Despite industry accolades, Wisconsin Cheese was challenged with a perception problem. Existing market research indicated the products were associated more with “ordinary, comfort” food while consumers considered European cheeses “sophisticated, unique” choices they’d serve at a soiree. The goal was to elevate Wisconsin cheese’s reputation from a grocery store staple to an entertaining must-have, shifting market sentiments while building share of voice.
Our objective was to engage a high-quality audience of foodies across the country who are natural hosts for 200 at-home parties to drive word-of-mouth promotion. We sought to turn passive consumers into enthusiastic advocates by pairing education and entertainment with the opportunity to taste and experience the product. We targeted metrics that tracked conversations sparked and engagements across social, both within our community app and public platforms. Empowering a cadre of “everyday influencers'' with insider knowledge and encouraging them to share in their social circles tapped into their creativity and grew their affinity. We saw success in partnering to deliver memorable moments and drive our core brand message to elevate Wisconsin Cheese.
Our ‘house party’ activations were designed to leverage our robust community and push beyond the online platform. Through our research, we knew trust was a foundational element in a successful community-based approach. We also knew this target relied heavily on entertaining as a way to deliver quality experiences to their social circles. Delivering high-quality content, and creating channels for transparent conversations were key. Focus groups, social listening and ongoing engagement helped us satisfy our target audience’s appetite for story and gaining social currency among their friends.
Extending trust to house party hosts demonstrated our confidence in them as ambassadors who could showcase Wisconsin Cheese in alignment with our brand messaging—but put their own spin on the experience. At these gatherings, cheese was the centerpiece, not a side. We leaned into the power of “influencers-next-door” to lend credibility and authenticity to these activations. As Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs, writes: “The most powerful influencers are…people in our own social network who are the go-to people for advice and recommendations because they keep up with what’s new, they know what’s relevant to the people they talk to, and they are trusted. The value of a recommendation from these people is high.”
How could we get Wisconsin Cheese out of the grocery aisle and center stage on tables across the country? By surprising and delighting community members we’d carefully cultivated to serve as hosts of coveted Cheeselandia “House Party” opportunities. We knew we’d empowered a fantastic group of foodies. By blending education and entertainment, we fostered excitement among them to open their doors—and others’ minds—to the wonders of Wisconsin.
Imagine receiving a doorstep delivery of select artisan cheeses, along with a kit of all the Wisconsin Cheese branded accessories and accompaniments you’d need to build an Instagram-worthy cheese board and decorate your tablescape. In the Cheeselandia community portal, you find videos with tips and tutorials on preparation and presentation from an in-house monger, and the story behind the varieties you’re about to unwrap. As a host, you’re encouraged to put your own spin on things and invite some of your favorite people to share the experience.
Hosts weren’t just consumers, they were connected creators. They snapped photos of their spreads, and their over-the-top parties featuring tables full of cheeses. They offered testimonials about how advice on pairings encouraged them to expand beyond their usual varieties — and even introduced them to new favorites.
Through Cheeselandia House Parties we increased brand affinity and started a ripple that changed perceptions nationwide. House Parties increased word-of-mouth conversations resulting in more than 20,000 additional brand conversations sparked. This word-of-mouth marketing tactic created 20% increase in overall perceptions of Wisconsin Cheese, which sparked 25% lift in purchase intent, on top of garnering 350% lift in Wisconsin Cheese badge awareness. In addition, we’ve seen an 80% lift in consider-to-purchase conversion rate for Wisconsin Cheese. Share of Voice in the cheese market is now at 98% and anecdotes indicate Cheeselandians feel they’re part of something special.
House parties blend sampling campaign and influencer marketing tactics to achieve our goal of enhanced brand awareness and reputation. Generating word of mouth marketing was core to this campaign. But unlike the traditional grocery store cheese counter distribution model or a promotional booth, house parties translated the sampling experience to an intimate setting. Attendees enjoy an assortment of cheeses from a sponsoring producer, and each kit includes branded tabletop accessories and decor and access to videos from Master Cheesemakers, plus monger-approved serving suggestions.
Quarterly house party events are limited to 50 hosts, which creates an element of exclusivity. Participants are selected through an application/lottery process, and given the tools and flexibility to serve as knowledgeable ambassadors. Part of our process was to tweak kits based on participant feedback. Our hosts create beautiful displays and many engage guests in themed events that take the concept to the next level. In lieu of a paid “street team” or celebrity spokesperson, we leveraged the loyalty of cheese lovers in our community to broaden connections between the brand and their friends and family circles.