16.5 Million Facebook Fans Strong: Kraft Foods' Marketing VP Shares How the Iconic Oreo Brand Tapped Social Media for Sweet Success

Zara Ingilizian

Brian Pittman’s exclusive interview with: Zara Ingilizian, VP of Marketing, Cookies, Kraft Foods

You can stop your search for a Facebook marketing success story right now. We found a big one—and the key driving force behind it sat down to share some secrets of success with our CommPRO members: Meet Zara Ingilizian, whose current position as VP of marketing for a $2.5 billion business includes roles in finance, sales, planning and marketing. “Jumping into the social media space and ‘being where our consumers are today’ is a big passion of mine” she says. “It’s a key tool in terms of how we build relevancy with consumers.”

Want proof? Check out the Oreo Facebook page here. Under her watch and that of her team, Kraft’s Oreo brand has built a loyal following of over 16.5 million Facebook fans. Read on for her take on big trends to watch in social media marketing and PR—and how you, too, can engage your customers at a such a high level online:

What do you see as the biggest social media trends marcom pros need to watch in 2011 ?

• Increased real-time marketing via mobile: What we are starting to do and what I’m passionate about is getting more into the mobile space. There is interesting technology out there that we are dabbling in that gives us a lot of intriguing capabilities. For example, if you have a smart phone, you can zap the code on the package and get a message that comes to you on your phone. So, it’s real-time marketing—you don’t have to go home.

• Deeper Twitter engagement: Another trend is the continued opportunity afforded by Twitter, which is quite different from an engagement and marketing standpoint than Facebook. In the spirit of being relevant to different consumers, we recognize that many of them have different ways of dialoging. That is a huge opportunity for brands. In our case, for example, we have about 5,800 Twitter followers. That’s promising because while so much focus in marketing and even the media has been on Facebook recently, Twitter truly offers a different opportunity for deeper penetration with your customers.

• More RT events integrated with social media: I think we’ll see big brands engaged in more real-time, real-life events with tremendous viral power. For example, we did an event recently working with Flash Mob America that included Shaquille O’Neill and Apolo Ohno (see Highlights from Shaq’s Boston and Apolo Ohno’s LA Oreo Lick Race Rallies here). Shaq appeared at the Prudential Center in Boston and Apolo did his part from Los Angeles. The Flash Mob was there. Shaq Tweeted his fans—and fans came. They took real-time videos, members of the press were there and it got on ESPN. There’s also a big YouTube component here that drove a lot of comments and viewers. So, this RT event translated into real social media buzz across those platforms—and you’ll see more of that type of thing in the year ahead.

What resources do you use to stay on top of these trends—what resources should CommPRO members be tapping into?

We are consumer marketers. So it’s an imperative for the job to continue to dialog with our consumers. We’re in ongoing conversation with them and their feelings about the brand and where it can go. So, we do a lot of consumer research. That’s where you should start to stay on top of these things—with your consumers. They know best.

We also do a lot of brand health monitoring and work very closely with our agency partners—in particular, our digital agency partner: 360i. They keep us abreast of the trends and opportunities in social media. That’s important.

Finally, as marketers, we are all consumers ourselves of what’s new and different. So what do we read? I always go on our Facebook page. I go onto Twitter to see what’s being discussed. And in terms of traditional media, I also go to CNN quite a lot to see what stories are trending.

Oreo is a brand with a lot of history—why was social media such a natural fit for you?

By way of background, I am the VP of marketing for Cookies, and oversee a pretty large portfolio. Oreo is a great example of integrating social media into our communication plans and how we dialog with our consumers. Social media is a key arm of how we go to market.

How does that translate into tactics for a brand like Oreo? Well, it’s first important to establish what the brand is and why it’s a fit in social media (SM). We have about 16.5 million fans. If you look at the heritage of the brand—that’s important. One of the lessons that other companies can take from this is that before we determine our SM vision, we look at what makes a good brand fit into the life of a consumer. We have clear definition for Oreo. Oreo is a “connector brand”—it connects them over the simple moment of having an Oreo and a glass of milk. It’s a 100-year old brand. It has tremendous “play value”—you can twist it, dunk it, and so on. It has a rich heritage in bringing families together and connecting them.

