Unilever brings Ben & Jerry’s consumers into the boardroom

Over the past years, stimulated by the rise of social media, ‘conversational marketing’ techniques have gained tremendous importance. Lots of books have been published on the topic and a large number of companies have rolled-out a program to observe, feed and manage the offline and online conversations.
More and more, companies are trying to unlock the power of brand fans. Unilever Benelux decided to initiate a long term conversation with Ben & Jerry’s fans to leverage this idea. Together with InSites Consulting, Unilever Benelux set-up an online market research community with 225 participants in Belgium and the Netherlands. The community was actively used over the months June, July & August 2010.
Brand fan sensing & idea generation in the “I-Scream” community
The objective was two-fold: ‘sensing’ and understanding brand fans’ lifestyles, attitudes and preferences; and secondly, generating relevant bottom up ideas for the future of the Ben & Jerry’s brand: new flavor names, new package designs, activation campaigns,….The fans even co-created the name of the project: ‘The I-Scream community’.
The direct feedback-line in the community enabled a real-time dialogue between the company and its most valuable consumers:

“It was amazingly useful to get in touch with our brand fans, getting under their skin and involving them in the idea generation-process. After all, they are living our brand to a maximum extent. During these 3 months of connecting, we really got a profound profile of the typical Ben & Jerry’s fan.” says Martijn van Kesteren, Consumer Shopper Insight Manager Unilever Benelux.

A consumer driven marketing plan
The generated insights were used as input for the actual development of the 2011 Ben & Jerry’s marketing plan.
Martijn van Kesteren: “Thanks to the ideas and suggestions of our fans we were able to develop a true consumer driven marketing plan. Being relevant is our number one priority, so it’s almost mandatory to involve consumers in the future directions of our brand.”
To close the loop, Unilever Benelux decided to double check the final plan with the same group of people to even get the execution right. In a 6 week follow-up period the Ben & Jerry’s fans were able to fine-tune the actual campaign and put the cherry on the cake of next year’s Ben & Jerry’s actions.
Tom De Ruyck (Community Expert at InSites Consulting) and Martijn van Kesteren presented an overview of the Ben & Jerry research community at the Online Research Methods Conference in London at the end of January.

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