Market-leading yoghurt firm Chobani’s consumers are so invested in the business, they help co-create exciting new product ranges. Such is the case with the limited Halloween range it releases each year, explains Maria Voronina, the business’s senior brand manager for innovation and new platforms.

“We’re constantly talking to our consumers and engaging from multiple channels in a very personal way. That allows us to form relationships with them that make it possible for us to pull them into our new product development process,” she explains.

Consumer involvement in the Halloween range started in 2016, when Chobani launched its first pumpkin pie yoghurt. Last year, it introduced a yoghurt pouch in the shape of a ghost. This year, it launched six new Halloween-themed packaging designs.

“Consumers knew this was coming because Halloween is an annual event and they get very excited. We ask people what they want and they submit ideas for flavours – some even design packaging. It’s an amazing source of inspiration. We’re currently planning next year based on this feedback, and I can guarantee it will be something special. It will be something different and we’ll be drawing on our consumers’ ideas,” says Voronina.

Chobani has enjoyed incredible success thanks to the proximity it enjoys with its consumers – every person who contacts Chobani with either a compliment or complaint receives a handwritten note.

As a result, it’s now the top yoghurt brand in the market and it’s only been available in Australia for eight years. Says Voronina: “We completely disrupted the market. In our first year we launched 14 different flavours in a single serve format when the category was dominated by tubs or multi-packs.”
Thorough research of consumer behaviour and attitudes is the key to a successful brand like Chobani. Getty

Commenting on the best way to engage with consumers, Sydney university academic Vince Mitchell says understanding what they want involves thoroughly researching their behaviour and attitudes.

“This can range from watching how people buy and eat, to getting them to answer survey questions, to listening in on what people say on social media or in focus groups. It’s particularly important to have a range of methods. As [British advertising legend David Ogilvy] once said, ‘People don’t think how they feel, don’t say what they think and don’t do what they say’,” says Mitchell.

It’s important to Chobani to take a very personal approach to its interactions with its customers.

“Marketing used to be about a one-way dialogue with consumers,” says Voronina. “That’s completely changed – now consumers have a voice; they co-create your value. We have transcended mass marketing because we find the time to treat every person as an individual. We have so many personal stories from people who contact us who might be battling cancer or trying to lose weight. We record every interaction and follow up with them later, checking in and maintaining that relationship.”

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Mitchell says it’s important to have formal processes for involving consumers and incentivising them to become involved in product development.

“From early-stage market research, ask them about what they like and dislike about current offerings on the market,” he says. “Test concepts with them and allow them to play with prototypes or even buy them in simulated online or real life stores. Many companies co-create or use customer ideas as the inspiration for their products.”

The Chobani team’s dedication is also a critical part of its success. Says Voronina: “Every employee knows the values, what the brand stands for and what it takes to deliver a truly exceptional experience. When everyone is responsible for the brand experience, your business becomes something really different.”

Chobani also brings retailers along with it on its journey. “We deal with our business partners in the same way we engage with our consumers. We aim to surprise and delight companies that have worked with us for a long time in the same way we do with our consumers; that’s very, very important.”

This article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.