Power Up with Viral and Social Marketing

How One Small Green Company Rode the Wave of Online Marketing

Blogs have reshaped the world, impacted politics, and they have pushed our startup company, Ecostore USA, toward incredible success in six months.

Two years ago a friend and I were searching for eco-minded, health related business opportunities when I located a business in New Zealand. The founder, Malcolm Rands, had been manufacturing toxic-free household, baby and personal care products for 15 years.

I was impressed with the products and with the notion that they were already a known brand name in New Zealand. I e-mailed Rands asking if he were interested in a U.S. distribution and the rest is history. Ecostore USA officially opened its business in 2008 with our Web site, www.ecostoreusa.com, and then we launched at Meijer on March 1, 2009.

I quickly learned that the green market was highly competitive. Well-established brand names were creating new eco divisions to expand. More space was being dedicated in supermarkets, drug stores and retail stores for eco products.

I thought consumers were being scammed because many products weren’t as green as their claims. As a mother I had made sure our family was eating the right foods and I worked hard to eliminate toxic products around the house. I chose Ecostore because I knew the products contained no toxins. They were completely green. Even the packing material was recycled product.

We started to target our market to mothers like myself who wanted a safe, green environment for our family. We realized that moms talk, share information about brand and products at the bus stop, through text messaging and on the social networking sites.

Off the Internet, this marketing approach is referred to as word-of-mouth, creating a buzz, and network marketing. On the Internet it’s called viral marketing and describes a strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence. Like viruses, the strategy takes advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands.

Reaching the moms with that style of personal and social marketing fit our products and our company’s mission much better than the traditional advertising campaigns. It would also save us a ton of money.

We made the mom bloggers a priority, asking them to sample products with no obligation, but to review the products. When we listened to the testimonials and read the rave reviews, we knew we needed to ramp up this marketing effort.

Sommer Poquette of Petoskey, Mich. and founder of Green and Clean Mom, was engaged to help promote the products because of her commitment to green living and her position as a professional mom blogger and social media consultant.

Poquette created a blog tour for Ecostore products. This is similar to a book tour except we’re using blog posts rather than bookstores and libraries to promote and review the products. She contacted several of her fellow mom bloggers who were part of the green moms movement. We sent the moms products to review in their blogs and the word spread, especially about the baby products.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube became important to us very quickly.

We were very careful about selecting the retail store to sell our line of green household products. Although every major brand was creating a green product line, retailers became very interested in the story of founder Malcolm Rands, the New Zealander who started out as an organic gardener and environmental pioneer. He took the products from a mail-order business to an international company.

We chose Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer as Ecostore USA’s first retail outlet because, according to Rands, Meijer had a sense of local community and its product values fit Ecostore’s mission. We wanted a middle-range supermarket targeting the everyday shopper rather than a higher-end or a mom-and-pop store.

Coupons and a publicity blitz followed Rands to dozens of the Meijer stores during Earth Month 2009.

We knew if we could educate the shopper we had a good chance of them purchasing a product and giving us brand loyalty.

To reach the customers in the stores, we hired a group of college students in locations near a Meijer store. They became known as the Ecovisors, providing prospective customers with information about the products. Sales tripled. Baby projects will be available at Meijer in early 2010 and coupons for the products have accelerated sales.

We recently launched at the new flagship store of Duane Reade, a pharmacy operating over 250 stores in commercial and residential neighborhoods throughout New York City. Plans for the next six months include launches in all Duane Reade stores in February 2010. As a Michigan-based company with headquarters in West Bloomfield, three of the Ecostore USA product manufacturing facilities are in the United States, with one located in Michigan.

Lyne Appel Downing is vice president of operations for EcoStore USA and can be reached at [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.