Within the ever-changing hierarchy of trendy desserts, it hardly seems like ice cream is coming in hot. In fact, anything “frozen” on my newsfeed these days is simply Disney paraphernalia, and those somewhat annoying #nomnom posts are increasingly featuring starchier selections such as artisan donuts, novelty Oreos, and dessert waffles. And let’s not even talk about the Cronut, which became so exclusive in late 2013 that it only took 20 minutes and 12 pastries to raise $14,000 for charity.
All this aside, I have reason to believe that ice cream is making a comeback—or, rather, that it never really went anywhere—because two of ice cream’s forbearers have been carrying the torch since the 1970s, and their present-day strategies go way beyond trend or hype. Not only does their legacy ensure ice cream will exist until Hell freezes over, but their current tactics make a strong case for soaring growth.
What I’m saying is, before long, all those frozen posts will be less Anna and Elsa and more Ben and Jerry.
Before there were Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops in 27 countries, there was a single renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, where founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started selling homemade ice cream in 1978. Growing demand led to distribution of their ice cream to Mom & Pop stores in pint-form and the opening of franchised scoop shops along the East Coast. Ben and Jerry were named “U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year” by President Reagan in 1988, an award reflective of the company’s civic involvement and community-based voice that still guide their mission today.
An even deeper dive (we’re talking double scoops here) into Ben & Jerry’s story illuminates 3 strategies any company can use to achieve a presence that is both enduring and current.
The association of ice cream with becoming “hippier” isn’t new, but I’m not talking about waistlines—I’m talking about Woodstock. Tweet This Ben & Jerry’s branding is hippie in a literal way: they’ve taken to the road in a painted bus called the Cowmobile to distribute free scoops across the country, they named a flavor after a famous deadhead (Cherry Garcia, anyone?), and they’ve boldly engaged in grassroots efforts (developing fair-trade flavors and protesting against oil drilling).
Don’t worry—your company doesn’t need to break out the love beads in order to learn from Ben & Jerry’s example. The idea is to identify core company values that set you apart from your competition, and then to commit to those values in a clear, momentum-building way. More than selling a product or service, you want to build a movement. This could mean hosting community events and partnering with charity efforts that resonate with your business, but it also applies to smaller scale efforts: being consistent and bold in your brand voice, embracing ways in which you are different from competitors, and using blog posts and social media to act as rallies for your cause. Give more power to the people by spotlighting real customers, developing strategic hashtags, and choosing authentic ambassadors for your brand so that your marketing focuses more on stories than on systems.
Evolve, but Don’t Sell Out.
Digging deep into mission statements and building your movement doesn’t mean you have to stop looking at the world around you. Ben & Jerry’s success illuminates ways in which it is crucial to pay close attention to competing voices and rising trends in the market, all while remaining committed to your company’s unique identity.
Two key facets of the hippie mentality are the call for change and the call to be exactly who you are. Tweet This Seemingly incongruous, these two attitudes have been successfully fused in Ben & Jerry’s marketing and product development for impressive effects. For example, rather than abandoning their staple rich and creamy recipes when frozen yogurt hit the big-time around 2007, Ben and Jerry’s incorporated yogurt versions of their traditional flavors, such as Phish Food and Half Baked; in 2012, they even debuted popular Greek yogurt options. And now, with crumbly, flaky sweets gaining ground in the last year or two (remember what I said about cronuts?), Ben & Jerry’s has bumped up marketing flavors with cookie mix-ins and has even snagged a piece of the hot cookie-butter market by developing concoctions with Speculoos cores earlier this year.
And that’s not even the extent of it. On web and social media channels, Ben & Jerry’s still retains its funky, hippie-style voice and reminds visitors of its legacy, while posts with captions like “Lazy Sunday” and “Because, Peanut Butter,” also make references to trending SNL skits and phrases popular on Instagram and Twitter.
You can find that same blend in your marketing tactics. Utilize solid branding and a recognizable voice, and then keep it contemporary. Tweet This Stay on top of innovative and interesting causes or trends in order to engage with them. Show your customers that the company they know and trust cares about the things they care about.
Make It Good.
It may sound really obvious, but none of the above tactics would mean very much if Ben and Jerry’s ice cream tasted bad. No amount of original branding or cause-based community involvement makes up for a product or service that simply doesn’t work well.
As you incorporate emerging trends and causes, make sure that your core product delivers value and that the movement you create makes sense for your business. For Ben & Jerry’s, this means consistently creating ice cream that makes people like me weak at the knees and including charitable efforts that are particularly resonant for dairy farmers. For you, it may mean updating technologies for a better user experience or transforming your product according to changing markets and new demands.
In nearly all cases, making sure your basic offering is good also means having a well-designed, user-friendly website and committing to excellent customer service. As Ben & Jerry’s shows, not only is their ice cream fantastic, but their website experience is delectable to consume, and their service model is both friendly and highly-functional.
Keep in mind that this level of branding and presence won’t happen overnight. It will take a conscious and consistent effort to stay on top of ever-changing markets and cultural whims. But as we can see from Ben & Jerry’s enduring consumer base, it can be done, and the results will be oh so sweet.