Wisconsin cheese has a massive brand perception problem. When people think of Wisconsin, they think about big blocks of orange cheese, Cheeseheads at Packer games and huge factories making ordinary cheese. That’s it. Not great, right?
The thing is, the reality of Wisconsin far different than those surface-level perceptions. People don’t know that we win more awards for our Specialty cheeses than any place on earth – more than the other 49 states combined. They don’t know Wisconsin is more innovative in creating more original kinds of cheese than France, or that we have the only Master Cheesemaker program in the world outside Switzerland. They don’t know the depths of cultural obsession that have helped make Wisconsin “The State of Cheese”.
What people don’t know about Wisconsin cheese could fill a library. It was time to tell our rich, deep and broad story. So, we launched a Social Media campaign to turn those shallow perceptions around.
Despite it being a Brand Image campaign, a key secondary objective was to brand the Proudly Wisconsin badge so that – over time -- consumers become conditioned to look for Wisconsin cheeses at retail, whether at their local cheese shop or on their laptop at home.
Specialty Cheese, and Specialty Food more generally, are Enthusiast-driven categories. This means they are governed by an Influence Pyramid model where enthusiasm for the category is concentrated at the top, whose “role” is to tell everyone else what to do, where to shop, what to buy and what is worthy of attention. The very top of the pyramid are Trade Gatekeepers like retail buyers, distributors and cheesemongers. Just below them are Food Fanatics, Super Enthusiast consumers for whom great cheese and great food isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s much more important than all that.
Being a non-profit, we don’t have the budgets to try to convert the masses. And, besides, that wouldn’t be wise given the Influence Pyramid at play. So, we knew that success depended on changing the hearts and minds of the Food Fanatics and Trade Gatekeepers who will do that heavy lifting for us over the course of several years.
We conducted research with these audiences and there were 3 things we identified that we could give them that they would value: Stories, Education and Inspiration. Our audiences know that everything this better and more elevated when it comes with a great story, so telling better, more engaging, more emotional stories was Job 1. They are also compulsively driven to seek out the new, the novel and the interesting piece of information – all with the goal of being a Master of the Universe that their friends and families rely on for tips and recommendations – so Education is a core strategy for us. Our third strategic pillar is Inspiration, in which we seek to remind our audiences why they fell in love with cheese in the first place and that we feel the very same way about cheese.
As we audited the marketplace, we found a glut of “food porn” photography and video, a clear signal that the way Specialty Food and Cheese was being talked about had become dangerously commoditized. Again, with limited budgets and facing such a daunting Perception-Reality Gap, we knew we needed to communicate in a new way that stopped thumbs and activated emotions that beautiful photos and video had lost the power to do. With audiences bringing negative associations to the table, we also knew that we had to “charm to disarm” those existing perceptions. So, we looked for and found a talented illustrator that bring an engaging charm to a range of illustrations, GIFs and video work that would break through. We found that super talented artist in Libby VanderPloeg, a former cheesemonger(!), amazing collaborator and herself a willing cheerleader for the cause of Wisconsin cheese. In the end, Libby created over 400 different assets that helped us achieve our trio of strategies of telling better and deeper Stories, providing Education through genuine knowledge for all things cheese and bringing real moments of Inspiration to our audiences. This bevy of assets helped us “set the record straight” on Wisconsin cheese in ways that surprise and delight our fairly jaded, but discovery-hungry Consumer and Trade audiences.
The results met our team’s objective to drive meaningful connection with our target audience, and telling our stories of high-quality award-winning Wisconsin Cheeses.
On our post, 9 Cheeses You’d Never Guess Were From Wisconsin, we reached over 764K people and realized 62K engagements including over 250 shares and over 130 comments. Overwhelmingly positive comments such as “Sounds interesting will have to try.” and “I want some pronto! YUM” highlighted that our audience was interested and receptive to the messaging we put out on social media, and were influenced to go out and purchase Wisconsin cheese.
On another post about a Wisconsin Cheese, BelGioioso Burrata, we reached over 1.3M people, and had over 13.8K engagements. We received comments such as “How do I get some in Charleston, SC?” and “On my cheese bucket list.” These again show that our audience was actively looking for ways to purchase the cheese, hitting our goal.
Additionally, compared to the same time frame during the previous year (January – June 2021), we had 72% more impressions, 56.4% more average reach per post, 23.5% more engagements, and 48% more saves. Overall, these numbers indicate that we did engage with our audience and told our story.