It was the beginning of a non-stop day at Quest HQ with questions and ideas coming from every corner of the office; YouTube series ideas and talent questions, chips retail launch specs and what about that new ad format? Keeping up with the outside world, I checked Google Analytics to see how e-com was doing.
I stopped in my tracks.
We had more than five times the active users that we should see on a normal day. How could that be possible? It was not as much traffic as we’d get during a new product launch but the numbers were huge. Too huge.
I raced over to our social team. Nothing was out of the ordinary. All systems normal over at E-com and customer support. Tech confirmed the traffic spike and said the site was holding up fine (This much traffic would have killed our site just two years ago).
We weren’t getting a Denial of Service attack nor had Justin Beiber tweeted about us. Still, I needed to know what was going on. The mystery remained until, a few hours later, our community manager found it. A tweet from Orange is the New Black actress Alysia Reiner. It was an US Magazine article.
“Snacks in my bag, thx jimmy choo (big clutch)”: The actress made sure to stock her clutch with snacks to get through the long night ahead.
The magazine article is about Alysia at the Emmys. Nothing health or fitness related. Quest isn’t mentioned by name. There’s no link to our website. It’s just the above image. A high barrier to entry for a new visitor requiring the disruption of their current flow (browsing US Magazine) to open a new tab and do a Google search for ‘Quest Bar’.
Yet tens of thousands US Magazine readers came to the Quest website.
Quest is built around the social experience, so blending social with a celebrity and a mainstream source like US Magazine is a big win. While I’d like to take credit for the magazine placement myself, or give credit to our PR team, I can’t. Alysia Reiner is simply an authentic fan of our products. Ultimately, that is better than any orchestrated post could ever be. All good news then, right? Countless people were being introduced to Quest for the first time. Protein shakes for everyone! Not so fast.
This massive influx of new visitors brought with them the opportunity for me and our team to learn. And there was a big lesson waiting to be learned. Throughout the two-day traffic spike one key metric wasn’t budging. Sales.
Most of the new visitors landed on our Protein Bars page (third organic Google result) instead of our home page (first and second organic Google result). That’s far from the ideal flow. The Protein Bars page isn’t helpful to a new customer – and is rarely the first thing they see. The user experience of that page was designed to easily select and order different flavors of Quest Bars. It wasn’t made with an US Magazine reader in mind; a person who knows nothing about Quest. Over half of these new visitors didn’t make it past the Protein Bars page. Conversions didn’t increase in relation to the traffic either. Tons of impressions, high bounce and a low conversion rate – the stuff of e-com nightmares.
By 7pm the traffic spike was holding strong but the office had finally started to calm. I took a moment to consider the US Magazine audience and put myself into their mindset. I thought about their experience as they spent an average of 2.5 minutes on our site. What did they see? What did they think? How did they feel?
They didn’t see our amazing community, our fun content or delicious recipes. Since most people didn’t click past the Protein Bars Page, they didn’t even know what makes a Quest Bar special – the features and benefits that any Quest fan could recite in their sleep. Without a broader context, these new users simply left the site, hungry for some more celebrity gossip.
Not all is lost, however. We got our first ‘touch’ with a lot of new potential fans. In the coming weeks, a retargeted banner ad, a 15 second recipe, or a Transformation of the Week will hopefully bring them back. Maybe one of their friends is already a Quest fan and will share one of our Wednesday memes. Quest is now the radar of a lot of people who had never heard of us. A classic PR win.
More importantly, however, the traffic surge prompted us to think about user flow from different entry points and demographics. Our UX designer is re-thinking how to layout the page and our E-Com team is working on our sales funnel. It’s useful to challenge base assumptions (no one is landing on the Protein Bars page) that may lead to new opportunities (what if they do?). These basic techniques are easy to lose sight of when you’re growing fast but can be more profound than a fancy new software suite or behavioral ad targeting solution.
It’s helpful to take a moment and think about your site from the perspective of someone outside your niche market. What will happen when US Magazine posts a picture of your product?
Picture tens of thousands of fans waiting by their computers, refreshing a website to pre-order the hot new product. Is it the iPhone 6? Oculus Rift? Nope, it’s a bag of chips.
