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Sep 26, 2002
Case Study

Clif Bar Defies Typical Online CPG Strategies to Deliver Personalized Customer Service

SUMMARY: Stephen Houghton wanted to extend customer service for Clif Bar to the Web without sacrificing customer intimacy. "The online initiative was never, and will never be about turning visitors into sales," says Houghton.
"We just want to generate excitement about the brand. It sounds hokey but from the employees to the consumers, we're a family, and we want to treat people the way we want to be treated. "

Houghton delivered personalized customer service that kept his homey brand in tact. Read to see how their viral New Year's Resolution campaign exceeded their most optimistic forecasts by 10 times.

Like many consumer packaged goods companies, Clif Bar
worried about its online strategy. Unlike many CPGs, which are conditioned to appeal to the masses in ad campaigns, but are rarely able to develop customer intimacy, Clif was used to courting customers individually, personally.

"There's a personal lore to Clif Bar," explains Stephen Houghton, Internet Advertising and Web Manager, "that comes from our history of being a small independently owned company who cares more about providing service than driving sales."

"The online initiative was never, and will never be about turning visitors into sales," says Houghton. "We just want to generate excitement about the brand."

Despite the fact that Clif Bar does not do any search engine optimization, or submit its site to search engines, it does get good keyword rankings, probably because there are so many sites linking to it.

"It sounds hokey but from the employees to the consumers, are a family, and we want to treat people the way we want to be treated. If you're all about 'buy buy buy' you alienate people."

With that homey of a brand to maintain, Houghton would have to come up with creative ideas to deliver customer service from the sterile avenue of the Web.


In 2000, Houghton decided to add customer service to
the Web site, which had not been updated since 1998.

At the bottom of every page a multiple-choice question was added that asked customers about the type of customer service question or comment they had. The three choices are:
* Have a comment or suggestion?
* Have a not-so energizing experience you'd like to share with us?
* Have questions about nutrition?

The feedback form customers arrive at is basically the same, regardless of the way they answer the preliminary question, but the copy is different (see Links at end). For example, at the top of the "not-so-energizing-experience" form, customers find:

"We're very sorry to learn that you've had a not-so energizing experience and we're grateful you're allowing us the opportunity to remedy the situation."

As part of the form, visitors provide contact information t(to a different degree depending on the nature of their comment) and select the product at issue by product line from a drop-down box.

At the very bottom of the page is an invitation to visitors to join the mailing list, followed immediately by a very explicit privacy statement:

"***Rest assured, we do not share your name and address with any other company, nor will we spam you with unwanted emails!***"

All email messages are answered by real people (Bobby, Mark, Christopher or Tara) within 24 hours, guaranteed. Each response refers people back to the website for the store locator and the ingredient list.

Other features that Houghton added to the site include:

* Downloadable images of both open and closed products. "As a marketer that's a no-brainer," says Houghton. "You can't taste bars through the internet so we do the next best thing by showing them what they're getting." (See links at end.)

* A "Spotlight" section. With the help of Yikes, a like-
minded Web-development firm, Houghton added this feature to
highlight the 'latest and greatest' additions to the site(new flavors, products, contests, events, etc.). The section keeps content fresh and drives traffic deeper into the site. It was added in October of 2000.

* Direct Sales. Houghton insists this was not a money-making venture. "Selling online is like the customer feedback form. It's about providing a solution for people in rural areas who might not have access, and for those people should they want them by the box." Pricing is competitive; Houghton would rather encourage people to use the store locator function.

* A New Year's Resolution Campaign. Called "Be Selfish--In a Good Way," the resolution was featured in the Spotlight section. Traffic was directed from the Spotlight section to a page that included a content piece with nutritional tips, an interactive self-assessment quiz, and a contest to win a gift pack based on the consumer's form-based submission of their "selfish" New Year's resolution.

Clif Bar wrote the first nine resolutions, and the customer
was to write the last. Visitors that completed the list were offered a free bar while supplies lasted.


Within two years, traffic quadrupled. About 3% of
the visitors submit a comment, question or complaint using the consumer feedback forms.

Each month sees 16-20,000 unique visitors depending on what is featured in the Spotlight section. "People have chosen to interact with the online presence much more than we anticipated." Houghton says. "We're excited so many people are inspired to find out more about the company through the site."

According to Bobby Fay, Consumer Service Supervisor, 65% are product inquiries (nutrition, ingredient, general information), 20% are praise (flavors, event sponsorship, web design), and only 15% are "no-so-energizing" experiences with Clif Bar products.

Clif Bar treasures the anecdotal feedback it gathers from
customer service forms and response to campaigns. In fact,
customer feedback led to the creation of both Luna and Mojo bars (The Mojo site was launched in July 2002 and Luna in December of 2001).

-> The New Year's Resolution campaign exceeded all expectations, and forecasts. Houghton estimated traffic would jump by 50% as a result of a free bar offer. Boy, were they wrong.

Initially, Clif Bar planned on a month-long giveaway of a LUNA Bar with each submission. Three days later 18,000 submissions had come in and on the fifth day they had to remove the free sample offer (good thing it was "while supplies last"). The number of total submissions was over ten times their estimated best-case scenario.

With no advertising component, the offer had spread by word of mouth or virally (it was also posted on a freebie house list). Even after Houghton removed the free bar offer traffic remained high throughout the end of the month of January. It is Houghton's most successful campaign to date with 42% of visitors opt-ing in.

What Houghton values the most was the quality of the
interaction with the consumers. "They weren't just filling out a form trying to win something. Their resolutions echoed the language of the 9 we gave as examples. People were reading, digesting and being inspired by this promotion and they took the time to share their creativity with us."

->Biggest mistake?
In a nutshell, Houghton's learned: "Never underestimate the power of the web. Occasionally it is wildly successful beyond your dreams."

Useful links related to this story

Clif Bar:

Yikes (Web-development firm):

Customer feedback form:

Downloadable product images:
See Also:

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