07 March 2017

#MyMagazineSharingNetwork Mission Kit @Kroger: #FreeSamples #Organic #ColdBrew #Popcorn #Coffee #Chocolate #ReadyToPour #LavaCake #BrandFans

"Brand fan" social media networks are the current wave of online promotion for many companies. Sometimes these are limited campaigns for a product launch or event (an anniversary, a sports sponsorship, etc.). Sometimes these function as a longer engagement fan club. Getting people to promote your product/s to their own social media networks is a core marketing goal as "Word-of-Mouth" (WOM) and viral marketing have become dominant forms of online advertising.

It seems like every business is launching a viral or WOM marketing campaign, lately. (Needless to say, there are now loads of marketing companies specializing in WOM marketing vying to manage these types of campaigns.) To boot, such promotional networks often give the companies behind them more demographic data or shopping habits information on participants --- it's a trade-off. So handled correctly, a company can grow its fan base and/or increase market saturation without too much heavy lifting.

I consider myself a very proactive consumer. I will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly. I abhor incompetence. Bad customer service is anathema to me. As an engineer, I am a natural born alpha- & beta- tester. I tinker. I do QA in my sleep. I also like finding out about new products and services, trying new products and services, and providing feedback whether a company wants to hear it or not. This helps insure quality items that I will actually use are put on the market and keeps businesses accountable. (I'm so so so big on accountability, in both personal and enterprise dealings.) Thus, I happen to be a member of a few such WOM or viral marketing networks for brands and/or companies that I regularly patronize.

About a three weeks ago, I signed up for Kroger Co.'s new social media marketing community, named MyMagazine™ Sharing Network. (I am on Kroger's "Best Customer" list and was sent a direct email invitation asking me to join.) Considering that BzzAgent, an early online WOM pioneer, and Kroger Co. now have the same parent company, dunnhumby, it's not exactly surprising that Kroger Co would leverage tools that BzzAgent "perfected" and put together its own custom WOM network.

MyMagazine™ Sharing Network acts as a hub for store fans and influential shoppers, allowing members to get inside information and try out products in exchange for participating in promotional activities. Basically, a member is offered missions which ask him to check out products or concepts and give feedback and/or share relevant information on social media.

Sometimes a mission will offer an associated sample/s to try at home. Sometimes there may be a reward for completing the mission by a certain date or by being one of the first X number of people to complete said mission. (For instance, a "welcome mission" in honor of the MyMagazine™ Sharing Network program's launch offered a reusable shopping bag to the first 10,000 people to complete it.) Participation is, of course, voluntary, but it's stated upfront that member activity level is part of what qualifies one for future missions.

On 21-Feb, I was offered the "Some of Our Favorites" Mission, which involves sampling several Kroger Co. store brand products, providing feedback and telling others about the products on social media and/or in person. Each mission has a set of goals, but of course, whether one completes all of them is up to him. I wasn't asked to make a blog post for this mission (to "blog about the products" wasn't a goal), but figured this is an easy way for me to discuss the overall program, the online marketing trends into which it taps, and this specific mission.
MyMagazine™ Sharing Network
Some of Our Favorites Mission Kit
Several days ago, I received a box mail, it was my Mission Kit. As this is a new program, I didn't know what size samples to expect beyond being told the kit would contain 3 store brand product samples and a coupon to try a full-size of the fourth one for free. (The mission overview listed what the four products were.)

The Kroger Co. MyMagazine™ Sharing Network - Some of Our Favorites Mission Kit contained:

A "Shopping List" flyer postcard explaining the mission and giving participation instructions, and
1. One Simple Truth Organic Popcorn, Low Sodium, 0.39oz (11g) single-serve bag
2. One Private Selection Dark Chocolate Pretzel Bark with Sea Salt, 4.7oz (133g) package --- full sized product
3. One Kroger Chocolate Lava Cake, Ready to Pour Batter, 19.4oz (550g) package --- full sized product
4. Coupon for One (1) FREE container of Simple Truth Organic Cold Brew Coffee (32oz), any variety --- full sized product

Plus a booklet of Pass-Along Coupons (5 of each), which expire 01-May-2017:

