Coconut water brand Vita Coco has elevated social listening as a key part of its efforts to drum up buzz on social video app TikTok. The goal for engaging users on the platform is to pick up on trending videos early and quickly participate in those online conversations before they disappear into TikTok's perpetual feed and out of consumers' minds.
For Vita Coco, that means working with a technology company to identify relevant trends on social sites and not shying away from experimenting with new content as it looks to introduce the beverage to more people.
"We leverage TikTok as sort of a research platform, but also a media platform to discover new events and trends — that speed to create connections with our consumer," said Brittany Harshbarger, senior manager of growth at Vita Coco. "TikTok is a great channel for driving trial with this broader younger audience that many not be familiar with Vita Coco as a brand personality."
Marketed by All Market Inc., Vita Coco is the leading U.S. brand of coconut water, with an estimated 60% of the $1.2 billion market, Inc magazine reported this month, citing data from natural-products market research firm Spins. The brand has seen double-digital growth every year since its 2004 founding, including a 12% gain last year. While coconut water has been popular in Latin America and the Caribbean for years, it has been marketed in the U.S. as a healthy alternative to soft drinks with its natural electrolytes and high levels of potassium.
To keep an eye on social media as part of its strategy to reach younger consumers, Vita Coco uses a service called Brand Mentality that was developed by media technology company Sightly. The software is designed to help brands anticipate and react to cultural moments including breaking news and viral trends.
"We set up in the Brand Mentality what trends we do want to align with as a brand and what we don't, and things that we're unsure about," Harshbarger said. "When things surface, which they do so quickly, Sightly has through the Brand Mentality tool the ability to act on our behalf really quickly. We can super quickly get up and live with a media campaign."
Nature's cereal hero
As a recent example of that process in action, Harshbarger said videos of how to make "nature's cereal" started to trend on TikTok, hinting at a potential opportunity to promote the coconut water brand. The recipes depicted on the app typically included berries, pomegranate seeds, ice cubes and coconut water as the key ingredients.
"The nature's cereal recipe literally took the internet by storm, and withing 36 hours of the trend starting, we got a video ad up and running," Harshbarger said. "We didn't overthink the content. We used something we had shot earlier that morning for Instagram, and we promoted it on TikTok to expose those interested in the recipe trend to Vita Coco."
Coconut water was the "hero ingredient" in the cereal recipe, while an ice cube that was the unexplained "underdog ingredient" got people talking about the video. With its video ad, Vita Coco inserted its brand into those conversations in order to converse with social media users who may be interested in purchasing the beverage.
"If you don't have ears to these platforms, by the time you read about a trend in the press, it's already peaked in popularity, and you're too late."
Senior manager of growth, Vita Coco
"We introduced TikTokers to our brand, but instead of in a brand language, it was in theirs," Harshbarger said. "Everybody was obsessing over this nature's cereal trend. That was a key moment to introduce these new, perhaps unexposed Vita Coco audiences to Vita Coco because it was just a culturally relevant moment through their lens."
Vita Coco doubled its following on TikTok following the campaign, which also linked to Amazon to drive purchases of the product. Harshbarger declined to say how much the campaign cost, saying TikTok provides a "very efficient" buy.
"The media metrics that we saw for this campaign on TikTok beat all of the benchmarks that you see across other social platforms," she said. "That has something to do with the virality of the trend, and TikTok being such a new platform. The share of voice is higher than what you see on other, more mature platforms."
Reddit, the social news platform majority-owned by Advance Publications, also provides a way to keep a finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment and trends, Harshbarger said.
"Reddit gets underrated and ignored a lot, but [it is] culturally like TikTok in a lot of ways," she said. "Because we use these tools to mine for trends, it gives us a competitive advantage. If you don't have ears to these platforms, by the time you read about a trend in the press, it's already peaked in popularity, and you're too late."
Speed is key to winning
Vita Coco for several years has shown a willingness to be nimble and quick in jumping on social media chatter, especially because coconut water is a product that people often love or hate. Two years ago, the brand invited some of its harshest online critics to participate in a campaign promoting a new product called Pressed. The effort included a series of video spots as part of a broader effort to win over the internet's most negative people.
For World Coconut Day last year, Vita Coco ran a snail-mail effort that let people send coconut greetings to friends or family. Each of its Coconote packages held a brown coconut, carton of Vita Coco water and note that consumers could personalize before sending it.
Now, pandemic-related disruptions underscore the need to move quickly amid rapid shifts in consumer behaviors, as well as within the media and marketing landscape, Harshberger said.
"2020 caught brands and the media industry flatfooted," she said. "The key to winning in the media space, but also marketing, really is going to be speed — more than it ever has been."