Consumers add crucial flavor to marketing

All this low-fat health talk had been taking the fun, not to mention the flavor, right out of snacking.

So I found an amazing business partner and started researching (snacking) until we found a way to pop a line of chips so delicious, we couldn't believe it's healthier. From there, it was about bringing our fun personality to everything we do to really make snacking fun again.

One snacker at a time. We knew we were taking on a competitive category. We didn't have unlimited marketing funds. So we needed to get creative. First, we turned to PR to give us credibility. No matter how many times we say we're the "best snack," it doesn't mean as much as Shape, Men's Health, and Hungry Girl saying it. And what could be better than Jillian Michaels saying, "Eat popchips instead of Doritos" on Today?

It's also about giving snackers a chance to taste and discover popchips and let them have fun spreading the word. So we decided to invest in our fellow snackers. No ad could be more powerful than an excited fan sharing a new passion.

For us, it's about more than sampling. It's about connecting with people. In each of our core markets, we have a dedicated marketing team (our popstars) that gets us to the right events - from races to concerts, film festivals to charitable events - bringing the fun energy and personality (and popchips) that connects us with our snackers.

We also take the time to find local tastemakers, from PTA moms to college ambassadors, nutritionists to fitness instructors. Then we send each person a personalized care package of popchips with a handwritten note and a simple way for them to "pop it forward" to three of their favorite snackers. We also arrange to let some of our fans host snack breaks at their companies - from a local ad agency to Facebook and Restoration Hardware - making them the office snack hero.

Snacking is social - and so are we. Social media is one of the most powerful ways we have to interact with our snackers. With our dedicated team responding to almost every comment and tweet, we have another way to keep the one-on-one conversation going and enable our fans to experience our fun personality. We're also lucky to have Ashton Kutcher as our president of pop culture. He helps oversee our social media efforts, so you can only imagine the fun cam- paigns we'll be unfolding.

And it's working. Our snackers are our evangelists. They share popchips with everyone they know. They have popchips at their weddings. Some make videos; others write songs. We even had a high school football coach share them with his team and then ask about investing. Our fans lobby to have popchips sold in their favorite stores - and they let us know when they're out of stock. No question about it: our fans have become a powerful part of our marketing team.

There's no better proof you're doing something right than getting thousands of e-mails from fans. And as hard as it is to believe, I've answered most of them myself. It's the e-mails such as the one from Nan in California that really keep us smiling: "I've been going crazy telling everyone I know about popchips. I even keep a supply in my trunk and hand them out to people."

The bag is half full. We're trying to do so much more than just make chips. We're building a fun company and culture we can all be proud of. One of the brand principles we live by is that we're poptimists. As we work to build something special, especially in times like these, we choose to believe the bag is always half full. Even half a bag is plenty to share with our fellow snackers.

Keith Belling, a serial entrepreneur in San Francisco with a penchant for snacking, is the cofounder and CEO of popchips, an award-winning line of all-natural chips that claims to put the fun back into snacking. His favorite flavor? Whichever bag he just opened.

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