Facebook: How Whittaker’s builds trust to drive its business

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AUCKLAND, Today: In the first of a new series, the Face 2 Face podcast takes a look at how three iconic Kiwi companies changed brand perceptions. First, how Whittaker’s became New Zealand’s most-loved brand.

Competition in most industries is fierce today, with New Zealand companies facing unprecedented amounts of global competition. Whilst it can be great for consumers, it’s a real challenge for business managers. 

Whittaker’s is the epitome of a Kiwi brand, with more than 120-years of heritage, and it’s still family owned. You can still call the factory today and ask to speak to Mr Whittaker.

Hannah Eastwood, business director for MBM (Whittaker’s media agency) explains the challenge they face: “In the category we play in, it is easy to be out-shouted. We basically play in a market that is very heavily dominated by global competitors. And so what it does require us to do, as a Kiwi company with less big pockets, is to really think differently.

“And yet, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you can’t fail to have noticed that the Whittaker’s brand has been growing massively, toppling those global competitors in key categories.

“So how did they do it?

“In the case of Whittaker’s it is the heritage as a New Zealand icon, with Peanut Slabs and Creamy Milk staples of every Kiwi child’s favourite diet. With that heritage and association comes a huge level of respect and trust. In fact, Whittaker’s has been New Zealand’s most trusted brand for the last eight years.”

While trust is an amazing asset, good marketers know it cannot be taken for granted, or abused. So Whittaker’s marketing manager Jasmine Currie decided when she joined the company nine years ago it needed to build out its digital presence, and in particular focus on its social channels. 

“You can still call the factory today and ask to speak to Mr Whittaker.”

She says: “You can’t have anything to hide if you want to be an active brand on social or digital these days. I think the more honest and trustworthy you are, the better the results will be.”

For Whittaker’s this means engaging in an open and genuine dialogue with its customers, and maintaining the integrity of your product.

“We have price increases from time to time, cocoa prices fluctuate,” explains Currie. “A lot of brands would either decrease the size of their chocolate blocks or have a price increase, but try and keep it hidden. But we actually front-foot that.

“I remember the first time we did it and we actually put a Facebook post out to all of our fans to tell them we’re actually having a price increase soon, giving them a chance to stock up on chocolate. But sharing with them the honest reasons why we’re having to do it and bringing them on that journey with us, because we don’t actually have anything to hide.

“That honesty paid off, with responses like ‘I will be happy to pay more’ and ‘all good, still the best chocolate’ showing the level of love the brand has accrued.”

In recent years the company has also moved to social channels in more of its marketing efforts. It first trialled it for the launch of its collaboration with Kiwi drinks brand L&P launching initially on social with a viral campaign, before enlisting traditional channels to push the product. Now the majority of new product launches are led via digital and social channels.

And those innovative products, such as Honey Bubble Crunch and the recent Rugby World Cup flavours, are big drivers for the business, giving customers a reason to keep buying Whittaker’s and reminding them of why they love the product.

Does love actually translate to sales? In the time Whittaker’s has been building its community of fans (which has swelled from around 8,000 in 2011 to more than 800,000 in 2019) it has also moved its flagship Creamy Milk bar to be the best-selling in its category – no mean feat against global competitors which are household names.

  • Hear Jasmine Currie of Whittaker’s and MBM’s Hannah Eastwood share the story of Whittaker’s rise to be the country’s most trusted brand in Facebook’s Face 2 Face podcast, available here

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