How do you pre-sell chips on the internet? Through the power of community.
Quest’s product launch strategy is unique within the food and fitness industries. By building a massive community, we are able to market and build buzz for new products to over 1 million consumers. We fuel Quest’s online ecosystem with high value content (videos, images, blogs) that fans love to talk about and share on our social channels and their own. And when it comes to launching a new product, our fans get just as excited as we do.
Read on for the three stage product strategy. Note: All social posts are embeds from the original source so the Likes, Shares and Comments are in real time.
Stage 1: HYPE
It had been almost 8 months since we launched our latest Quest Bar flavor, Cookies and Cream. Fans were hungry for something new. When we teased the above image the fans were ignited and immediately began speculation in the comment thread, on personal social channels, message boards and blogs. Most assumed we were releasing another Quest Bar flavor. The image contained a clue however; to a discerning fan, the wrapper was clearly not from a Quest Bar.
The next day we made it clear we weren’t just releasing a new protein bar flavor, but a whole new product line. At this point, speculation shifted from bar flavor ideas to new product ideas. Some users went so far as looking up our trademark filings in hopes of discovering what the new product was.
It’s fun to see fans getting excited and it would be easy to prolong the hype stage for weeks. But this is a short marketing cycle. 15-second attention spans mean that your marketing campaign will only stay top of mind for a few days. Build hype for too long and fans will either forget about your product or get tired of the message. React in real time. Think of yourself as the director of a film, adjusting performances to get a specific audience reaction.
Quest Memes consistently garner the highest engagement, so we used them as part of the chips hype cycle. These images get a lot of shares, tags and regrams, which help circulate the message to an extended audience who may not engage with the Quest brand.
People have been burned for decades with the notion of ‘healthier’ chips which have slightly fewer carbs and a little more protein, but are not actually good for you. We had to make it clear that our product really was different from a nutrition standpoint but still tasted as good as traditional potato chips.
The first few hundred bags of Quest Protein Chips that came off the production line were next-day aired to key influencers. The influencers received a cryptic email letting them know we had sent them a new product and asking them to record their reaction. The turnaround would be tight. We needed their reaction videos back within 24 hours so we could edit the clips into a teaser and a reveal video. The influencers would then post their reaction videos to their social channels the day after.
STAGE 2: REVEAL
While the fans couldn’t sample the chips themselves, if taste-testing influencers liked the new product, chances are the fans would too. While a bigger brand may have controlled product sampling and feedback tightly, we wanted honest reactions. The influencers didn’t receive talking points or rules dictating what the could or couldn’t say. All we wanted was the truth — and we were willing to share that truth with the rest of our fans in a very transparent way.
Videos often gets lower engagement for us, especially on Facebook. This image announced the Protein Chips along with the flavor assortment and release information. Ultimately, the video generated thousands of organic impressions with an amazing reach and outperformed the image. Our core fan base and their friends all knew about Quest Protein Chips before we even began accepting orders. Our ‘talking about’ on Facebook jumped 60% and new fan acquisition increased 66% over the week prior.
Our influencers began uploading their full unboxing videos to Instagram and YouTube which have over 180,000 views on YouTube.
STAGE 3: RELEASE
Unique views to QuestNutrition.com spiked to over 220% above normal throughout the day. Our Amazon Web Services hosting scaled to match the task, unlike years prior when our site would go down minutes after we opened up a pre-sale.
There’s social capital gained from being the first amongst your friends to post a picture of the new Quest product. It’s a signal that you are not only part of the club, but a top-ranking early adopter within it.
Our #HappyFriday image became our most Liked image on Instagram, ever. It was the first image of the Protein Chips in the hands of a consumer. We had a different image ready to post for this day, but a fan submitted image was far more powerful than what we generated internally. It’s a case of letting go of your marketing and giving the fans control.
The entire week saw a unique traffic lift of nearly 100% with sales to match.
