Best bar none: What Whittaker’s teaches us about building a fan base

Spencer Bailey

As the Face 2 Face podcast launches a new series looking at iconic Kiwi companies, Spencer Bailey, head of New Zealand for Facebook, looks at the lessons in community building we can learn from New Zealand’s favourite chocolate maker, Whittaker’s.

Often it’s ‘traditional’ and family companies held up as examples of businesses which are not adapting quickly enough when it comes to their marketing and customer focus. And yet it is that heritage which can give those brands a real edge over their larger or younger competitors. 

Take New Zealand chocolate maker Whittaker’s as an example. It’s a 120-year-old Kiwi company which still prides itself on the fact there are two descendants of James Henry Whittaker running the business today, upholding his principles of creating the best possible product.

But unlike those days when James set up stall with a horse-drawn cart, the competition is from major global multinational players, some of the biggest chocolate brands in the world.  They all have much deeper pockets than the Porirua-headquartered company.

It’s a challenge familiar to many marketers, especially from local companies – how to do more with less, and what is it that differentiates you from the competition?

For Whittaker’s it’s quite simple – it’s leaning into that heritage, and those memories every New Zealander has from childhood of unwrapping that golden packaging to get to the goodies. And this is one of the factors which has made Whittaker’s New Zealand’s most trusted brand for the last eight years. 

But as the old saying goes trust takes a lifetime to earn, and a moment to lose. Coming into the company nine years ago marketing manager Jasmine Currie saw the need for them to evolve and develop and digital and online presence which engaged their passionate community of purchasers.

In that time it’s grown its presence from 8,000 Facebook followers to more than 800,000, and they have done that by cultivating that trusted brand presence, and a voice that is open, honest and authentically Whittaker’s.

The result of this is simple – the brand now has thousands of people online who are looking out for it, ready to interact and respond on behalf of the brand.

Like when there’s a price increase for example. Whittaker’s prides itself on not reducing the size of their bars, but that means occasional increases in costs as prices for ingredients fluctuate. They communicate these through their social media channels – and in the episode, Currie shares the story of the first time they did it, when they were surprised to get responses saying how happy people would be to pay more to support the company.

This engaged community is also the first port of call for launching its new limited edition range bars, featuring some of those weird and wonderful collaborations you might remember such as their L&P tie-up, Honey Bubble Crunch and the recent Rugby World Cup flavours with Matcha and Flat White.

These limited editions are important to the company as they give people a reason to keep buying – and enjoying – the chocolate and stay loyal to the brand they love. Invariably they sell out quickly, showing how much clamour there is among Kiwis for these delicious treats.

That community is a unique and incredibly powerful factor for Whittaker’s in its marketing efforts today. It’s a two-way conversation which drives deep loyalty and ultimately business success. And a huge factor in how it has not only closed the gap, but overtaken its competitors in some of the categories it plays in.

No mean feat for a small family-owned company.

Hear Jasmine Currie of Whittaker’s and MBM’s Hannah Eastwood share the story of Whittaker’s rise to be the country’s most trusted brand in the Face 2 Face podcast, available here.

This story is part of a content partnership between Facebook and StopPress.

About Author

Comments are closed.