It’s that time of year again when our thoughts turn to home, hearth, family, and for me, one of the single greatest PR tactics ever invented — the Butterball Turkey Talk Line. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the lifeline millions of Americans have used to save their holiday feasts.

Back in 1981, ConAgra Food’s PR agency, Edelman, got the brilliant idea that people might need some guidance in cooking turkeys. Prior to this, turkeys didn’t come with instructions. It was assumed that we all knew how to cook this often once-a-year menu item, and we were on our own, not knowing our giblets from our drumsticks.

Although they weren’t sure anyone would call, the agency hired six home economists and set up the 1-800-BUTTERBALL call-in number. Much to everyone’s surprise, the line got more than 11,000 calls over that first holiday period, and one of marketing’s most effective one-on-one consumer relationships was born.

Thirty years later, Butterball’s turkey line, which takes more than 200,000 calls each holiday season, has become a holiday institution known to virtually everyone. The line has established Butterball as THE expert on all things turkey-related and the preferred brand for millions of households.

So, what marketing lessons can we learn from Butterball?

  • Stick to what you know. Think about what your company knows better than anyone else and promote it through every available channel.
  • If you want to be perceived as an expert, hold yourself out as one and never underestimate the value of thought leadership.
  • Look for market voids you can fill. Are there needs — tips for better performance, common misconceptions, easier ways of doing business — you can address? If so, take the lead.
  • Make it personal. The battle for brand loyalty, both on the consumer and business-to-business sides of marketing, is a battle for hearts and minds. Establishing a personal, one-on-one connection with your buyers or prospects goes a long way. Are there opportunities to connect that you might be missing?
  • Think big and be willing to try new things. It is possible that the folks at Butterball thought their PR team was crazy, but they were willing to entertain the possibility that this audacious PR stunt could work, and they gave it a shot. What risks has your company been afraid to take that might pay huge dividends?

Please take a few minutes to share some examples of where your big thinking or showcasing thought leadership has paid off. If you’re brave enough, we’d also love to hear tales of the one that got away — a marketing opportunity you wish you’d seized.  In all cases, we are eager to “gobble up” your feedback!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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