How Chobani Used Experiential Marketing to Become the #1 Greek Yogurt Brand

Brand manager Maria Voronina on the Chobani brand experience

Kindra Cooper

Chobani brand experience

What’s the best way to build brand awareness for a novelty food item? Samples. It’s a matter of boots on the ground, food trucks in the street, and praise from brand advocates online.

That’s how relative newcomer Chobani outpaced household names Yoplait and Dannon to become the number one Greek yogurt brand in the US and Australia after launching in 2007 out of a defunct Kraft factory in upstate New York.

Give customers firsthand experience with your brand 

When it comes to marketing a food product, mailers, social media promotions and radio ads are no substitute for ensuring consumers taste the item itself. What’s more, handing out samples builds relationships and generates goodwill, where 74 percent of consumers have an improved opinion about a brand after a hands-on marketing experience, and 98 percent feel more inclined to make a purchase afterwards.

“A consumer is no longer someone who is sitting at a TV watching commercials,” Maria Voronina, brand manager for Chobani Australia, said at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City. “It’s no longer a one-way street; it’s a dialogue.”

Chobani employs a team of brand ambassadors who travel close to 52 weeks a year, handing out samples, manning the roving Chobani Cup Trucks and cropping up at high-profile events like the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2016 and the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, where the brand dehydrated its yogurt, mixed it with herbs and used it to season the popcorn for all the movie showings.

Chobani brand experience

“It’s really hard to say no to someone who’s handing you a free pot of yogurt and wants you to try it,” Voronina said.

Support causes that matter to your customers

Aside from maintaining a streetsmart presence through pop-up cafes and participating in food festivals, the brand also makes genuine bids to insinuate itself into the types of cultural discourse that matter most to its consumers.

When Australia legalized same-sex marriage in December 2017, Voronina said the Melbourne office heard the news during their yearly Christmas party. “We jumped on board, we designed new packaging, we talked to consumers and we said, ‘Tell us about your love story.’”

Read more: StubHub President on 3 Ways Product-Led Companies Can "Experience-ify"

Customers submitted video clips, photos and comments on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and Chobani sent 50 winners an individually packed ‘Love This Life’ care package to consumers throughout Australia.

The eponymous ad campaign shows a same-sex couple lounging in bed while on vacation, where one partner enjoys a cup of Chobani and lovingly smears some on her still-sleeping partner’s foot.

“It’s about the personal touch, it’s about the experience. If you call, email or write Chobani, most likely you are going to receive a handwritten note from an actual person who dealt with your complaint or compliment,” Voronina said.

Turn your product into a live experience 

Another key touchpoint for the brand is its SoHo cafe, a Mediterranean yogurt bar opened in 2012 as a showcase for the brand.

Recognizing the importance of experiential marketing, Chobani is one of a raft of consumer packaged goods brands like Nutella and Magnum that opened physical eateries consisting of test kitchens and chef-designed menus in high-traffic, metropolitan areas to vitalize the brand experience beyond jostling to be noticed on store shelves at supermarkets and convenience retailers.

Read more: The Rise of On-Demand Luxury - Is Everyone In On It?

“Great brands are built by individuals with purpose, vision and single-mindedness,” said Voronina. “We are no longer in an environment where it’s all about blind consumption. It’s about consumption with purpose.”

A physical eatery makes business sense for a brand like Chobani, which has rallied since its founding to change the way US consumers consider yogurt solely a breakfast item when it’s used as a condiment and cooking ingredient for every meal of the day in other parts of the world.

The menu at Chobani SoHo consists of sweet and savory yogurt presentations as well as items like Chobani-infused soups, sandwiches, desserts and seasonal items. There’s an espresso bar and a pantry stocked with Mediterranean spices, oils, nuts and other ingredients for purchase.

Stay true to your brand's quality standards

Building a legacy food brand is about more than just free handouts on street corners and trade show booths; it’s about committing to high quality. Chobani yogurt doesn’t contain thickeners or protein powder, which would yield a similar texture more cheaply.

“We strain three liters of milk to make one liter of Chobani,” Voronina explained. “It’s all milk and that’s why it’s so good.”

A recent line of high-protein, no sugar-added products sweetened naturally with Stevia recently took hold in Australia among fitness fanatics and those watching their diet, said Voronina. “We have a culture where there’s no negotiation around quality.”