The Cheese Puff Strategy for Successful Online Marketing

I’m sitting here eating my newfound favorite snack, Barbara’s Bakery “Cheese Puff Bakes” (the grown-ups’ Cheetos), experiencing a “That’s it” revelation. I’m talking major buzz referral here — the stuff for which Internet marketing experts live — and a great example of the way we women pass along our enthusiasm without a thought.

First, the cheese puff story: Last week, during the course of our weekly phone conversation, my good friend, Robin, mentioned her favorite guilty-pleasure snack — the aforementioned puffs. By the end of our ramblings, of course, the puffs had gone “poof” and out of my mind altogether. Or so I thought. A few days later, Robin came over with another friend, Heather, and the topic came up yet again. It turns out they had had a conversation on their way to meet me about how wonderful these puffs were. Heather laughingly described the true bonding point: the mutually experienced wonder of tanginess just as the puff melts in one’s mouth. Hmmm.

Here’s the “ka-ching” part for the Barbara’s Bakery brand: I happened to be at my local we-sell-everything-from-cheese-to-fine-jewelry store and was walking past the aisle where they sell these puffs. And sure enough, I proceeded to buy a bag… just to see.

Voil`. Barbara’s had scored another new consumer for a product that is not necessarily a staple, but perfect for a little indulgence every now and then.

What is it about the way women pass tips and information along to their friends? In her pre-Internet-era (1990) book “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., wrote: “Telling what’s happening in your life and the lives of those you talk to is a grown-up version of telling secrets, the essence of girls’ and womens’ friendships.” Ah, that explains it. The cheese puffs are a “secret,” even if only a minor one, that we share to enhance each other’s lives.

Now, how does the cheese puff story apply to your online marketing strategies for products or services that aren’t crunchy, cheesy, or tangy? Let’s see…

Most important, your product must generate an enthusiasm that begs to be shared, like a shortcut for handling email, a faster way to check in at the airport, or a new online network for kids. Unfortunately, the best and freshest personal example I have of successful rampant word-of-web referral is the latest Gap gift certificate hoax. (Check out the hoax description here.) Talk about jillions of 20- to 45-year-old women creating an email tizzy! But if the technology were truly to the point that a company could track how many emails you sent to friends and then reward you with gift certificates (without violating privacy and the rest of it), this might well be an interesting example for a legitimate marketing campaign, right? But, I’ve digressed.

Next, the brand should be simple to share. I mean it. A quick tour should take only seconds to forward, or for completely new categories like kids’ Internet networks, there should be a splash page with the security facts and easy trial information all at the ready — without having to dig through an unfamiliar site. You don’t need to offer some great incentive, but free samples or a few months of trial service wouldn’t hurt. If your product strikes a savvy woman consumer as a hot topic, you’re golden.

Now back to the cheese puffs for a second. Because of the word-of-mouth referrals, the line from Barbara’s Bakery brand into my pocketbook was not straight but zigzagged through at least three women’s personal conversations before I reached checkout. Consider the power of your product as a shared “secret” passed from woman to woman to woman. Focus in on the ways you can connect your women customers with each other to encourage the zigzag pass-along of your marketing message. The online potential of email and message boards only improves the odds that your “secret” will reach your brand’s enthusiasts, and off they’ll go. What a concept!

The usual caveat applies: Women are not a single market. Yet segments of women consumers will indeed respond to niche marketing for life stages or personal interests. If you sell that new in-home dry-cleaning product, for example, your most obvious enthusiastic customers are those women who buy and wear lots of dry-clean-only clothes — not women who are at-home mommies. When you’ve got your product in front of the right groups of women, you’ll see the opportunities abound.

If a woman becomes interested in a new product or service that is applicable to the lives of her friends as well, she will practically feel duty bound to pass the word along. It’s the way we are.

That’s it. I’ve finished my first entire bag of cheese puffs. Keep your eye on my photo over the next few months to see if I start to round out a bit, thanks to Barbara’s Bakery (and Robin and Heather).

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