Social media is also all about connecting. So this was a great opportunity for an iconic brand like Oreo to leverage what social media can bring to the party in terms of how we interact with our consumers.

How did that start?

When Facebook starting to become popular, consumers started to create their own Oreo pages. We saw this starting to explode and being in the business of consumer marketing, we saw the opportunity to take leadership and converge the sites that were out there. We started that in 2009. But we simultaneously started “listening” to them online—what were they talking about, what was resonating and so on. Then we were able to determine the type of content they wanted. So that was one big piece: content. You have to start there.

What was the second piece?

It was how to integrate this into the overall marketing program. We started to see Facebook and social media as the anchors for all our communications program(s) and messaging. All roads, for example, lead to Facebook. We always send consumers to Facebook to interact, express themselves, participate in polls and so on.

Why is your Facebook presence so popular—what makes it sticky?

Human expression—it’s a human need. They treat Oreo like their friend. In this space, it’s a true two-way conversation.

What kind of content or posts really resonate?

Brand-centric messaging really works with them. But let me back up. We have three “platforms” or types of messaging that we put into Facebook—and these are in order of priority:

4,988 "Likes" Can't Be Wrong

• Equity messaging: content that’s about the brand.
• Promotions: where we ask them to try new products, what’s new and what’s different.
• Economic incentives: messaging that engage them to go out and purchase.

So what types of questions do you post under “equity messaging” that get good responses? And what’s a good “response” level?

Well, we sometimes get 15,000 likes for questions that fall under the equity-messaging category. An example might be: “A smile is sharing an Oreo moment with those you love.” We got 10,000 likes from that one. The responses are hugely illuminating.

What are some examples of responses you’ve gotten?

One would be, “This is very true.” Another was, “Oreo makes everything better.” Another was, “There should be a new word to describe Oreos—only to describe the most amazing things on earth.” When you read those, they are very rewarding—it’s true affinity marketing.

16.5 million is a lot of people—how do you engage such a big audience?

I have a team here in the brand leadership area that is very passionate about the space. That’s critical—you must be passionate about the brand or the messaging will not ring true.

In addition, we make a concerted effort to make sure the page is newsy, fresh, and alive. We update it frequently. Our frequency guidelines are that it must be updated once a day—or at worst, every two days.

On a related note: We also don’t want to overdo the content. We see that we get fewer comments if we send too much out. They want to hear from Oreo. They don’t want to be overwhelmed by Oreo.

Beyond that, do you have a tip for other brands when it comes to effective Facebook updates?

Brevity is brilliant. We try to be short and sweet. The post I mentioned earlier does that: “A smile is sharing a moment with those you love.” We had 10,000 likes and 786 comments. It varies. Our agency team working with the brand team responds to as many comments as possible—especially if it’s a coupon question or something that requires action.

What common social media mistakes should others avoid?

This is a conversation. It’s not an ad campaign on TV. If it’s too promotional, you will lose your audience. I also think it’s extremely critical that marketers or brand managers really “listen.” Not listening is a huge problem. That’s still the biggest mistake these days. Instead, many brands push messaging out and don’t actually “engage.”

What do you do in your free time—and how does that inform how you approach your work?

I am a curious person. That informs a lot of what I do. I love to travel, explore the world and see what different people do. The analogy to my marketing work and social media, I believe, is curiosity and tapping into new spaces and new ways of “talking” to consumers. People thrive on a sense of what’s new and different. So, traveling and meeting people allows me to be on top of what’s new and different.

Brian Pittman

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1 Comment

  1. Victor Cruz on February 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    And the budget to nab celebrity sports bigwigs Shaq and Apollo was high much?