Recognizing that a consumer's two cents are well worth their dollars, General Mills and Kraft have both launched new word-of-mouth networks.
For General Mills, it is "Pssst . . . ," an online network that gives members the scoop on the latest product news and offerings. The site, pssst.generalmills.com, currently has 100,000 members after a quiet launch last month.
General Mills, which piloted a test phase last fall, has been spreading the word via e-newsletters.
Pssst uses an initial survey to help gauge product preferences. Once registered, users can voice their opinions via blog posts, share online coupon offers and recipes, and test new sample kits via the mail.
Shortly after the site went live, General Mills distributed its new Progresso Broth extensions to 23,000 recipients, along with a $1.25 coupon offer.
"It's really more of a sustainable platform designed to build stronger relationships with our consumers by giving them early knowledge about some of our new products, letting them provide feedback about what they like and don't like and maybe even being involved in future product development," said Maureen Brener, vp-marketing communications at General Mills, Minneapolis.
Kraft, meanwhile, kicked off Kraftfirsttaste.com last week, which lets consumers share the newest coupon and sampling offers, but also includes features such as a member spotlight, product reviews, discussion boards and a photo-sharing tool.
Neither Kraft nor General Mills pays members to join. Nevertheless, there is still incentive to participate, both companies say. "Consumers today regularly look to each other for recommendations and reviews on everything from books to food to cars, so we wanted to have a platform that enabled and encouraged this type of interaction and engagement," said Gwen Gray, who heads consumer relationship marketing at Kraft, Northfield, Ill.
These two companies are following the footsteps of Procter & Gamble. P&G launched Tremor, which recruits teen word-of-mouth marketers, in 2001. It followed up with Vocalpoint for moms four years later.
Tremor currently boasts 350,000 "connectors," per the company's Web site. Unlike the General Mills and Kraft networks, Tremor and Vocalpoint are separate business units that operate under P&G. Tremor's roster of clients also includes rivals like Kellogg and Hershey, as well as Ford.
Food and beverage brands are perfect for W-O-M tactics, said Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group in New Bruns-wick, N.J. Keller Fay's TalkTrack study found that food and beverage were the most talked about product verticals. "Consumer packaged goods companies like General Mills and Kraft are realizing that they have large databases of loyal consumers," said Keller. "They can now engage with them in a much broader way today via W-O-M programs than they might have been able to in the past."
Although these food companies are replicating the P&G model, they are going about it carefully. The registration process for Pssst contains a mandatory "full disclosure" statement that requires the individual to reveal his or her status as a Pssst marketer, a move to ward off potential litigation.
For instance, in 2005, Commercial Alert, a consumer advocacy group, filed a complaint against Tremor with the Federal Trade Commission. At issue was the fact that P&G's Tremor did not require teens to disclose their marketing status. "Disclosure of that relationship is the difference between honest and creepy," said Andy Sernovitz, author of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. The General Mills clause is an obvious response to the Tremor-FTC suit, he added.
Sernovitz expects to see more packaged goods companies getting into the space: "We'll see more and more companies realize that word-of-mouth is not an accident. It's something you do as a core part of the marketing mix."