Company: Denali Flavors
Contact: John Nardini, Executive Vice-President
Location: Wayland, Michigan
Industry: Consumer products, B2B
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 10
Denali Flavors is a Michigan company that creates and licenses premium ice cream flavors for regional and store brands. Its 35 flavors are named and themed around animals that can be found in Alaska. The most popular flavor is Moose Tracks, which is made by more than 80 dairies nationwide.
Though Moose Tracks is very popular with consumers who've tasted it, many others have never even heard of it, Denali's research showed. The company needed to generate awareness of Moose Tracks, but at little cost. It hoped that a greater awareness of the ice cream would cause more consumers to try it, leading to increased business.
Denali Flavors is a small company of 10 people, with a marketing staff of one: Executive Vice-President John Nardini. A former marketing executive at Proctor & Gamble and Heinz, Nardini keenly understood the value of an entrepreneurial marketing plan.
Nardini pondered how he could advertise and market Moose Tracks to a national audience without a nationwide advertising and marketing campaign.
Nardini decided that blogs might be the answer. "The cost of entry is virtually zero, and the advertising and promotion costs would be low compared to a traditional media effort," he said.
In 2005 the company launched four blogs, each linking back to www.moosetracks.com, the homepage of Denali Flavors:
- Moosetopia (www.moosetopia.com), an entertainment blog written supposedly by the Moose Tracks moose. Every post is an awareness-generating effort for the brand because of the author; the blog morphed into a photo-blog showing pictures of the moose all over the world. Nardini stopped updating the site three months ago when traffic significantly slowed.
- Denali Flavors (www.denaliflavors.com), offered an inside glimpse at what goes on in the company. The blog also served to get feedback directly from consumers on a wide range of topics. The site is now down, but Nardini has plans to revive it by focusing it on general ice cream stories, such as the world's largest sundae or the most unusual flavor.
- Team Moose Tracks (www.teammoosetracks.com), detailing the efforts of Denali's cycling team in 2005 to raise money for an orphanage in Latvia. It contained biking tips and details on the fundraising. The blog gained brand exposure for Moose Tracks and reflected positively on the company's—and the brand's—efforts to help a charity. It's dormant now that the race has ended.
- Free Money Finance (www.freemoneyfinance.com), a personal-finance blog, with the theme "grow your net worth." The three words in the name were selected using top search keywords, in the hope that they would drive traffic to the blog. It is "sponsored by" Moose Tracks ice cream, a graphic of which is positioned prominently in the top right-hand corner of the blog. It's the company's most popular blog, with Web traffic having grown more than 100% from 2006 to 2007.
The success of freemoneyfinance.com has gone beyond Nardini's expectations in terms of generating low-cost advertising and awareness for Moose Tracks. Each visitor to the site sees an average of two pages, and hence two ads for Moose Tracks ice cream.
"It was a hunch that we should try a blog that had nothing to do with ice cream," said Nardini. "With consumer products, even if you love the brand chances are you are not going to want to read about that brand on a daily basis."
In choosing personal finance as his non-ice cream blog, Nardini chose a topic that interested him personally so he wouldn't mind writing about it each day. He gets inspiration from general economic sites that he reads, and in the summer some of his postings offer synergies with his day job. "In the hot weather, when people think about ice cream more, I've written about how ounce per ounce Moose Tracks costs much less than Ben and Jerry's but has a comparable taste."
Freemoneyfinance.com accepts advertising, which helps make it appear more professional, Nardini said, but all profits from ads go to charity. Entries from the blog are frequently linked to by users of del.icio.us and digg.
- Denali Flavors had record profits in 2007, and sales have been up significantly—about 9.5% in 2006 and 7% in 2007—in a category that has been flat, Nardini said. (The effort was too new in 2005 to have an impact on sales.) He attributes the increased sales in part to increased Web traffic to freemoneyfinance.com.
- The financial blog's traffic is up more than 100% year over year, giving the company a sizable audience for the Denali Flavors house ads. The blog received about 3,200 visits daily in 2007, with visits up to 4,500 a day in December and 5,500 a day so far in January, Nardini said. Blog visitors are served, on average, two ads for Moose Tracks per visit.
- The entire maintenance cost of the blog is about $400 a year, according to Nardini.
"A blog is a very powerful tool for a company that can't afford to put an ad in a national magazine," he said. "Even the cumulative costs have been minimal. "We've probably spent a couple thousand dollars at most on our blogs over the past three years."
- Try many online options with low cost of entry; if some don't work, don't be afraid to quit and move on. Blogs costs very little to start, other than employee time, and the potential benefits are huge, noted Nardini. So why not try a few? And if they don't work, don't be afraid or embarrassed to quit the effort. Nardini shut down Denali Flavors once it became clear that the concept wasn't working, and he eventually stopped updating Moosetopia.com after the novelty of watching a moose travel around the world wore off.
- A small company has the advantage of being nimble. The four blogs may never have gotten off the ground had Denali Flavors been a large business. "A large company might not have approved the idea of a blog unrelated to the product, and it certainly would have wanted approval of each blog entry," said Nardini. "A small company can make these decisions quickly and take more risks."
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