From Grassroots to Selfie Sticks: Tom’s of Maine’s Digital Integration Strategy

Sunday, January 22, 2017


toms-of-maine-logo

Eco-friendly Tom’s of Maine is a highly regarded top producer of natural, cruelty-free consumer products like fluoride-free toothpastes and aluminum-free deodorants. The company offers a high level of transparency regarding its ingredients and practices ethical ingredient sourcing. This, coupled with an impressive 10% corporate profit donation policy and a passion for sustainability, appeals to consumers interested in affordable alternatives to products manufactured by less eco-conscious corporate giants seeking profits regardless of safety and health concerns. The customer-as-family-based message behind the Tom’s of Maine brand mirrors the initial experience that drove the company’s founders to begin creating their line of natural products in the first place. Tom’s of Maine’s relatable foundation story describes a young couple in the late 1960s who, frustrated at the lack of “natural personal care options” on the market, decided to create their own line of sustainable, ecologically sound products for themselves and their children. Forty seven years later and they’re still in business.

Humble origins

Initially, owing to its advertising audience, Tom’s products were rarely found outside of co-ops and natural foods stores. However, in 2006 Tom’s of Maine sold 84% of its shares to Colgate-Palmolive. Despite this big business buyout, throughout its marketing campaigns Tom’s still emphasizes a cooperative, green, small business vibe that branded its identity in the first place back in 1970 – one that clearly caters not only to individuals, but also families concerned about safe, wholesome products and environmentally-sound business practices. Their “Our Reason for Being” mission statement is convincingly compassionate, and does a solid job of making the reader believe that buying from Tom’s of Maine is a civic duty of sorts. As Rob Robinson, Integrated Communications Manager for Tom’s of Maine, remarked:

Who we are is rooted in how the company started. A lot of times when people start a company, they see a market opportunity. We started more because they wanted products for their own kids. It wasn’t a market they were speaking to, it was people.

Connecting with the community

It comes as no surprise, then, that up until recently, Tom’s has relied primarily on traditional methods of marketing and branding, banking on their relatable historical narrative and reputation as manufactures of quality natural personal care products to secure loyal customers and win over new consumers. But in 2015, they embarked on a digital marketing adventure using not Facebook, not Twitter, but Instagram. Consulting social-media trends analyzer, Mavrck, Tom’s of Maine began to research the benefits of appealing to “micro-influencers” on social media – in this case, Instagram users who generally have 1,000-5,000 followers, but post about very specific topics such as Tom’s of Maine products. Instead of paying a large fee up front for slick ads featuring glamorous images of their product line, Tom’s of Maine went back to its roots: family. Customers were encouraged to share selfies brushing their teeth with Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, for example, and these images were all tagged and linked to the Tom’s of Maine Instagram account. Consumers were also offered coupons as a sort of “reward” system for Instagram posts, which helps to further the Tom’s of Maine brand online and increase product purchasing. Just two weeks after launching the campaign, Tom’s of Maine’s Instagram follower count increased by 8%, to 1,000. Currently, the company has over 6,000 followers.

Tom’s of Maine’s Instagram advertising campaign is an example of how to engage with online communities populated by loyal consumers in order to successfully spread brand awareness and increase customer base. Clearly, Tom’s of Maine and Mavrck are onto something with these “micro-influencers” – while Instagram still lags behind Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, in the realm of average posts-per-week by top brands, significant gains are being had each year. Instagram’s lo-fi, almost analogue feel (thanks to an endless array of filters) with its emphasis on sharing intimate Polaroid-esque moments in real time definitely fits with a family-focused brand identity like Tom’s of Maine.

Personal note: I am not affiliated with Tom’s of Maine and I do not use Tom’s of Maine products. I definitely did buy their toothpaste and deodorant off and on for a good decade, though, starting in my teen years, and I was a big fan of their products. Once they sold out to Colgate, though, I honestly felt a bit betrayed. I just couldn’t really muster enough faith that Tom’s of Maine would continue to maintain an ethical business model with big business at the helm, so I switched to other brands instead.

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