The crafts division of Fiskars Brands, best known for its scissors, was losing sales to cheaper knockoff versions of its products. Research revealed that customers had no emotional connection to crafting tools made by Fiskars.
"We weren't happy with that," says Suzanne Fanning, senior manager of PR at Fiskars. "Companies that have a real emotional connection [are] winning in the marketplace."
Fanning met agency Brains on Fire at a word-of-mouth marketing convention, and the team came up with an ambassador campaign to cultivate an emotional connection and increase loyalty, awareness, and sales.
The team set out to find and train four active, influential crafters to be ambassadors, or Fiskateers, and then recruit and train 200 volunteer ambassadors. It aimed to increase lead ambassador store sales, online conversations, awareness, and credibility.
Fanning notes that Fiskars didn't want a "manufactured" effort or to tell ambassadors what to say.
Geno Church, Brains on Fire word-of-mouth inspiration officer, explains that word-of-mouth campaigns must be authentic and sustainable. "[Fiskars was that] rare brand that was willing to look at turning over identity to customers," he says.
"Crafting and scrapbooking [are] socially robust in the blogosphere," Church adds. "We needed customers who were socially active in talking about crafting and scrapbooking."
The team communicated clearly that the Fiskateers were not salespeople. Their job was to visit local independent scrapbooking stores and blog about their experiences. Blog entries weren't required to be about crafting every day, but they had to be transparent, authentic, and honest to connect with people on a personal level.
Fiskateers received unique scissors that were not sold in stores, which created a conversation piece. Fiskateers also provided demonstrations and organized classes, charity events, conventions, and parties - sometimes spontaneously and organically.
Fiskateers.com was another space for volunteer ambassadors to connect. Entry is by invitation from a Fiskateer. A TV show on the site draws about 25,000 viewers per month. Volunteer input has helped refine and improve the show, and the feedback also informs product improvement.
"It's taken on life of its own," Fanning says. "[They provide] more ingenious marketing ideas than the best corporate marketing people could. It's genuine and real, and they think of ideas that are really relevant to crafting."
In the first six months, the campaign exceeded all of its goals. To date, it has attracted more than 2,500 volunteers (11 times the original goal) around the world.
The company saw a 446% increase in online conversations that mention Fiskars by name. Web site and blog visits have exceeded 460,000, and stores visited by a Fiskateer experienced three times the sales growth of other stores in Q1 2007.
"If it was branded as Fiskars, it would not be as authentic," notes Church. "Fiskars has just allowed this to be a conduit for all communication and connections. [It's a] community Fiskars has sponsored, and they support Fiskars and talk about Fiskars because [it] brought them together."
The campaign will continue. The agency will maintain the program and look for new ideas to keep it exciting.
PR team: Fiskars (Madison, WI) and Brains on Fire (Greenville, SC)
Duration: June 2006-ongoing
Budget: Just under $1 million
Clearly, the results are outstanding here. The company was a perfect fit for this type of campaign, and it should be applauded for allowing the effort to unfold organically so that it could bring the most benefit to both the company and the community.
A key element was emphasizing that the Fiskateers were not salespeople and allowing them to blog on topics of their choosing. Also, giving them the flexibility to create their own kinds of marketing tools added to the authenticity of the effort.
It's fantastic to see what started as an external PR initiative integrate into the procedures and ethos of the company. This is a story of how one step can create an avalanche of positive change - for the company and the community it serves.