How? With grassroots tactics like sampling at unexpected places, such as offering cheese at a blood drive. "Our entire trick is trial," said Senior Marketing VP Roberta MacDonald, who oversees brands like Seriously Sharp Cheddar and Cabot Greek Yogurt. "Everything we do is to induce people to just try us. We're' like pushers: 'Try it, you'll love it,' " said Ms. MacDonald, who will discuss Cabot's tactics at Ad Age 's upcoming CMO Strategy Summit in Chicago.
A little luck can't hurt either, like a labeling controversy that has brought the Vermont-based dairy cooperative plenty of free media attention this week. At issue are Vermont's tough regulations that generally restrict marketers from invoking the state's name on packaging if the product or ingredients aren't mostly from the state -- unless there are certain disclosures.
About two years ago, an official from the state attorney general's office became concerned that packaging for Cabot's butter suggested the product was made in Vermont, when in fact it is made in Massachusetts. The label featured "Cabot" scripted in red over the shape of the state of Vermont in green. Plus , Cabot used a part of the packaging to promote the Vermont woodworking industry. But to the state official, that was "inferring you are made in Vermont by promoting Vermont on the back of [the] butter carton," Ms. MacDonald said in an interview this week. "We said there was no such intention. In fact, on the back of the carton we said we used to be made in Cabot [Vermont], now made in Massachusetts."
But in response, Cabot sped up plans already in the works to redo the logo. The new design -- which is being phased in across Cabot's dairy lineup -- now features a green farmhouse with the phrase "Owned by our farm families in New York and New England."
But the switch now has some Vermont officials fearing that the state is losing some publicity as a result, the Associated Press reported this week. "For this Vermont boy, Cabot is Vermont and Vermont is Cabot," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said, according to the AP. The governor said he was working on a compromise "that might lead us to a solution that would preserve the integrity of the Vermont brand and enable Vermont companies like Cabot to spread the Vermont love."
Still, Ms. MacDonald insists Cabot will stick with its new logo, which more accurately reflects that the products are now made and sourced from across the Northeast. "Why in the world would we not honor New York and Massachusetts?" she said. Indeed, one of the Cabot's cheeses is actually branded "New York Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese," which was a little confusing when it also had the Vermont logo on it.
The AP story has been picked up everywhere from USA Today to the Washington Post. In other words, it's publicity that Ms. MacDonald -- and the 1,200 small farms she works for -- can't buy. "In three years, I'll have this spun like I did this deliberately," she joked.