How an US Magazine Article Made me Rethink Everything

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.

Alysia Reiner Quest Protein Bar fan!
Alysia Reiner Quest Protein Bar fan!

“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’.

What happens when US Magazine posts a picture of your product?
What happens when US Magazine posts a picture of your product?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Chips Gone Viral: 3 Stages of a New Product Launch

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

Something new is coming from Quest. DOUBLE TAP if you're ready for the next big thing! #CheatClean

A post shared by questnutrition (@questnutrition) on

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.

Hint: It's a new kind of #CheatClean.😉

A post shared by questnutrition (@questnutrition) on

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.

RECAP:

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.

 

The Return: Building a Brand in the Social Age

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…

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