1. Save $1.50 on one (1) bag of Private Selection Chocolate Covered Caramels, Almonds or Bark (4.7-7.5oz), any variety
2. Save $1.00 on one (1) bag of Kroger Ready to Pour Batter (19.4-22.9oz), any variety
3. Save $0.75 on one (1) bag of Simple Truth or Simple Truth Organic Popcorn (2.4-7oz), any variety
4. Save $1.00 on one (1) container of Simple Truth Organic Cold Brew Coffee (32oz), any variety

Accepted the mission on 21-Feb-2017. Received the kit on 03-Mar-2017. (Approximately 7-10 business days for shipping.)
So what did I think of the products I was sent? (I buy Kroger store brand products regularly, by the way. Some have been very good, others lackluster. I repeatedly buy the good ones. I happen to love Kroger Crinkle Cut Fries, as an example.)
Private Selection Dark Chocolate
Pretzel Bark with Sea Salt
The Private Selection Dark Chocolate Pretzel Bark with Sea Salt was decent, but not "amazing," which is my expectation of dark chocolate. The crunch from the pretzels was nice, the mild bite of the sea salt provided a good compliment to the sweetness, but the chocolate was just OK. It was missing an edge that made the candy "flat" overall. I might buy this on sale for a great price, but I wouldn't necessarily seek it out.

The Simple Truth Organic Popcorn was light and fluffy, but given the choice I probably would not have opted for the "Low Sodium" variety. I don't in general add salt (or fat for that matter) to my food after cooking, but popcorn is a rare exception. I love popcorn "movie theater" style with lots of real butter, and yes, salt. Mind, I don't eat it this way all the time --- remember moderation is key to my dietary choices --- and in fact, I will often munch on plain air-popped kernels as a snack, but sometimes one has to indulge! It was still good popcorn, but there were a lot of husks to stick in one's teeth. Overall a nice snack, however. I'd still like to try a "regular" sodium variety, though.
Mini Chocolate Lava Bundt Cake
I used my awesome Mini Bundt Cake Maker to test out the package of Ready to Pour Batter and made a nice little Kroger Chocolate Lava Cake. The amount of batter in the package turned out to be a perfectly pre-measured fit for the Mini Bundt Cake Maker machine's requirements. It only took about 20 minutes for the complete process from plugging in the cake maker machine to lifting out a baked mini cake. Simple as pie (or in this case, a piece of cake).
Kroger Chocolate Lava Cake
Ready to Pour Batter
The only complaint I have is due to the packaging itself. One is expected to squeeze all the batter from the bottom to the top of the package. Due the the fact that the package is an odd rectangle, this simple instruction made for an unwieldy prospect, quite difficult and messy in practice. Change the shape of the package in order to make squeezing easier and it's a winning product. I'd definitely by it regularly, depending on flavor varieties available. Using this product would be a simple way to make a selection of mini cakes in my machine for a carnival or other party. (For parties, I usually pre-mix several batters and make an assembly line of cakes. But, of course, doing so uses multiple bowls, spatulas, etc.. By substituting this Ready to Pour product, the process would be streamlined.)
Simple Truth Organic Cold
Brew Coffee, Colombian Dark Roast
And finally, the Simple Truth Organic Cold Brew Coffee was quite nice. I chose the Colombian Dark Roast. MSRP $4.99 in-store. It was robust, yet incredibly smooth. I like strong coffee. I drank it over ice with a spoonful of sugar. As it's organic, it's non-GMO. It's also Fair Trade Certified (and I support Fair Trade, so this is a "pro.") This will be a perfect Summer party staple. Makes a wonderful iced coffee with no effort.

It was a fun box of samples. I will no doubt purchase the Cold Brew Coffee and Ready to Pour Batter in the future. I'll also occasionally purchase the popcorn. (I prefer making my own popcorn and customizing it with add-ins, but sometimes a quick low fuss prepackaged treat doesn't go amiss.) I'd say the "Some of Our Favorites" Mission was a net win for Kroger Co.. So far, I am enjoying being a member of the MyMagazine™ Sharing Network. I'll (literally) keep you posted.

DISCLOSURE: As a member of MyMagazine™ Sharing Network, I received free product samples to try. I was not required to write this blog post, however. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

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