocery sales.

The Solution

Chirpify’s says it likes to make things “frictionless” for consumers, forgoing microsites, brand apps or gamification, which require people to do extra work and move into new areas (and creating additional cost and effort for the brand). The French Toast Crunch social sampling campaign kept consumers where they already were hanging out – in this case, on Twitter. Even for the step of collecting consumers’ email addresses, the campaign kept people in the same place; users entered their email addresses via a Twitter popup window, rather than being directed to the company website or another brand-specific site.

Chirpify typically works within a company’s loyalty program, calling it “the grease that makes the process repeatable.” General Mills does not operate a formal customer loyalty program; but Williams said the brand managers consider the social sampling a loyalty effort, and the process will be repeatable through hashtags and collected contact information.

The Implementation

The social sampling campaign began with a call to action: A tweet was sent on Jan. 16 from the Cinnamon Toast Crunch brand, basically saying, “Hey, who wants this?” The brand’s Twitter followers were urged to retweet to their followers and use the hashtags #sample or #MoreFTC to receive a free sample of French Toast Crunch in the mail. The popup window collected an email address and a physical address for delivery of the cereal.

General Mills had predetermined that it would give away 8,000 samples; although it was a relatively small amount, Williams said the manufacturer and Chirpify expected the sample-requests stage of the campaign to last a week. Instead, the 8,000 samples were all requested within four hours on the first day, surprising both.

The brand enjoyed additional social media exposure – what Chirpify calls earned media – over the next couple months as consumers received their free samples and tweeted about them, as well as tweeting again when they purchased boxes of the cereal. “Woohoo” was a tweet seen multiple times among those happy to get the freebie.

Once that social media attention died down, Chirpify sent a follow-up email in April to the freebie recipients, giving them a coupon for 50 cents off a box of French Toast Crunch in-store as a reward for their social media engagement.   

The Results

In addition to identifying and rewarding its most socially engaged followers with free samples, French Toast Crunch was able to track coupon redemptions in the second part of the campaign.

Nearly 40% of those who received the 50-cent-off coupon opened the email, which Williams said was much higher than the 13.9% industry average. About 20% of those who received the email actually redeemed the coupon.

The campaign also resulted in what Chirpify called “incremental sales to the grocers,” an amount it declined to reveal. The real value in that result, Williams said, is the ability to connect social engagement to later purchasing behavior – putting a return on investment on social media.

What’s Next?

Future campaigns will be more streamlined, Williams said, since the collected information is stored by Chirpify. If Cinnamon Toast Crunch followers tweet for future promos or giveaways, they won’t need to fill out a popup form.

In addition, the cereal brand is able to segment the market via the collected information; and for future efforts, it can plug consumers into targeted Facebook ads, for example, or other personalized messages.

Finally, the French Toast Crunch campaign acknowledged something that many brands forget – they need to give something back in exchange for social media support. Alex McEachern, a loyalty-marketing specialist at Toronto-based Sweet Tooth, which builds loyalty programs for ecommerce companies, said companies sometimes forget there’s a quid pro quo – consumers are willing to share socially, but they expect to be rewarded.

A spoonful of sugar, as they say, helps the medicine go down. 

Meet The Author

Karen Bells

As senior editor, Karen helps guide the tone and direction of COLLOQUY and maintain its position as a leading authority on loyalty rewards and customer experience. She creates crisp and relevant content for the magazine, website and e-newsletter and serves as a liaison for contributors and subject-matter experts. In addition to editorial content, Karen writes case studies and special reports – including the benchmark 2015 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census – and attends educational conferences to stay up on industry trends.

With 20-plus years of newspaper experience as her guide, Karen distills complex information and data into useful stories and finds the interesting details behind the research. She has held reporter and editor positions at the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press and the Cincinnati Enquirer, focusing on everything from pop music to national news to local breaking news. During a nine-year stint at the Cincinnati Business Courier, Karen wrote about businesses ranging from mom-and-pop operations to Fortune 500 corporations, with a primary focus on businesses’ growth strategies.

Most recently, Karen served as copy desk chief and print production editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer, supervising a team of 12 editors. Karen earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State University. She has been active in the Society of Professional Journalists and Women in Communications and has judged national writing contests for the American Press Institute.

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