Bonus stage – STAGE 4: RETAIL
One benefit of releasing direct-to-consumer first is that we get feedback on the new product, ranging from taste to how it arrives when we ship. Hearing directly from our fans allows us to make changes before going out to our 10,000+ retail partners. When done correctly, it’s only a matter of days before fans post asking when they can purchase the new product at GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, 24 Hour Fitness or other sports nutrition retailer. With Protein Chips, the requests started before the pre-sale even began.
It was clear that our fans wanted Quest Protein Chips in stores as soon as possible. Our retail partners felt the same way. Sending a new product through the retail channel takes time to coordinate and ship, but Protein Chips will be in stores soon. This will create a second round of fan excitement and opportunities that are unique to the in-store environment with in-person interaction.
Your relationship with your fans is like any relationship, online or off. It’s a give and take. When it comes to the fan/brand relationship I’d reframe that to give and ask. I suggest to give exponentially more than you ask for. When you do, fans will come out in a big way to enjoy the excitement and support a brand that they love. Break down your release schedule, be aware how long you can stay top of mind, react in real time and give your fans control.
When I last posted in 2011, I had left Michael Eisner’s new media company, Vuguru, and was recruited to lead marketing for Quest Nutrition. My decision to join Quest, a young and unknown protein bar company, seemed crazy to most. But I saw it as the perfect opportunity to combine my passions for community-building, innovative storytelling and technology to help create something great. My vision was to build the Quest brand by creating a dynamic online community fueled by high-quality content. From the beginning the company’s founders knew that social media would be the key to the brand’s success. It was never a question of IF we should do social, it was only how we would do it and how far we could take it.
After joining Quest things moved quickly. By tapping into existing communities in the bodybuilding space we got instant feedback and early adopters. Word spread and soon there was a grassroots movement, powered by the fans, to get Quest Bars stocked in specialty retail like GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe. By providing high value niche content our fan base grew by hundreds – then thousands – per day. Super fans emerged. People engaged with Quest – and those interactions turned into conversions. Our vision of leveraging the power of social to build a strong brand was becoming a reality.
Quest is now the best-selling protein bar in the sports nutrition category with more than 1.2 million fans across the primary social networks. Our headquarters has a 10,000 square foot soundstage used by a team of full-time directors, editors and producers creating world-class branded content. Social is at the forefront of our every decision, from product release strategy to how we discount our once-a-year sale. Nearly every marketing dollar goes toward our online platforms or product sampling and events. Quest has achieved best-in-class status while completely avoiding traditional marketing channels. And I’ve made quite a few protein bars along the way.
The journey at Quest has barely begun. By working side-by-side with three incredible entrepreneurs, and pushing myself and the brand everyday, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to walk the path. After a three year blogging hiatus I am excited to relaunch so I can add to the social marketing conversation. So join me here as I explore brand building in the social age…
All posts below this one were written many moons ago.
My post before this one was about Old Spice Guy (Yes, it’s been a while). The Internet agreed it was the bench mark for an innovative social media campaign. It was interactive and different and got the brand’s message across. But once the buzz wore off, and everyone forgot how to spell Isaiah Mustafa, we all wondered what would be next.
We’ve finally got our answer. It’s Charlie Sheen.
Granted, he cheated since he is already a major celebrity, but Sheen has jumped online head first. The campaign isn’t interactive like Old Spice’s, but it’s more effective because it is truly transmedia. It begins with a TV show on a broadcast network and ends in nearly every online entertainment format available.
While everyone else wants to know if Sheen is still on drugs, I want to know who is running this campaign. Yes, there is the post for a social media intern, but that’s just a distraction (and it’s also an ad for Internships.com). This is all too well coordinated. It’s just too … perfect.
First, the power of mass TV and radio stirs the pots and gets people talking. This ABC Interview being the turning point into Act 2 (put that into film terms, why not). The mashups quickly followed and brought the sensation online:
Then he joins Twitter and gets a million followers in 24 hours. Since accomplishing that feat, it has been touted as a World Record ad nauseum. Of course, before then, no one even thought of that metric. Charlie Sheen sure didn’t think of it. Do you know who did? Some clever marketing agency. Now it is a benchmark for anyone trying to enter the online sphere with gusto. Can’t break a million in a day? You lose.
