Ben & Jerry’s: Social Media vs. Email


British fans of Ben & Jerry’s are feeling they’re being frozen out by the Vermont-based ice cream maker.

The company’s decision to scrap its monthly email newsletter in favor of pushing customers to engage with the brand on social media apparently has not gone over well in a market where B&J has tried to win favor with flavors such as the nod to Queen, Bohemian Raspberry.

The ensuing tsunami highlights some marketing ‘nuances’ in the new media versus old media business.

As we’ve noted, Ben & Jerry’s has doubled down on social media, expanding its Facebook superstar status into the digital realm with a clever mobile app that recently added augmented reality.[more]

Despite being owned by the gargantuan Unilever, B&J has built its brand success on down home, folksy values – including a consistent barrage of e-mails to their loyal fan club. But several factors influenced the decision to get more social in the U.K.

Market research indicated email fatigue, mobile-happy youths prefer social media, management needed to trim costs while spreading a wider net over their ‘digitally fragmented’ fans, and U.S. successes in social media made the move seem a good idea.

Even so, many customers (and marketers) still prefer old-school email.

“While some are willing to jump solely on the social media bandwagon, the majority recognise that email is the gateway to building a meaningful presence on these channels and the two go hand-in-hand,” writes Andy Taylor in Brand Republic.

From a marketer’s perspective, email’s strengths include segmentation and trackability, as opposed to a “scatter gun” spray-and-pray approach that can limit social media as a standalone medium; comparatively low cost; respectable ROI; and easily integrated with other channels.

Social media, while inarguably the new frontier, takes a blast approach reaching critical mass more cheaply – but in cutting such a broad swathe – may lose overall impact.

The customer relationships B&J has built over the years – largely through e-mail, may be sacrificed by switching solely to social media: “With email the data is yours – in the social mediaverse you’re entirely at the mercy of the channel.”

Social media is blast broadcasting. While B&J may have 1.3 million Facebook fans – this medium requires fans check-in first whereas email is passive — it comes to you. Of course, brands can’t interact with customers on email, but can initiate and continue multiple conversations with social media.

Some British fans who opted in to B&J’s email program for news of special deals and promotions became upset when they were now being asked to keep up with the brand on a social platform.

Sean Greenwood, head of public relations, say the email vs. social media situation as overblown. “I think it’s a bit of a misunderstanding,” he commented.

“The announcement came from our UK team, who was basically sharing that they planned to reach out to their fans via social media moving forward,” he continued.

“I believe the rest of the Ben & Jerry’s folks around the globe (including us here at the HQ in Vermont who support the U.S. and the globe) are planning to continue to use: email, social media, text messaging, augmented reality, snail mail, vanilla guerrilla marketing, grassroots Social Mission endeavors, sky writers, deep-sea divers and of course… scoop trucks on the road.”

So rest assured, Brits — you’re not getting the cold shoulder; but you’re no longer getting that monthly email, either.