Premium plant-based nutrition brand Vega focuses on connecting with people over health and wellness before anything else — even selling products. This is why the team decided, as a small piggyback to a bigger campaign, to dedicate a small budget to allow employees to send gifts to customers who were standing out on social media.
Read how that small offshoot became a lasting campaign that has driven Vega’s positive brand sentiment on Instagram to 98.5%.
”Because we have such a diverse product offering, our customer base is wide and includes everyone from busy moms to active individuals. We also have many professional athletes using our products regularly,” said Bridgette Clare, Education and Engagement Team Lead, Vega.
Clare is also a registered holistic nutritionist, which makes her a perfect fit at Vega, a premium brand of plant-based nutrition. It’s based in Canada and distributes there, the U.S. and, most recently, the United Kingdom.
The company creates a wide range of convenient, nutrient-dense products like protein shakes, nutrition shakes, health bars, supplements as well as an entire sports system.
In January 2015, Vega launched a master brand campaign called the “Best Life Project,” Clare said.
The campaign encompassed all Vega products but specifically focused on the flagship product, Vega One.
“We think of this project as a movement. It’s really just highlighting all of those simple every day elements you incorporate into your daily life. Whether you’re running a marathon, taking a yoga class, cooking a healthy dinner for your family, or just blending up a smoothie, the idea of living your best life is at the core and is one way we connect with our Vega fans.
“Something that I’m really passionate about with this brand is that we focus on knowledge and nutrition as well as making a fantastic product,” she said.
As a reflection of the brand values, Clare added, the project needed to tout the benefits of plant-based nutrition and encourage people to make small — but significant — nges in their lives.
“’Best Life Project’ was really focused on taking a holistic view of how our consumers were living their lives — so not just their healthy recipes but also how they were moving and exercising, connecting with their loved ones and recharging to take care of themselves.” she said.
The “Best Life Project” campaign started out like all the good ones do — “we had a really big call-to-action,” Clare said.
The team called out to the Vega fans and community, and the internet at large, to tag their photos with the hashtag #BestLifeProject.
As part of this project, they launched an internal effort called “Surprise and Delight.” Even though they’re no longer focusing on the “Best Life Project” at this point, the “Surprise and Delights” are still being maintained.
The basic tenants of the effort are to seek out customers who are particularly engaged and randomly surprise them with Vega gifts.
Both efforts were across all platforms but really took hold across Instagram and Twitter.
“We focused on the #bestlifeproject hashtag and used Twitter chats and Twitter parties as a way to engage with our biggest influencers. The real star of this campaign was Instagram though, as this is the best forum for our consumers to literally show us how they are living their best life,” Clare said.
Step #1. Pull stellar customers out of the crowd
With the “Best Life Project,” the team had an entire landing page that pulled in all of the user-generated content from Instagram and developed content like blogs featuring customers.
When the “Best Life Project” was launched, the team did Instagram takeovers with selected bloggers and influencers, giving them an opportunity to share their own pictures on the Vega channel as a way to launch the program.
The campaign was developed to be specifically versatile, so that followers could adapt it to their own personal interests and how they were living their best possible life.
Every month during the program, the brand would focus on someone who exemplified one of the five elements of the “Best Life Project,” which were:
“We would do a monthly post, sort of a roundup, [of] people using that hashtag and telling a cool story about what they’re doing,” Clare said.
She gave an example of a man who has a Vega tattoo and wrote a song about the company.
“We linked out to his SoundCloud on our blog to really showcase that he’s doing some really awesome things in the world, and this is how we play a role in that,” she said.
The team also had a small spinoff #BestLifeProject campaign with The Ellen Show in the form of a contest.
This drove people to post using the #BestLifeProject. The Ellen Show posted on social in conjunction with her team on Instagram, specifically how Ellen was living her best life. Then there was some engagement there to win a grand prize that was hosted through The Ellen Show’s team, according to Clare.
Step #2. Develop the “Surprise and Delight” project
“Surprise and Delight” started as a piggyback to the “Best Life Project.” It was a way to engage with people who were using that hashtag to promote awareness and engagement with “Best Life Project”.
“But since then, we’ve just continued on with ‘Surprise and Delights,’” she said.
It’s a versatile effort that can be worked into any marketing effort that is going on at the time, she added, and can work toward almost any goal to align with specific campaigns.
“It is ever-changing, but the common thread with ‘Surprise and Delight’ is that we look for bigger and better ways to engage with our fans and offer them something. Sometimes we send them a free product; sometimes it’s something fun that really sort of lights their fire, that gets them excited,” she said.
The team will send engaged users anything from a birthday cake — a vegan, gluten-free birthday cake — to items that will help them with races or other athletic events.
“That [giving] has stayed the same, but we’ve had a few different versions of ‘Surprise and Delight’ depending on what the goal is,” she said.
