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Zola CEO: You can't engage just with 'likes'

28-Jul-2014
Last updated on 28-Jul-2014 at 15:41 GMT - By Maggie Hennessy
Chris Cuvelier: "We’re trying to drive the quality of our fans and increase engagement. A lot of people look at the sheer number of ‘likes’ you have as a barometer for how many people follow the brand. We want to make sure we have the right people engaging with us.”
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When 13-year-old acai and coconut water manufacturer Zola decided to revamp its web presence to shift attention toward its growing coconut water line, founder and CEO Chris Cuvelier knew he risked losing some followers in the short term, but the long-term payoff would be better engagement with the right audience.

“You’ve got Vitacoco out there with a huge marketing budget, signing Rihanna and pro athletes to endorse the product, and Jessica Alba on massive Zico billboards all over Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco,” Cuvelier told FoodNavigator-USA. “Then here we are this smaller, fiercely independent company without a big budget uniting in-store displays with heavy sampling and bringing it to life with social media to get a bigger bang for our buck. We can’t buy Jessica Alba or pay professional athletes to be our advocates. We want people to love the product, engage with the brand and talk about us because we mean something to them.”

Earlier this year, after adding a vice president of marketing and chief financial officer who both had experience at major brands including LUNA Bar and Odwalla, the Zola team conceived of a promotional campaign themed “Living Life to the Fullest” and centered on a series of five YouTube webisodes about a young couple getting to know each other in Hawaii.

“It’s about sharing a passion for life and work and play with our consumers who we know are active people who live life to fullest,” Cuvelier said. “Knowing our consumer base is 25- to 45-year olds and skews female, our creative director added a romantic piece to the story.”

In the three months from ideation to the launch on July 14, the team shot and edited the videos, and rolled out a new website, LiveZola.com, along with a new Live Zola Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram pages (to be curated by a newly added marketing associate). The videos were activated on Hulu and Women’s Health Network with supporting radio spots on Alice 97.3 FM in the San Francisco Bay Area. The two-month campaign also includes a Facebook sweepstakes, related in-store displays and heavy sampling in Zola’s core markets on the west coast.

Walking away from ‘Zola Acai’ name on social platforms

One of the main challenges in the process (aside from doing everything in-house) was walking away from two years’ worth of fan-building on Zola’s social media channels in order to totally embrace Live Zola. “We have 38,000 Facebook fans centered around the name of Zola Acai. Facebook wouldn’t let us change the name, so we made the decision to walk away and transition over to Live Zola.”

The new page currently has 5,939 Facebook fans and 3,613 Twitter followers. The old site and Facebook page are still operating, but Zola is working to migrate as many people over as possible. But Cuvelier isn’t especially concerned with the numbers at this point.

Sampling at Nob Hill Foods in Alameda, CA

“I liken it to taking two steps back and 10 steps forward,” he said. “Through this campaign we’re also trying to drive the quality of our fans and increase engagement. A lot of people look at the sheer number of ‘likes’ you have as a barometer for how many people follow the brand. We want to make sure we have the right people engaging with us.”

Indeed, the campaign helped the brand sharpen its focus on social media—where it admittedly hasn't had a clear strategy until recently. Now, the brand aims to “own” #LiveZola and use that to enter into bigger conversations relating to its brand and newly targeted messaging—like #cocowater, #fitness and #espresso (for its recently launched RTD coconut water-infused espresso beverage)—alongside the bigger coconut water and premium juice brands.

“We’re trying to be laser targeted and assert ourselves into bigger conversations to become more active and relevant in those areas," Cuvelier said. "We’re already seeing feedback with a lot of people posting about our product, with bloggers and fitness people posting pictures to Instagram and on Twitter. It’s important because when consumers are out there researching things now, they’re using social media just as much as search engines like Google.”

Social media just as much a research platform as a social one

And while the brand will measure the success of the Live Life to the Fullest campaign through likes and follows, blogger mentions, consumer engagement and use of the LiveZola hashtag, it all goes back to driving sales in store.

“We’ve tied together this program with in-store sales, which is obviously what you want any campaign to do. So we’ll be looking at sales rates and lifts where we have access today.”

In charge of our own destiny

The coconut water category (which is already approaching half a billion dollars in retail sales across channels) continues to grow significantly. And Zola is on track to continue its five-year compound annual growth rate of 28% over the next few years.

“We made the jump in last 12 months from fast growing startup to what I would call a company that is in control of its own destiny,” he said. “We want to be looked at as a major player in premium juice and coconut water category, and talked about with the Zicos, Vitacocos and the Bolthouse Farms. I think we’re earning a spot with the performance we’ve had.”

A little social media bootstrappin’ can’t hurt, either.

Related topics: Food labeling and marketing, Social Media, Markets, Manufacturers, Beverage