Hobart builds an online community of bakers from scratch

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Buddy Valastro brought a 600-pound cake shaped like a 1960s-era Hobart mixer to the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show last May. The silver confection, a replica of the mixer that the Learning Channel's “Cake Boss” uses in his Hoboken, N.J., bakery, stood 5 feet tall and appeared to be architecturally improbable. Valastro, unconcerned, leaned in for a photograph, resting his hand on the frosted replica's controls. More than 500 people poured into the Hobart booth over a two-hour period to view that cake, a culinary stunt that was part of an in-booth effort to galvanize independent scratch bakers to join Hobart's fledgling “Get Back to Scratch” Web campaign. The company enlisted celebrity bakers and staged baking demonstrations throughout the show, while also promoting an online competition for registrants on Hobart tapped traditional and social media channels as well as the NRA show blog to drive traffic to the booth, then relied on booth conversations, site demos and signage to help it convert foot traffic to Web traffic. The goal: To extend scratch baking connections and conversations taking place on the show floor to a year-round platform. “While [scratch bakers] are competitors, they really have their own unique way of doing things,” said Jon Schneider, account director at gyro, Cincinnati, which created the campaign for Hobart. “They might see each other at different shows maybe once a year or once every two years, if they can afford to go to a show. This campaign allows them to be able to come back and share ideas. They're not guarded.” Registrants at can add their businesses to a directory of scratch bakers, create a profile that highlights signature baked items and join the conversations following blog posts—though most prefer to communicate through the campaign's Facebook page and Twitter feed, Schneider said. The format allows peer-to-peer communication while also engaging consumers, who can use the directory to find scratch bakers and vote on their favorite treats. The tool is something that the industry has wanted for some time, Schneider said. “We have a variety of bakers who are very passionate about this movement,” he said. “They were thankful to have someone coordinate the effort and connect them through a social media effort.” The celebrity-event strategy drove awareness, said Jenni Bair, segment-marketing manager at Hobart. Valastro didn't just pose with his cake, he also posed with attendees, who could then visit to download the photographs, add their businesses to the directory and enter a competition centered on garnering customer votes. “We had the site live right there at the event and, while folks were waiting in line, they could sign up or visit again,” Bair said. Organizers gave attendees cards that promoted the site and explained how to retrieve photos. “We tried to tie it all together so they would see the site and go back there when they had time to upload a picture of their signature items and talk about their businesses a little bit.” Hobart reached out to bakers who could not make it to the show floor, tweeting pictures of Valastro and his cake and driving traffic to the campaign microsite. More than 100 scratch bakers added their businesses to during the NRA show, a more than 40% jump from preshow numbers. Participation continued to grow after the event, with more than 600 businesses now represented on the site. The campaign's social media channels also grew. More than 700 Facebook users “liked” the campaign's Facebook page, and the Twitter feed boasts 550 highly qualified followers. The contest helped stoke consumer interest, with more than 100,000 votes cast in a nationwide bake-off. The volume of engagement is particularly significant for Hobart because of the challenges of reaching out to small businesses, Bair said. “We have a limited number of feet on the street, and we are able to communicate with a lot more of our smaller customers with this vehicle than we have been able to do with an independent person calling on an independent location,” she said. Hobart focuses the campaign on listening and building community rather than marketing, Bair said. “They're talking about challenges. I don't get the opportunity to stand in the bakery every day and see the challenges or some of the short cuts that they have to do. It's been a great way to get an eye into the market.”
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