Furthering the proof that there are people behind this, his Twitter account is being monetized, to the tune of a million dollars a year. The mind of a digital agency. Rounding it out is a ustream channel and today, a FunnyOrDie short. You can’t be a funny celebrity online without being on FoD.
If you were given a high profile celebrity, who would do anything, and told to make him huge online, the last two weeks of Sheen is more or less a blue print of how to do it. Everyone is talking about Charlie, offline and on. He is a meme to all, a hero to some, and completely unavoidable.
So, we are left with two questions. 1) Who is the mastermind and 2) To what end – What is Sheen after? This is more than a ‘in your face’ to the execs who canceled his show. This power play must be grabbing for something bigger. The 2012 election isn’t too far away…
What a fun day to be on the Internet.
Old Spice has done more for its brand appeal in the last week, double it in the last 24 hours, than any one could have imagined.
It all started with this:
12 million views since February.
Then, last week:
5.2 million views since June 29th, quickly becoming a social media favoriate. Then today… A surprise. It started on Twitter and quickly headed to Reddit, Digg, various blogs and beyond – The Old Spice Man was taking ‘requests’.
And boy, did he respond. Kevin Rose, Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Seacrest, Ellen, Perez Hitlon, The Huffington Post, Gizmodo, GQ, Starbucks, a guy proposing to his wife (She said yes) and TONS of other ‘regular’ people. Old Spice Man had witty, in character, remarks for them all.
The target wasn’t just individuals but also communities, who similarly responded in droves. Over 2,000 upvotes on Reddit (A handful of Redditors got their question answer by The Man) and over 4,500 Diggs (The Man sent a sick Kevin Rose a get well video).
Viral marketing genius.
All it took was a simple set (Which I’m sure they still had from filming last weeks commercial), one actor doing one-take responses. Throw in a couple of writers and an intern or two monitoring Twitter / Digg / Reddit / Youtube to bring users into the fun and… boom! Success.
This wouldn’t have worked if the original videos hadn’t blown up like they did. Even though the first two did hit, the creators further ensured their success by employing a smorgasbord of viral plans into one Uber Viral; Foundation videos (the commercials), fresh content (the Man’s responses) and massive community outreach. A well coordinated attack with a little luck (having Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Rose and Ryan Seacreat Tweet about you – whose followers total 9.6 million – would cost a LOT of money). Finally, to really make sure this became huge, Old Spice was a sponsored trending topic on Twitter.
This is a two-way conversation done right.
A random user (aka the ad agency in disguise) wasn’t submitting to the various communities. It was The Man himself (Well, probably one of those interns, but still). It was cohesive, authentic, well planned, and most importantly – ENTERTAINING.
Todays success isn’t only helping Old Spice. Isaiah Mustafa, the actor who plays Old Spice Man, got over 600 new Facebook fans and 4,000 Twitter followers today according to FanPageList. The gift that keeps on giving. Isaiah is now a bonafide Internet legend. Where will we see him next?
Lets just hope Old Spice knows when to leave a good thing alone and not beat this into the ground.
What a blast!
I’m an Apple Fan Boy. I don’t try to hide it with my MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad. They are great devices. But lately I’ve been… looking. It started with the HTC EVO. Based on the specs and the early reviews, this phone looks like a beast. Or as Engadget said
… its magnificent list of specs reads as though it was scribbled on a napkin after a merry band of gadget nerds got tipsy at the watering hole and started riffing about their idea of the ultimate mobile device: a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 4.3-inch WVGA display, 8 megapixel camera with 720p video recording, HDMI-out, and WiMAX compatibility.
A true powerhouse.
Google has positioned itself in a beautiful way with Android. The fact that I (and many other Apple loyalists) am considering jumping over to Android is a big deal. It’s all part of what I’m calling the Big Fight.
The Power Players of the Big Fight are:
And to a lesser extent
MySpace for starting it all
Twitter for introducing real time
FourSquare for introducing location
The Big Fight is real time, location aware and across all screens. The Big Fight is about control of you – voicemail to email to your social feed and texts; what you are watching on TV or Hulu and who you are watching it with, where you are eating lunch and what you are about to purchase. Your identity (online and off) and that of all your friends. Everything is content and it is all monetizable. That means the top contenders – Google, Apple and Facebook, need access to it all.
