Venturing into the blogosphere
When Mayfield Dairy Farms launched The Dairy Blog, third-generation president Scottie Mayfield didn’t fully understand the power of this communications tool. In the months that followed, he and his staff learned to harness the technology to reach out to customers. Here is his story.
Mayfield Dairy Farms, which got its start when my grandfather T.B. Mayfield used a horse-drawn cart to deliver milk to dairy customers in McMinn County, Tenn., has always strived to be an innovator. When my grandmother’s friends suggested that she start selling her homemade cottage cheese on the milk route, she did, and it was a success. In 1920, my grandfather purchased the area’s first milk-pasteurizing plant. In 1922, he bought an ice cream plant and began making Mayfield Ice Cream.
The second-generation owners—my father, C. Scott Mayfield, and my uncle Thomas Mayfield—sought more efficient ways to increase production when they took the helm after returning from Navy service in World War II. They mortgaged the family farm to invest in the Southeast’s first modern milk plant, which they opened in 1950 in Athens, Tenn. Staying true to their father’s entrepreneurial spirit, in 1955 my dad and uncle purchased the nation’s first vacreator, a vacuum processor that removes unwanted flavors and odors from milk. Many other dairies have since abandoned its use in an effort to cut costs, but we believe it’s our key to producing great-tasting milk. Today Mayfield is one of only two dairies in the country that still uses a vacuum heat process to pasteurize milk.
Another Mayfield innovation is our trademark yellow jugs, which are designed to deflect light. Exposure to sunlight, even for a short time, can have a negative effect on the quality and taste of milk. The opaque container protects Mayfield Milk from loss of flavor and nutrients.
Today, my cousin Rob and I oversee Mayfield. Like our grandfather and fathers, we are passionate about our company’s products and service. We are also dedicated to maintaining Mayfield Dairy Farms’ reputation as an innovator in the dairy industry. We have been a subsidiary of Dean Foods Co. since 1990, but we strive to maintain our family culture.
Working closely with the community is also very important to us. We pride ourselves in being close to our consumers and listening to their input, which is why we are constantly looking for opportunities to get consumer feedback. From the days when my grandmother’s friends urged her to market the cottage cheese she made in her kitchen, we have developed products based on comments and suggestions from friends and acquaintances.
To encourage this valuable feedback, we launched The Dairy Blog (www.thedairyblog.com) in June 2006. The blog (short for “web log”) is a website where members of our team can comment on our products and other topics; its interactive format allows customers and community members to respond to our entries. Our blog postings include personal stories about the history of Mayfield, product and nutrition information, and recipes.
The blog’s purpose is twofold; to share news from various aspects of our business and to create an atmosphere that makes consumers feel comfortable establishing a dialogue with us. We are giving them the opportunity to ask questions, voice their opinions and learn more about the day-to-day operations of Mayfield.
When we started the blog, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into, but the fact that my spell check didn’t recognize “blog” as a correctly spelled word made me feel a little better. After several months, I’ve realized that it’s a great way for Mayfield to learn more about our consumers’ opinions on our products, our company and our industry. Occasionally, I’ll post a question for blog readers to answer. For example, I asked for feedback on whether we should introduce a skim or 2% version of our Mayfield NuTrish Milk, a lowfat product that contains yogurt cultures to aid digestion.
Readers of the blog have asked me questions, as well. Some have asked where they can find their favorite Mayfield Ice Cream flavor. One person asked me to study my family history to determine if the Mayfields in Canada are related to the Mayfields in Tennessee.
A team of bloggers
To give consumers a look at all aspects of our company, The Dairy Blog has a diverse team of authors representing the various branches of our extended Mayfield family. My cousin Rob, who is vice president, blogs on the site, along with members of our product team and our executive team.
Our company recognizes that we could not have gotten where we are today without the dedication of our employees. Currently, we have a staff of nearly 2,000, who work to serve nine states: eastern and central Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, portions of North Carolina, a small area of Mississippi that borders Alabama and parts of Kentucky and Virginia that border Tennessee. In addition to our Athens, Tenn., facility, we have plants in Birmingham, Ala., and Braselton, Ga.
Mayfield Visitor Centers are located at our Braselton and Athens plants, offering consumers a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Mayfield Milk and Ice Cream. Visitors are able to tour the plant, learn what makes Mayfield the Southeast’s leading brand of milk and ice cream, browse through our gift shop and, of course, eat Mayfield Ice Cream at our parlor. Representatives from our visitor centers are among the team members who post on The Dairy Blog. They’ve described recent factory tours they’ve led and the people who have visited—an average of 50,000 a year, including guests from as far away as Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia and South Africa.
The Mayfield Mom Squad also blogs on our site. Mayfield Moms are the most elite group of people who will ever serve you a scoop of ice cream or sample of milk! The team of advocates of the Mayfield brand is made up of women who are energetic, enthusiastic, health-conscious mothers, generally with children in the home. We like to think of them as our community ambassadors. They are trained to promote Mayfield products to our target audience and serve more than a million consumers per year. Chances are, if you live in these markets, they’ve handed you a sample of Mayfield Ice Cream or Milk in your local grocery store.
Our bloggers also include a guest author, Michael Zemel, Ph.D., a calcium researcher at the University of Tennessee and executive director of America on the Move in Tennessee, the state arm of the national non-profit organization whose mission is to improve health and quality of life by promoting healthful eating and active living. And our consumer affairs specialist is on board to answer questions and posts the most frequently asked questions so consumers can easily find an answer. All of our authors work together to give visitors to our site a good sense of our culture. We want The Dairy Blog to be a useful resource for anyone needing information related to Mayfield and to dairy products in general.
Thanks to this team of bloggers, The Dairy Blog is on the right track. In a Sept. 20, 2006, article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, gave The Dairy Blog an A+ rating. “The best company blogs have an authentic voice with real people talking about topics of genuine interest to them,” Cox told the newspaper. “The worst are little more than corporate press releases in a blog-like format.” One thing Cox liked about The Dairy Blog, he said, was that “there are stories in here that are not about the products but about the people who make the products. That’s smart.” The Dairy Blog was inundated with hits when Glenn Reynolds, proprietor of the influential Instapundit.com, posted a link to our blog on his site. (Reynolds was also quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel article.)
If you are debating whether your business would benefit from a blog, I encourage you to seek counsel. I did not fully understand blogs, but I’m glad our PR agency helped us recognize the value of this newer method of consumer interaction.
The Mayfields have never been afraid to try something new. The processes we apply in production and the methods of consumer communication we use all reflect the Mayfield spirit of innovation. Although I didn’t fully understand the blogosphere, I recognized the benefits it lends to the company. I want to continue to seek out and foster these relationships with consumers, and the blog is certainly working for us. Who knows, we may find in the next few years that a new communication method is best, and we’ll want to be sure to ride that wave, too. Until then, I’ll see you at The Dairy Blog!
Scottie Mayfield is the third-generation president of Mayfield Dairy Farms in Athens, Tenn. (www.mayfielddairy.com).