I had a great time on Eric Siu’s Growth Everywhere show. See embed below for the full episode. Eric knows the space better than most, so he asks great questions and surfaces a lot of actionable advice.
We cover content creation, hiring, culture, SEO, the media mix and more!
Pro Tip: Playback at 2x speed. It doesn’t look like that feature is live yet on YouTube embeds, but if you click through to the episode page, the settings icon appears and you can select 2x there. It’s how I listen to all interviews and lectures on YouTube. All the info in half the time!
Watch how Quest went from an impossible dream to the food company loved by millions.
I had a great time at Playlist Live and joining their business panel with guests Shay Butler, ShayCarl / Shaytards; Chrystina Woody, VP of Communications, StyleHaul; Will Keenan, President, Endemol Beyond; Jonathan Weilbaecher, VP of Optimization and Content Strategy, Collective Digital Studio; Adam Klaff, Head of Business, Development, VHX; Ali Adab, VP Content & Partnerships, BroadbandTV.
It was late 2012. If Quest was a child it would have been at the peak of the awkward puberty stage; A middle schooler who just returned home from the dentist with a full set of braces. Quest was becoming something special, but it wasn’t fully formed.
Case in point: the back of the box of Quest Bars.
It all started with a late night email. I don’t remember what the email was about anymore, but someone said that Quest needed to be “less intense” and “a little more normal”. In a 10-minute fury of passion, I wrote the ‘You Are Intense’ manifesto, originally as a reply to the email.
The Quest Manifesto was a hit internally. We had long bemoaned how hard it was to put the Quest spirit into words. It would always come out as trite. ‘You Are Intense’ seemed to actually do the trick.
We turned the Manifesto into posters that were included with orders. We hung it around the office. When we launched Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Quest Bars, and needed copy for the back of the box, the obvious choice, of course, was ‘You are Intense’. All subsequent flavors got it too.
There are now millions of boxes out in the world with those words printed on them. We receive emails from fans around the world describing how they’ve hung the back of our box on their wall. A kindergarten teacher sent a picture of it in her classroom. When I first interviewed Jessica-Rose, who would eventually become the head of our customer support, she told me the back of the box changed her life.
We put the soul of Quest into words. People responded, loudly. But was it the right external representation? It spoke to us as people, but was it Quest the brand?
It was time to define our brand position.
Brand position is communicated by the gestalt of what you release into the world. It’s the totality of copy, colors and images. You can’t declare your brand to be something. Your brand is something. All of the elements add up to a cohesive whole. Small day-to-day choices make up that whole. And as evident by ‘You are Intense’, those choices can spread across the entire brand quickly.
Later in 2013, Quest President Tom Bilyeu, our community manager Clark, and I locked ourselves in a conference room. We weren’t going to leave until we had a campaign that accurately described who Quest was. We wanted to show people how amazing, fun and delicious a healthy lifestyle can be. We wanted to spark people’s creativity and get them to find joy in healthy food.
Our brainstorm took less than an hour. We left the room with a clear position and a new mantra: #CheatClean. It was one of those lightbulb moments. The brand position had always been right under our nose. Now it was completely defined; Make healthy eating fun.
At the 2013 Mr Olympia, our new position was brought to life. Mr. Olympia is one of the biggest sports nutrition trade shows with over 50,000 fans in attendance. Tom and I were looking at other booths and exclaimed how the Quest booth stood out. We were full of clean and delicious food. Every other booth had images of sweating six pack abs, veiny biceps, and necks draped in chains. We would later dub this ‘Chains and Veins’. It perfectly describes the standard brand position companies in sports nutrition employ.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing what everyone else in an industry is doing. It’s safe. It’s obvious. It’s expected. But it tricks you into being one of many. ‘You are Intense’ is the written version of Veins and Chains. As was clear at the Mr. Olympia, there are plenty of fitness companies reminding people to be intense. But Quest’s job as a food company is to show fans that healthy eating can be fun. ‘You are Intense’ didn’t do that.
Having copy that wasn’t perfect didn’t slow down our growth. Using it for the back of the box of Chocolate Chip Cookie Doug was better than delaying for something better. As Steve Jobs said, “Real artist ship”. Often times, something is better than nothing. ‘You are Intense’ worked in the moment, for the moment. It will forever live on as an important part of the Quest spirit. An internal rally cry. A revealing glimpse at what it takes to be part of this family. The words ring just as true today as they did in that first email. It just isn’t our brand position.
The new design for the back of our boxes rolls out in a few months. Anyone who follows the Quest brand won’t be surprised by what they see; Recipes with beautiful photography. With the introduction of the new back of the box, our braces will be removed to reveal a bright Quest smile. Our spirit may not be normal, but our brand is clean and delicious. We now fully reflect that.
It’s very exciting to finally release our 30 second spot for Quest Protein Chips! We created this entirely in-house from script to screen. Our design, media and 3D teams came together to make this something special.
The spot will run organically on YouTube and Facebook first and we’ll follow it up with targeted media buys. Depending on performance we’ll bring it to other platforms across the web. This is our first ‘traditional’ ad so we had a lot of fun working in the 30 second format.
Check it out below!
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…