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Nice piece in the Manchester Union Leader reports on the guerilla marketing efforts adopted by Stonyfield Farms, the $200 million organic yogurt company. Rather than spending a fortune on advertising, CEO Gary Hirshberg tells the paper, the preference has been for using “blogs, snappy packaging, handing out yogurt from Segways in Boston” – all ways of presenting the product and the company’s philosophy in new ways to consumers.

The company’s four blogs – focusing not on products, but on women’s issues of interest to the company’s key shoppers – are a perfect example of how effective Stonyfield has been. They have a total of 750,000 subscribers – who have become not just product users, but part of a community of consumers with great loyalty to the Stonyfield brand.

“Dannon doesn't have that, Yoplait doesn't have that, Kraft doesn't have that," Hirshberg tells the paper, noting that “there are lots of great products out there…but most lack a strong connection with people.”

The Union Leader writes that “the company has defied traditional business models. Their yogurt is more expensive than the others, but consumers don't seem to notice. Stonyfield has grown four times faster than yogurt as a category. The others can't keep up.

“Stonyfield's sales have also increased 25 percent over last year, and the company has just begun a major expansion that will double the size of its existing plant in north Londonderry. All that with almost no traditional advertising.”

In fact, Stonyfield’s strategy has proven so effective that Hirshberg will host a group of 55 executives from Group Danone – which owns 85 percent of the company – to teach them about guerilla marketing. Danone has been tremendously respectful of Stonyfield’s approach, agreeing to take only two out of five board seats and giving Hirshberg plenty of room to run the company without outside interference.
KC's View:
The Union Leader makes an excellent point – that Stonyfield has been able to take advantage of a desire on the part of some consumers to detach themselves from mass consumerism, and to connect emotionally with the products and brands they use.

Much of this, of course, is perception. Some folks might see Starbucks as being anti-mass consumerism, and it is hard to think of another company that has expanded as fast and as effectively as Starbucks – but the company has cannily created an image and even an industry segment that sets it apart.

Either way, the lesson is simple: it is the things that set you apart that make you successful.