Google has established dominance in consumer mobile with Android. It has leverage on more platforms than Apple since Anroid isn’t device specific. Google also has a few social networks (That aren’t doing well, yet). It has massive ad capabilities. In some capacity, it has all the elements that Apple and Facebook have combined. Which is why it is no surprise that iPhone 4.0 is rumored to have tight Facebook integration. They need each other, while Google is able to do it on its own (with massive acquisitions and help from people like Sony and Intel). Apple/Facebook is all about a closed, secure, easy environment for ‘normal’ people. They are mainstream. Google is open but also geeky.
Google has their cards lined up in a way that should make Apple worried because this war has just begun.
Apple tried to get on your TV with their failed Apple TV. While they now have a true content consumption device with the iPad, it’s a personal consumption device. They are behind on taking over your living room. Google TV will (hopefully) bring the web video experience to the big (consumer) screen. No more hunkering around a 21in monitor to watch those funny YouTube videos. It will be seamless on Google TV.
I have been envisioning a dual device content experience for a while. Sit in the living room with the TV on and interact with a tablet or phone. That’s built in to Google TV. Say you are watching one of the new Fall shows on NBC with your HTC EVO in hand. During a commercial you’ll be able to push that funny YouTube video from phone to Google TV seamlessly, watch it with everyone, then get back to your show. That’s fun. That’s event / crowd driven in a new way.
And it’s only the start.
The Android tablet is coming out soon. Now we get some real interactive possibilities in the Android / Google TV ecosystem. For example, a new soap is set to air on MTV which has a choose your own adventure style ending. I don’t think choose your own adventure will have legs in any space, but picking the ending will at least feel natural when you have a device sitting on your lap (instead of having to remember your choice, then the next time you are at a computer remember to go to the Mtv site and pick it). The interaction here is probably more of a marketing hook than anything else and I doubt it will have any Android (or iPad) integration. What will be coming after that, however, is immersive interactive experiences that truly enhances the story.
Enhancing the story is vital. It’s the only way this stuff will stick around and evolve. If it’s not adding emotion, if it’s not helping the story, what’s the point?
Innovative interactive possibilities will surely come in the 2011 and 2012 fall lineup. At that point there will be a large enough group of people wanting to interact who will have the hardware to do it. Even if it’s 200,000 people it allows for HUGE advertiser play. Those 200,000 will be Hyper Engaged. They’ll interact with the show and its brands on their tablet or phone. They’ll investigate product integrations, or perhaps their device will notify them with coupons (or something less lame).
Google now has a complete TV platform, including heavy monetization capabilities.
Where does that leave Apple and Facebook? Facebook has already demonstrated its ability for social viewing with CNNs election coverage integration. It was a good small screen experience. How will Apple and Facebook get into the big screen market? Apple must find a TV strategy if it is going to be a contender in the Big Fight. The iPad is obviously their first step. I’m designing content for it. I think its game changing. But Apple needs to find a way to leverage me on the couch watching TV, because that experience isn’t going anywhere. It’s just going to get better.
We’ve seen live suicide on the Internet before –
In a striking display of the power of live video, Abraham K. Biggs committed suicide on Wednesday while broadcasting himself on video site Justin.tv. As we understand it from various forum posts, the 19-year-old Floridian was apparently egged on by commenters on Justin.tv and fellow forum users on bodybuilding.com. Biggs overdosed on pills while on camera and appeared to be breathing for hours until watchers realized he might be serious, at which point they alerted the police. The video kept running until police and EMTs broke Biggs’ door down and blocked the camera’s view.
But no, the Chatroulette video is not real. It’s sort of a… performance art piece. An extreme public prank which taps into the most profound unconscious motivator – death.
Mass audience trickery is nothing new. Orson Welles is the reigning king of the craft. In 1938 he read ‘War of the Worlds’ as if it were a live news broadcast. He held the nation captive as he described aliens from Mars descending upon New Jersey. Some were so convinced it was real that they fled their homes or holed up in their cellars. Guns loaded, of course.
|Dorothy Thompson of the New York Tribune wrote of the event|
“All unwittingly, Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air have made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations of all time. They have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people of a totally unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nation-wide panic.”
