For a company that produces iconic brands, it is always tempting to sit back on their laurels and stick to the safe and familiar. Yet by expanding the concept and personality behind those brands a company can captivate its current customers and capture new ones.
It was about four years ago that the relationship between Mike and Ike hit the skids.
The makers of the famous brand of chewy candy announced that the duo was splitting up so that each could pursue their own career in music and the arts. They rolled out a new advertising campaign, featuring ads and billboards, and even their own familiar packaging, with one of the two names rubbed out.
About a year later, Mike and Ike proclaimed they had reconciled their differences and were reuniting.
Was this a marketing gimmick gone sour or a brilliant campaign to keep their confectionery in the limelight?
The proof is in the chewing. In 2012, the year after the campaign, Just Born Quality Confections, the makers of Mike and Ike, announced sales of the brand soared 7.2% — the company’s best year over year increase in its history. It also created plenty of buzz. The number of likes and followers on Facebook zoomed from 400,000 to more than a million in four months.
For David Yale, Just Born’s president and COO, it wasn’t easy to shine the spotlight on just one product. The company produces other popular brands including Peeps, Hot Tamales, and one of my personal favorites – Goldenberg Peanut Chews.
“It was a balancing act,” Yale told me on a recent edition of Mind Your Business on WABC radio. “We wanted to stay true to our traditions and iconic brand identity but also innovate to continue to surprise and delight our customers.”
Just Born has been doing just that ever since its inception as a family business in 1923. Today, it is America’s 9th largest candy company, employing 600 associates. Due to its time-honored company philosophy calling for ongoing interaction, communication and feedback from its loyal customers, they learned that customers had developed not just a sweet tooth, but a raging curiosity for Mike and Ike. Were they brothers? Childhood friends? Maybe business partners?
“We knew we had a valuable entity and a trademark product,” Yale says. “The question became, could there be a way of creating something consumers could relate to, in a newsworthy way to raise the profile of the brand, provide interest and entertainment to Mike and Ike fans, and lure in those not yet familiar with the brand?”
But it’s only because they were already a force in the field, soliciting that feedback that they were able to pull it off. “After a while it becomes part of your company DNA to have that sort of family perspective where people really count,” Yale says. “It’s our people who help us nurture and grow our brands.”
Just Born reported similar success with their marshmallow candy, Peeps, which soon became more than something to pop in your mouth. It became a conversation piece. How many Peeps did it take to stack in a vertical line to get from the bottom to the top of the Empire State Building? The answer is 7000.
Once a product becomes a conversation piece, people don’t just consume them, they can become consumed by them. Customers began making decorations with Peeps and using them in arts and crafts. “Our brands have personality,” Yale says. “So when we thought of those traits and characteristics, then we were able to expand them past candy.”
The company leveraged the lifestyle concept to expand into merchandising. Customers can purchase Hot Tamale key chains, baseball caps, trucker’s caps, ties, school supplies and tumblers. The company opened a variety of distribution channels to accommodate sales, including an e-commerce site and three retail locations.
Yet with all of this novel expansion, Just Born has never forgotten what made them great: “Our goal is to still deliver a quality eating experience every time. This is a must-do and a must-have,” Yale says. “We’ve done it for 92 years and we want to be in business for another 92 years. The only way to guarantee that is to make sure the customer will be satisfied every time they pick up a Hot Tamale or Peeps or Goldenberg Peanut Chew.”
This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Learn what satisfies your customers and deliver that experience to them consistently.