Ricola Taps Into Genuine Customer Stories to Boost Sales

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Marketers for the cough drop maker say that millennials' passion for wellness is the remedy for the brand's storytelling challenges.

Ricola has a long and rich brand story that began in 1930. But one marketer for the Swiss cough drop and breath mint manufacturer says that its marketing team realizes just how important it is to infuse today's voice of the customer into its 86-year-old brand narrative.

“My philosophy is that you want to market a business so that you embody the brand's values but your decisions are consumer informed,” says Joahne Carter, VP of marketing at Ricola. “That'll ensure that you bring your brand equity and your brand promise to life. And then it'll ensure that what you're doing is relevant to the consumer. The only way you can do that is by bringing in the consumers' perspectives as you're making decisions.”

Ricola exports more than 40 different ranges of herb drops and teas to more than 50 countries, and its commitment to sustainability and natural ingredients are qualities that Carter says are a perfect match for conscientious millennial consumers. Although Ricola doesn't have a problem with overall brand awareness, it did have a problem impressing its story of responsibility and sustainability upon those mindful consumers.

“Ricola is a brand that everybody knows. When you mention the brand, people will sing the Ricola tune from our ads from over the decades. So, we have really strong brand awareness,” Carter says. “But if you asked people—before we started making a stronger effort to bring the consumer [more] into our process—what they knew about the brand's values, and our commitments to the environment and sustainable products, they didn't know a whole lot about it. We weren't telling our story; and we had a big opportunity to increase our relevance, especially among aware consumers like millennials.”

Carter says that now, more than ever, consumers are looking for a brand that's more authentic and herbal. “These are all of the things that are part of our brand DNA—and have been for more than 30 years. So, we need to tell our story and match our story with consumers' [interests],” she says.

One compelling aspect of that story is Ricola's partnerships with family-owned farms to provide the ingredients for its products. “Rarely have we seen such an untapped potential for brand advocacy and storytelling,” says Joanne McKinney, chief strategy officer for The Burns Group, which provides strategy to Ricola to ensure that it's in step with consumers. “The brand is so on trend in many ways, yet the story seemed to be secondary. Not every brand has such a legitimate brand story like Ricola does. And today, people crave authenticity.”

McKinney says that consumers desire genuineness—so much so that they're “willing to create their own content around it.” So, Carter and her team decided to make user-generated content an integral part of their marketing plan. With tools from interaction platform Crowdtap, the brand built an online community of more than 21,000  consumers, the majority who are millennials. Ricola's marketers used everything from promotions and content to social media channels to build a following on its hub.

Consumers who join Ricola's hub amplify the brand's story by creating media, which includes photos and stories that showcase Ricola products and highlight its values. Participants share how they use herbal ingredients in their personal lives, how they celebrate Swiss National Day, how they create their own gardens, and even how they commiserate around allergy season. To keep the momentum going, Ricola's marketers created a year-round content calendar, which includes calls-to-action like herb-focused shopping missions that rally Ricola lovers to action.

“Co-storytelling allows Ricola to bring these values to life in an authentic way,” says Matthew Scott, SVP of business development and strategy for Crowdtap. He says the community members have generated more than 24,000 pieces of user-generated content, which Ricola has repurposed across its sites and social media channels.

“[Ricola saw] an improvement in the quality of the content and conversations that are generated about its brand on social media,” Scott says. “By empowering a community of people to function as de facto employees, Ricola proves the power of consumer-centric marketing.”

The qualitative results have also translated into hard sales numbers. “Our business is up significantly versus the category,” Carter says. Ricola increased sales by 9.8%, compared to 2.9% in the throat lozenges and mints category. “One of our goals was, obviously, to drive sales in the marketplace. Our brand story allowed for more emotional connection and engagement. And that drove a sales increase.”

Carter says that with this retooled, consumer-first approach the quality of Ricola's marketing is simply better. “We'll continue to have our customers at the heart of what we do,” she says. “Co-creating with customers—who are more into wellness versus just treating sickness—makes our marketing even stronger. And now the conversation is around what our brand stands for—our heritage, our values.”

Everything from packaging to new product development and concept testing is better with the consumers' input, Carter notes. “When we include the customers,” she says, “the quality of everything just improves.”

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