Orson Welles tapped into our need to have collective public experiences. We want to be tricked. We want to be taken for a ride. Back in the 1930s this was accomplished with a few actors and sound effects. Because the technology of the time, radio, had never been used to deceive, it made the deception that much easier. Now, imagine if Welles was alive today.
There is no better platform for audience trickery than the web. Audiences are very much aware of that, however, and are ever more sophisticated. When anything of interest or out of the ordinary happens online it starts out as fake. Always. You are a liar until proven honest. Case in point is the bodybuilding.com / justintv suicide mentioned above. The first half of that episode people declared it to be a fake, all the while a kid was dying. In the real world. I thought it was fake at first too …
A ‘War of the Worlds’ online would have to be huge. Amazing production value. Tight script. Tons of evidence. Who knows how far you could go with it… A few CGI tricks with a ‘live’ ustream, some ‘reporters’ around the globe. We may just see it soon enough. Some will run for the hills. Some will load their guns. Most will sit in front of their computers and smile, refresh, retweet and yell FAKE. Fake or not, it’s all turning into one big simulation anyway.
Besides, everyone loves a good hoax. Big or small.
Nick talking about his iPad again. Awesome.
I’ve been watching old episodes of Arrested Development and The Office in ‘passive mode’ on my iPad for a while. They play like music in the background. I’ll glance over while making dinner or brushing my teeth. Why not, right? The iPad makes me want to have content playing at all times. Examining this experience, and the other options available through this device, is important in understanding how it’s going to work in 5-10 years.
The next Story Telling Revolution.
Having exhausted my tolerance of comedy I’d seen ten times before, I put on this lecture by Amy Jo Kim about social game design.
(It’s long but worth it)
The lessons learned from the above video I will save. Instead, I want to examine my habit. I took my netbook out and started writing down thoughts and questions. This was an active experience. But the active element was not contained within the iPad environment. That option isn’t available. Yet. The lecture wasn’t scripted or story driven but the habit of ‘doing’ while watching seemed natural.
Since it was a lazy Sunday, I next fired up the DailyMotion app to watch Compulsions. I had a pre-release DVD of this and watched it months ago, but I watched it on my computer. At work. On my second monitor. While I emailed. And Tweeted. And caught up on RSS feeds. And cycled between 5 different browsers with 10 tabs in each. A multitasked nightmare. I have tons going on every computing second. It’s not an optimal way to consume content; to get lost in a story. It’s a passive experience. Computing habits are deeply engrained, however, and hard to break.
Luckily, a new habit is being formed now.
The iPad habit. First, you aren’t multi-tasked to death (The iPad despertly needs the 4.0 update to support multitasking, but even with that, you’ll be focused on one thing at a time. My iPad is jailbroken so I’ve already got multitasking). Second, all content is treated the same. Screen size democracy. The 9-inch screen feels bigger than it is. I’ve watched a ton of TV shows and features, so Compulsions was no different than LOST. You lose that stigma of ‘It’s on your computer so it’s bad’. Third, it’s a ‘lean in’ experience. The iPhone OS has been CREATED to lean in. No one has yet capitalized on viewing filmed entertainment in a ‘lean in’ environment. That will be here soon.
On a tablet you want to TOUCH. It feels right. That’s where our new form of entertainment is going to shine. You won’t have a million things going on, but since the habit of doing while watching has been established, some sort of interaction will be natural. I was ready to touch and play with Compulsions. The option just doesn’t exist.
On your 52in web connected tv, you’re gong to want to sit back and watch. That will be your tradiational content experience, indistinguishable from what’s on TV today (Except there will be more options with lower budget and niched targeted shows replacing what we today call Web Series). The hybrid experience will be consuming content on the big screen while you interact via the tablet. This will be great for tentpole events.
With a million iPads sold and people downloading (and paying for) Apps at a breakneck speed, the new market is creating itself. The options are emerging. Now we just need the platform and story. Two parallel paths that need to be developed in tandem. You’ll be seeing that from me very soon.