Packaged-goods brands, even nontraditional ones like Seventh Generation, have had a hard time breaking with traditional media. But Seventh Generation is preparing to go nearly all digital and social in 2013 for its media spending after finding this year that the approach delivers better.
But while it's ramping up social media, Seventh Generation recently has moved away from relying on an outside agency to help handle social in favor of doing all the work in-house for the sake of speed and authenticity. "We'll still lean into our agencies for help on developing new creative programs," said Seventh Generation Chief Marketing Officer Joey Bergstein.
But the reality is that Seventh Generation already had been doing all of its social-media posts in-house, and the ability to have its marketing people walk down the hall to get answers from research and development, then report back, for example, beats having an intermediary involved.
"We felt the real need to speak from our own voice," he said.
Seventh Generation recently picked Made Movement Marketing Agency, Boulder, Colo., as its primary marketing agency, after earlier this year assigning Resource, Columbus, to handle a soon-to-be complete revamp of its website as part of an increased effort in e-commerce, which is also being coordinated with the rest of the digital-marketing effort.
To be sure, Seventh Generation was never a big traditional media spender. The brand has spent around $4 million each of the past two years on print, according to Kantar Media, along with $1 million through Sept. 30 on measured digital and $640,000 last year.
While 2013 may have some "tactical" print and radio in conjunction with retailers as well as in-store marketing and sampling, "When you look at our media buys, the vast majority of that spend will be digital and social," Mr. Bergstein said.
"It's just way more efficient to reach our consumer, to speak more directly to people who are really passionate about our brand," Mr. Bergstein said. "We're a small brand, and as we launch new products, we don't necessarily get full distribution nationally in the U.S., so buying media nationally is really inefficient."
Using digital allows Seventh Generation to do geo-targeting for such things as its personal-care line, launched in July but still without the national distribution of its household products.
In his days as an assistant brand manager at Procter & Gamble Co. in the 1990s, he'd get back research reports showing that the top influence on people's purchase was always "a friend's recommendation."
And he'd ignore it, because no one knew how to move the needle on that . "To me, the power of social media is to see what your friends are doing and buying and get recommendations on the product, which for me changes everything," Mr. Bergstein said.
Seventh Generations already has largely made the shift to virtually all digital and social as 2012 has progressed, he said, and sales trends have been improving over the course of the year.
Overall, Seventh Generation's sales were up 8% in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 2, according to SymphonyIRI data that include Walmart, more than double the pace of the brand's household and personal-care categories. That doesn't include e-commerce, which makes up more than 20% of the brand's sales or more than 10 times the proportion of most packaged-goods brands.
The shift toward digital and social doesn't mean giving up on classic CPG-style product-demo TV ads -- just distributing them differently. A video created for Seventh Generation by Colangelo Synergy Marketing, Darien, Conn., which has gotten 2 million views since it was released at the end of August , shows that a cut flower can survive far longer in a bottle of Seventh Generation Natural All-Purpose Cleaner than in competitive versions laden with petroleum-based chemicals.
That effort helped push Seventh Generation above a million Facebook fans this year, linked to a promotion to unlock Facebook badges and coupons.
Research showing that having a baby is a key factor that converts women into Seventh Generation consumers has also driven growing reliance on natural-parenting programs advocated by mom bloggers, Mr. Bergstein said. A program to promote a line of baby personal-care products through mom bloggers in October and November drove more than 10 million consumer impressions, mainly through 9.6 million Twitter impressions.
While Seventh Generation doesn't have the budget to do marketing-mix modeling to directly tie its digital and social efforts to sales, improved sales trends have coincided with the media shift this year, Mr. Bergstein said. "We've also got Dyanamic Logic studies where we're seeing really high purchase interest relative to industry averages and things we've done in the past," he said, "which is a good indicator we've got content getting the message through. "
The shift has meant repurposing some of the seven-person marketing and consumer-affairs staff, but not a big increase in staff.
Seventh Generation now has one marketing staffer, for example, dedicated strictly to posting and responding on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest and an in-house copywriter who writes most of the posts in addition to work on packaging (now in the process of a revamp) and other copy. And Mr. Bergstein is in the process of adding another person to help coordinate efforts across digital and social channels.
"A little over a year ago, we had one additional person in our consumer-connect team," he said. "We took one person out of four-person consumer connect team, which includes answering the phone lines, and put that person in charge of social-media communications."
The brand's copywriter is "now doing less of the work that would have gone into print and doing more in social and digital. So it's really more deploying people differently."