Wisconsin’s statewide dairy marketing program has been nationally recognized for their use of social media influencers to promote Wisconsin cheese.
The marketing initiative recruits ambassadors on social media to create content featuring Wisconsin cheese. The influencers taste products, review recipes and participate in live and virtual events.
Suzanne Fanning, chief marketing officer for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, said the organization was “delighted” to win the award while competing against paid influencer campaigns.
“We know that there are so many brands who are putting just mega dollars into connecting with influencers and driving conversations,” Fanning said. “We worked with everyday people to drive authentic conversations. We don’t pay them to say anything, we just try to do things so cool that they’re compelled to talk about them.”
After four years of the campaign, Fanning said they now have 4,000 Cheeselandia ambassadors representing all 50 states. She said much of the content happens on Instagram, but the initiative isn’t tied to one social media platform.
The Cheeselandia campaign is a departure from how the ag industry has promoted its products in the past. But Fanning said she sees social media and brand ambassadors playing a bigger role in the industry’s marketing efforts moving forward.
“In ag, what we definitely need is to make sure that we’re igniting those positive conversations because there is a lot of negativity out there, and we don’t want to let that takeover,” Fanning said. “People who are negative tend to be very, very loud, and so we want to make sure that that positive story is very, very loud.”
Sarah Botham teaches agriculture and life sciences marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She said the Cheeselandia campaign is a successful example of the way that agriculture is trying to “market smarter” and with a new customer in mind.
“They are reaching, first of all, people who are really interested in Wisconsin cheese and secondly people who are of a younger demographic,” Botham said. “That generation is interested in not just eating but in understanding where their food comes from, in experiencing the food and sharing it with friends.”
Botham, who also heads her own marketing consulting firm, said more consumers are drawn to experiential or educational content, like a cheese and wine pairing or hearing from a cheesemaker about the process.
She said using unpaid ambassadors is an easy way to make marketing dollars stretch further while also making the content feel authentic.
“They’re creating a community of people who sign up to say, ‘Yes, I want to participate. Pick me, pick me!'” Botham said. “We see people looking more and more for that authenticity in their brands, in their foods, in their products across the board. And agriculture is certainly one that can benefit from it just like any other brand or lifestyle product.”
Botham said other major companies in the agricultural sector like John Deere have also started to catch on to the new way of engaging consumers through social media.
She compares the effort to constantly refilling a brand’s “bucket” of customers.
“Every bucket of customers has a slow leak in it,” Botham said. “You always have to bring new customers into the bucket and keep refilling the bucket. At the same time, you have to keep customers who are in the bucket contented and happy and coming back for more.”