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Making a Mouse-Sized Budget Roar

  • “...Trying things out small scale, proving that they deliver, and then expanding.”

Julie Garlikov


It’s easy to look at the marketing output of a Fortune 100 company and sigh, “If only I had a marketing budget that big...”

It’s also very lazy! For proof of this, look no further than Julie Garlikov’s work at Torani, maker of flavored syrups for coffee and other beverages. Torani, started in San Francisco by two Italian immigrants, has become the go-to flavoring brand in coffeehouses of all sizes. But the success of its growth as a brand hasn’t been a result of dumping ever more cash into marketing. Rather, it’s been the result of squeezing the maximum effectiveness out of every marketing dollar.

Julie’s insights here show how for a product like Torani, which relies on retailers to establish the first relationship with customers, it pays to keep tabs on your consumer base not just by touching base over social media but also by adding to their daily lives in a fun, relevant way.

Has the fact that Torani does not have a huge multimillion dollar budget forced you to be more innovative?

We have to find the right partners to work with us who believe in our brand and who want to work with a great, local, family-owned business. And we need to focus more on things like PR and creating social buzz to get the word out. We can’t do a lot of mass tactics, so we look to build really high loyalty with our business and consumer users, turning them into uber fans.

Have you been able to link your innovative marketing activities to the kinds of business metrics favored by CEOs?

I use a lot of test/invest methodology, trying things out small scale, proving that they deliver, and then expanding. It’s the only way to ensure the best ROI on limited budgets like ours.

How do you stay close to your end users when the relationship with these folks is mainly owned by your retailer partners?

We get a great sense from social media and listening of what’s important to our user. We’ve also been doing a lot of event marketing and mobile tours the past two years so we can hear more directly what our users like. Between our retail partners and our foodservice distributors, we can be one step removed. So we have to create opportunities to engage regularly and we do a lot of research like ethnographies to really understand what our consumer wants and needs.

Has social media played much of a role in driving your brand? If so, how has it helped or how do you see it helping in the future?

We have a very active, loyal fan base that we engage with daily on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. We’ve also done a lot of blogger outreach and we engage with various bloggers on a regular basis, sending them new products, etc. This helps get the word out on a small brand and it forms a big part of our acquisition strategies.

Are you increasing your content marketing investment?

Yes, this is a huge area for us. We’ve developed videos and will be producing even more as the year wraps up—everything from how-to videos to funny content. We also continue to create enticing inspirational photos and editorial, almost like what you see in a food magazine. We’ve found that inspiring people with seasonal recipes and super on-trend ideas generates significant sales lift, so content is key for us.

Author’s note: The remaining questions and answers are from a follow-up conversation I had with Julie, now VP of Marketing at Nuvesse Skin Therapies, right before this edition went to press.

Looking back on your time at Torani, what do you think was the key to making the most of your modest marketing budget?

Much of it comes down to people. If you pick the right partners, you have agencies and others who are really invested and do great work and are an extension of your own team. I often choose partners where the owners are very seasoned marketers, designers, etc., who have been well trained and are very experienced, but now have a smaller shop and want to work with smaller, more nimble companies. And I also select my own team carefully so that some of the work can be done in-house to make sure that I’m utilizing outside resources very carefully and supplementing with my own talent when appropriate.

Are there any other lessons you learned while at Torani that you are applying to your new position?

I’m applying the same lessons on budgets and sourcing the right people to help me that I learned at Torani. I just don’t have the same internal resources to rely on given that we’re a start-up, so it’s mission critical to bring in partners. Many of the people I’m working with are relationships I built while at Torani or in other roles. It’s sometimes hard to convince great talent to work on a start-up, but when you’ve nurtured the relationships over time, people will help or work on tighter budgets because they want to work with you personally again or they know what amazing work you can create together.

Are you seeing any marketing tactics right now that are particularly good at stretching your budget?

I think there is a lot that can be done in the digital realm that is more cost effective than in the past. As well, you can actually build a brand through online influencers and social word of mouth and this is a proven strategy, allowing independent brands a real chance to compete against the big guys and their huge advertising budgets.

Further reading:

Jay Baer, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype

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