Vitaminwater Gets Facebookers Brainstorming on a New Flavor

Vitaminwater ventured into the world of crowdsourcing Tuesday with the launch of a new a Facebook application in which users compete to create the energy drink’s newest flavor, even down to the bottle design, to the tune of a $5,000 prize.

Vitamin Water's New Facebook App
Vitamin Water's New Facebook App

The new “flavor creator” app features a cartoon of a lab-coat-clad woman who instructs users to vote on their favorite flavor or combination of flavors, based on the most buzz-worthy results culled from online sources like Google News and the food photography blog Foodgawker. Ginger, for example, takes the top slot for generating buzz online.

Users can play games and take quizzes about their fitness levels to determine which kinds of vitamins and minerals should be part of their new concoction, and can also team up with other Facebookers to design a bottle for the new drink. “We’re basically handing over the control and the lab coat to our fans,” said Eric Berniker, a senior vice president of marketing for Vitaminwater. “It’s one of the hottest brands with youth, and of course, Facebook is a great way to connect with them.”

The winning flavor will be selected by country singer Carrie Underwood and rapper 50 Cent, and will hit store shelves in March of 2010. The rapper, also an investor in Vitaminwater, has already co-created his own grape flavor, “Formula 50,” and allegedly raked in some $400 million when Coca-Cola acquired Vitaminwater’s parent company, Glaceau, for $4.1 billion in 2007.

Vitaminwater is far from the first brand to seek online fan participation. The online T-shirt company Threadless paved the way for companies to benefit from the idea of consumer-as-designer, scoring big with its crowdsourcing business model of rewarding the top user-submitted T-shirt designs.

And this isn’t the first time Vitaminwater has used a social-networking presence to gain fans. It launched its Facebook page in February and has more than 400,000 fans. During the NCAA basketball tournament in March, it devoted television airtime to plugging the page. In May, Vitaminwater worked with MySpace Music to offer a free song download with the purchase of a bottle of its new Sync flavor.

The Vitaminwater line markets itself to health-conscious consumers, with its emphasis on vitamin and mineral combinations for specific benefits like “focus” and “endurance.” Earlier this year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a class-action lawsuit against Coca-Cola on the grounds that Vitaminwater made deceptive claims about the drink’s health benefits.

Marketing on Social Networks: Branding, Buying and Beyond.

A tool for every purpose

Though social network advertising gets a lot of attention, it is only one of many ways marketers can reach customers on social networks. Social networks can be used for branding, improving customer loyalty, lead generation, direct marketing and e-commerce.

“The beauty of social networks is that they are a place where nearly any marketing goal can be achieved, with nearly any marketing tactic,” said Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, “Marketing on Social Networks: Branding, Buying and Beyond.”

Common wisdom over the past few years has been that people are interested in interacting with social network friends, not marketers. Not so, according to Anderson Analytics’ May 2009 survey—52% of social network users had become a fan or follower of a company or brand, while 46% had said something good about a brand or company on a social networking Website—double the percentage who had said something negative (23%).

Social Networking Site Activities of US Social Network Users, May 2009 (% of respondents)

In a December 2008 MarketingSherpa survey of social media marketing professionals, 92% of respondents said social media marketing was effective at influencing brand reputation and 91% said it worked for increasing brand awareness. These executives found it far less effective for generating sales leads or increasing online sales.

US Social Media Marketing Professionals Who Believe Social Media Marketing Is an Effective Branding Strategy, December 2008 (% of respondents)

However, savvy marketers are demonstrating the effectiveness of using social networks for direct marketing and lead generation as well. Brand pages and applications can be vehicles to deliver coupons and offers to consumers to drive trials, store traffic and response. A July 2009 Starbucks promotion, for example, distributed coupons for a free pastry via Facebook and other social outlets. The chain was soon one of the top trending topics on Twitter and the top brand on Facebook, with more than 3.7 million fans.

In terms of e-commerce, few retailers are currently selling products directly through social networks. But the pending launch of Facebook’s virtual currency will make it far more appealing for this purpose. Meanwhile, e-tailers can take advantage of services such as Facebook Connect to allow users to share information about their browsing and purchasing activity on an e-commerce site with their social network friends.

Measuring social media success remains difficult for marketers. Many of the metrics that marketers can track on social networks today involve what is called “soft ROI”—which does not show up in the bottom line. But a study from the Altimeter Group and Wetpaint, along with a separate study from Razorfish, indicates that the stronger a brand’s social media presence, the better the brand performed—whether measured in conversations or in financial performance.

“Social networks are a constantly changing database of consumer sentiment, attitudes and information, and marketers today have only the earliest glimpse of the potential,” said Ms. Williamson. “Companies that want to maximize their presence on the social Web must take advantage of social networks in all stages of the purchase funnel, from awareness to learning to buying to loyalty.”

Maximize your social network marketing. Download the new eMarketer report, “Marketing on Social Networks: Branding, Buying and Beyond,” now.