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Community Champions: Meet Diane Nicholas & Mattie Ryder

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What are your names, titles, and the company you work for?

Diane Nicholas is the Digital Marketing Manager and Mattie Ryder is the Digital Marketing Specialist for Midwestern Pet Foods, makers of Earthborn Holistic.

Tell us about Earthborn Holistic and your roles there.

Midwestern Pet Foods is a 4th generation, family-owned company based in Evansville, Indiana. Our company owns and operates 4 state-of-the-art kitchens in the USA and produces our Earthborn Holistic, Venture & Unrefined pet recipes and treats. Pet food is all we do — and we love it! Who doesn’t want to look at cute dogs and cats on a daily basis?

Our small team of two focuses on all digital aspects including social media, email marketing, online advertising, and our amazing influencer community. 

What does community mean to Earthborn Holistic?

Being a small, family-owned business, local community is important to us. We never sell our pet food to big box retailers. Additionally, our nationwide sales team works closely with independent pet specialty stores to educate them on our pet foods and help drive sales.

Building an Earthborn Holistic digital community has been an exciting venture! The pet community is large and it feels very cool to have our own little corner of it. 

As pet parents ourselves, it brings us joy to see the adventures of our creators and their pets across the country. It’s inspiring to see that passion come across in the images they create for Earthborn Holistic. It allows us to get a glimpse into their lives and build a personal relationship with some of our influencers. This isn’t a typical working relationship that is common among larger brands and influencers. We see our influencers as an extension of our pet foods and part of our family. 

What role do values and your mission play in building your brand community?

We’re a family-owned company who cares deeply for our pet food and the environment — we have 100% recyclable packaging through our Earthborn ReBorn program, our “UPCs for Trees” programs allows us to plant trees in exchange for UPC codes from our packaging, and we’ve never had a recall. We are proud of these aspects of our company, so partnering with influencers who share these values makes onboarding seamless and strengthens our partnership.

We’ve found that the community we’ve been able to build with our influencers are very outdoorsy people who enjoy hiking, camping, and just being out in nature with their pets. With a lot of these creators, the environment is just as important to them as it is to us. Being able to help support the environment that they love exploring has allowed us to connect with a lot of creators on a deeper level and it’s helped us build a little “eco-family” of our own with our influencer community.

You’ve evolved your strategy from macro-influencers to micro-influencers. Can you tell us about this shift?

A large factor in our decision to start influencer marketing in the first place was to get content.  Awareness was a definite bonus with macro-influencers, but once we started working with micro-influencers that had high-quality content, we began to see our program really take off in the sense that we were all of a sudden able to work with so many more people per campaign. We are still able to get great content from the micro-influencers and the part that was the most fun for us is how excited they are about creating for us. 

While we still work with some really great macro-influencers that fulfill the awareness part of why we do influencer marketing, we’ve definitely gotten to the point where we’re working with more micro-influencers for the majority of our campaigns. 

How do you balance engaging Earthborn Holistic’s community versus becoming a part of your members’ other communities?

Working with more micro-influencers has added a lot more balance to our community, because we didn’t realize how deeply connected all of our micro-influencers already were with each other. 

Once we started working with a few of them it was like we hit a gold mine of all of their pet friends, too. Because of this, we’re at the point where there is a lot of overlap between our brand community and our influencer’s communities and we realized they were all already friends (a lot in real life, too) and they had more friends who wanted to work with us as well. 

This not only allowed us to scale the micro-influencer side of our strategy, but also allowed us to build a community that was close from the beginning. 

Earthborn Holistic has done a phenomenal job of creating a two-way dialogue with community members. How do community voices shape your brand?

We’ve found that including our influencers in decisions about our campaigns was a way to get them excited about creating the content. We started a campaign in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and with influencers all over the country, it was hard to decide what the best way to go about that would be while still keeping their safety in mind. 

In order to get a feel for where everyone was at, we added our influencers to our Close Friends group on Instagram and posted a series of polls in the stories asking them questions like, “Is your state starting to open back up?” and, “Do you feel comfortable going outside right now?” We also asked them if they had any campaign ideas that they would like participating in right now given the current circumstances and that’s actually how we came up with the theme for our campaign. 

Everyone loved being able to have a say in what we did and one of our creators said that seeing the “Close Friends” tag pop up on the stories when they viewed them made it feel like a “special mission” just for them.

How do you encourage community members to co-create with your brand and feel like part of a movement?

In addition to helping us shape our campaigns, we’ve also done campaigns where our creators have played an important role in helping us carry out larger brand initiatives. Because of our environmental programs, “UPCs for Trees” and “Earthborn ReBorn,” Earth Day is an important day for our brand and we knew in the months leading up to it that we wanted to get our influencers involved in some way.

While we were unable to interact with customers traditionally through our retailers, we were able to engage with them through our influencers and social media pages. This digital connection allowed our customers to still participate in our Earth Day movement. We created a campaign where all of the influencers we worked with posted to Instagram on Earth Day and prompted their followers to tag a friend in the comments. For every person who tagged a friend on all 50 of our influencers’ posts as well as the post on our brand account in the first 24 hours, we pledged to plant an extra tree through Trees for the Future in honor of Earth Day. 

The campaign was a huge success as we were able to plant an extra 6,000 trees! Also, the ability to help the environment by posting on Instagram was something that made everyone we worked with so excited about the campaign as well. It was a movement they could get behind with fairly little effort on their part but still make a huge difference. The post engagement rates were very high across all of our influencers and we received a lot of positive feedback from the campaign as a whole. 

How has a brand community helped you reach your overall company goals?

Our brand community has helped generate awareness and content creation for our company. They are helping us reach our impression goals by getting the word out about our products in an authentic way and also creating amazing content that we can share with our followers on our brand’s social media. 

When people are passionate about what they do and the products they represent, it shows in the content they create. Being a smaller, family-owned company our resources for spend can’t match that of the bigger corporations that we compete with. Because of this, we have to be a little more strategic with who we can work with and that’s why it’s so important that our community believes in our products as much as we do and is willing to help amplify Earthborn Holistic. 

You have your sights set on launching an ambassador program in the near future. Why are long-term relationships with your community important to you, and what will that program look like?

We’ve been approached by several people that we work with and asked about an ambassador program or long-term partnerships. We have lost some great creators to competitors that offer that stability and we’ve built such a great community that we want to keep it for ourselves! While we’re still working through what this program will actually look like, we know it’s an important step in showing the people we work with that we’re just as dedicated to them as they are to us.

What are your top resources for keeping up with the evolving marketing landscape? 

There are so many great resources out there and usually not enough time in the day. Most of the resources we utilize are free! (Bonus points!) SEM Rush, Pinterest Business, Later, Think with Google, Aspire (to name a few) all have great blogs, tips and trends to keep in mind. Also, keeping an ear towards our pet parents is extremely important as well. If our customer service team is experiencing a large amount of questions on a particular topic, it makes sense to cover that topic in an upcoming social media post.

Also, to stay current and to actually be able to utilize these marketing resources, we make it a task each Friday afternoon to spend the time learning and researching. As marketers it’s really easy to get caught up in the daily workload, but it’s super important to stay current with your audience and the ever-changing trends. By making learning a scheduled part of our day, we are less likely to skip it!

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