updated 9/19/2012 7:18:31 AM ET 2012-09-19T11:18:31

Greek yogurt producer Chobani has achieved an active cult following for its active cultures. The New Berlin, N.Y.-based company--which is approaching $1 billion in annual revenue after only seven years in business--has tapped into a highly effective marketing and social media strategy that has catapulted it to the top of its industry.

Chobani was started by Hamdi Ulukaya, who bemoaned a lack of what he considered high-quality yogurt in America when he emigrated from Turkey. The company claims its product--now sold in the U.S., Canada and Australia--accounts for 54 percent of the Greek yogurt segment. Additionally, it has earned the top spot for brand engagement among yogurt companies, according to market research firm SymphonyIRI Group, and boasts nearly 600,000 Facebook fans. (By comparison, food giants Nestlé and Green Giant have 570,000 and 400,000, respectively.) "We have built our brand around being transparent and very connected to the marketplace," says Nicki Briggs, who manages Chobani’s social media strategy.

Chobani’s success can be attributed to both its creative handling of social media and its major efforts for brand exposure in the real world. Online, a team of five monitors digital communications and social media, making a point of responding to every consumer inquiry. "It’s about delivering the best experience possible every time," Briggs says. "We want to be warm and quirky, engaging and inviting."

The company’s website posts scores of recipes and photos, spotlights devotees with its "featured blogger" series and lets customers share ideas via Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Interestingly, the company’s analytics software has found that postings not directly related to Chobani result in the highest engagement levels. "The posts with the highest rankings are in line with our brand’s values and personality but not directly about yogurt," Briggs says, noting that this has led the company to develop more unbranded lifestyle and visual content that appeals to its audience and "gets more shares from fans … and thus higher engagement metrics for the brand."

Further, the site manages to forge a connection with real-world activities in an actionable way. Chobani integrates with foursquare to promote local events, including the location of its CHOmobile sampling tour, where T-shirts and free samples are handed out. At a blog-within-a-blog for the company’s Champions line of yogurt for kids, visitors can print coupons and follow the progress of a promotional bus as it visits festivals and events across the U.S. At a recent neighborhood festival in Santa Monica, Calif., the line for free Champions yogurt was longer than the one for ice-cream sandwiches.

In addition to participating in community activities, Chobani gives 10 percent of its annual post-tax profits to charity--all great topics for pass-along fodder on social platforms. "You have to go where your customers and fans go and interact with them in a meaningful way," Briggs says.

But the biggest boon for getting Chobani in the eyes of the public may have been the company’s sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games. (The company would not disclose the cost of the sponsorship, which it promoted via digital media, TV and print advertising and on-site signage.) Among other initiatives, Chobani fed athletes at training centers and during the Games, and used social media to provide public access to six U.S. Olympians selected as "Team Chobani."

"It is a huge sponsorship for such a young brand," Briggs says, noting that the Olympics are a passion point for founder Ulukaya. The sponsorship is designed to target the U.S. audience, she notes, though the company is eyeing expansion into other international markets.

Chobani has found success by going to great lengths to get its name out. "Business is all about relationships and creating strong connections," Briggs says. "When you produce a great product and you provide ways for people to interact, it’s possible to achieve results that transcend the bounds of traditional marketing and advertising." 

Copyright © 2013, Inc.


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