4 ways Chobani builds authentic brand affinity

A strong customer base starts with a great product. But turning customers into loyalists — and even non-customers into legitimate fans — happens when companies go beyond product and establish ideals, values and beliefs that connect with consumers personally.

As Chobani Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer Peter McGuinness said at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, “Once trust is built in your product, your brand can stand for more than simply what you make.”

McGuinness outlined four ways Chobani creates authentic affinity for its brand through programs and partnerships driven by purpose.

Share success

“It’s not enough to have beliefs and values — you have to live them.”

Peter McGuinness, Chobani

In 2016, Chobani Founder, Chairman and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya gave away 10 percent of the company’s shares to all full-time employees — from forklift operators to executive management. Though he was initially told he couldn’t give away so many shares at a private company of Chobani’s size, the brand cherishes a culture of giving and community and Ulukaya and his team figured out a way to make it happen. Shared employee ownership in the company strengthens that culture.

The decision was praised extensively in the news and received positive attention on social media by customers and non-yogurt eaters alike. “The media doesn’t talk about the yogurt we make but the deeds we’re doing,” McGuinness said. “It’s not enough to have beliefs and values — you have to live them. Putting them into action with powerful programs makes the world a better place and builds a powerful brand.”

Put people first

Chobani offers six weeks of paid parental leave to men and women after a birth, adoption or placement of a foster child in their home — a rare benefit among manufacturing companies. The news spread organically and put a spotlight both on the lack of paid parental leave nationwide and Chobani’s commitment to its people. “Put the people at the center,” McGuinness said, “and build programs around the people.”

Pay it forward

Chobani’s mission is to make healthy food available to everyone; the company’s natural food startup incubator is a natural extension of that mission. The program has become so popular it receives up to 700 applications from startups each quarter, and selected companies participate with no strings attached. They receive grants, unfettered access to Chobani resources and advice from its leaders, allowing them to accelerate faster.

“We have no interest in borrowed interest or taking equity. Our intentions come from a pure place: Founder to founder, paying it forward,” McGuinness said.

Help those in need

“Make your products great and don’t be margin-obsessed. Do the right thing regardless.”

Peter McGuinness, Chobani

Chobani employs many veterans, particularly in its manufacturing plants. To help veterans nationwide struggling to pay bills and put food on the table, Chobani partnered with Operation Homefront to make a special edition “hero batch” of yogurt and raise $1 million for veterans. From the start, the company said they would donate $1 million to Operation Homefront regardless of sales.

“We didn’t want to bribe people to buy our product,” McGuinness said. “Make your products great and don’t be margin-obsessed. Do the right thing regardless.”

Through all these initiatives, McGuinness said the most important thing is authenticity. “Stay true to yourself no matter how big you get. Develop your own playbook based on your company’s goals and beliefs, because that’s what makes it authentic.”

For more from NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, visit the show recap or read more blog posts from the show.

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