Step #3. Empower employee and customer relationship building
“This is a really simple way for our consumer engagement team to feel empowered,” said Trevor Ellestad, who is a PR and advocacy supervisor at Vega working in marketing communications, blogger and influencer relations.
Each of the members of the team essentially manages it independently, and each person in charge of allocating these “Surprise and Delight” gifts are given a budget.
That budget allows employees to identify opportunities for a customer connection in their monitoring throughout the day.
“They can say, ‘This is a special moment that I’m watching happen in a person’s life, a special opportunity where I can really go above and beyond for this person,’” Ellestad said.
A lot of brands, Clare added, are trying to create a real experience with the consumer. She believes Vega is doing that by stepping back and empowering employees to take the lead and make those judgments.
“It’s such a small thing but just letting the decisions be in the hands of our consumer engagement team is very powerful. They may even be new to the company … it’s a very Vega way to do things, which is saying [that] we believe in you,” she said.
Connecting with people and their worldview isn’t just a marketing strategy, she said, it’s a core company value.
“We want to take the time to get to know somebody and really help them, whether it’s through recipes, or one of our products, or these family-like experiences,” she said.
In these efforts, the team is focused on creating “micro-experiences,” Clare said. “Every time we have an opportunity to engage with someone, we want to be the best part of their day.”
These “Surprise and Delight” gestures don’t just apply to customers, but anyone within the Vega family.
For example, Ellestad mentioned one influencer the company frequently works with who posted on Instagram that her dog had passed away.
“She’s someone I’ve become very close with over the years. She regularly posts recipes on her blog, which include Vega products, but has become a real friend of the brand. Seeing that she lost her dog gave us an opportunity to really be there for her,” he said. “I just went over to the consumer engagement team and I was able to sit with them and ask, ‘Hey, look … is there an opportunity maybe to send her a card or do something special for her?’”
The consumer engagement team got together and sent her “this beautiful hand-painted picture of her dog. I can’t even tell you what that meant to her and her family,” he said.
“We weren’t thinking about the results from a business perspective. But through genuine relationship-building tactics like these, we’ve created lifetime customers as a result — and real friendships too,” he said.
It’s such a small thing, he said, but it allows the staff to connect with people and cement them in the Vega community.
“Our entire team really feels empowered to create those relationships and make those connections,” Clare said. “Each and every one of us has a few people who we are in contact with all of the time because of this program.”
Step #4. “Surprise and Delight” customers
“We’ve always been a brand that really showcases our community,” said Ellestad.
The company will frequently reach out to customers who are doing stellar things on their social media posts and ask if they can feature them on the brand blog.
“We searched for #BestLifeProject hashtags in use and found some really awesome opportunities to surprise and delight people,” he said.
For example, the team found a mom and her son who were really into jiu-jitsu. They learned more about them via social media and sent a whole bunch of products to help support them with that.
One of Clare’s favorite examples is a man named Carl, who went by the Instagram handle of @FatGuyGoesVegan
“He had posted over a year ago like a really simple smoothie recipe, or something like that, and he was really witty in his comments. So, we were witty back with him,” she said.
The interaction built from one conversation on that post blossomed into a genuine friendship.
“We email with him, and he sent us a Christmas gift. He loves Vega, not just for the products, but for the relationships he has with the people who work here. Everyone in the office knows who Carl is,” she said.
Clare said she’s noticed that Carl likens his love of the brand to “the connection that he made to people behind the screen.”
Because of that relationship, he also posts quite a lot about Vega, she added.
“[Carl] was recently in Vancouver … and he actually came to our office and had lunch with us and met a few people around the office just because he is such a fan. That all blossomed from this idea of surprising and delighting our fans,” she said.
“It’s not just spoon-feeding canned responses to social media messages,” Ellestad said.
“We connect with our community as real people,” he said. “We’re actual human beings and though we each bring our own personality, our communication maintains the same Vega brand personality. People love the brand because of the experience that they have overall, and that includes their experience with product, people and personality.”
#BestLifeProject, as well “Surprise and Delights,” has helped the Vega team foster those relationships and build that customer advocacy.
The team has “definitely seen an increase in the amount of inbound conversations,” Clare said.
But what the team is most proud of is the positive brand sentiment on social media, which measured 98.5% on Instagram by the end of 2016.
“To me, as a part of our consumer engagement team, [that number] shows the value in the engagement and the real authentic conversations that we’re having with people on social,” she said.
Clare added that #BestLifeProject saw around 71,000 users over the life of the campaign, and “it created this community of people … it’s pretty inspiring.”
“The intention behind 'Best Life Project' from the very beginning was about creating social awareness for the brand,” Ellestad said.
“But it was also about creating an online community and representing Vega as a lifestyle brand inspiring people to live their best life every day. That’s really what we achieved through the program and why we all love coming to work for this brand every day,” he said.
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