Knowing Your Customers Like Family Doubles Sales

In May of 2011, Robert Craven took over the helm of MegaFood and Innate Response, two whole food–based supplement brands owned by BioSan Laboratories. A veteran in the natural products marketplace, Robert had been CEO of Garden of Life and later helped build a high-growth organic ingredients business. His task was to take MegaFood to the next level — to grow sales substantially and to establish the brand as the leader in whole food supplements. Within six months of his arrival, the company received investment from 2X Consumer Products Growth Partners, with the hope that it would come to outperform in the already fast-growing nutritional supplements category.

If MegaFood was to grow, they needed to know who was the most open to transitioning from conventional to whole food–based supplements.

With infusion of money comes pressure to perform — and perform they did. The company invested in manufacturing by moving their blending, tableting, bottling and shipping departments to a GMP Registered facility in Londonderry, NH, and officially changing the company name to FoodState. They then recruited significant senior management talent and focused exclusively on the natural channel for MegaFood. They were setting a plan in motion to create a company that would be very attractive for acquisition.

But something was missing.

“When we began discussions with Robert and his team, they recognized that they didn’t really know who their consumers were,” says Yadim Medore, founder and CEO of Pure Branding. “They knew that the whole food supplement user is not just one type of consumer. They also knew that if they were to grow, they needed to know more about participants who were the most open to transitioning from conventional to whole food–based supplements.”

Legacy brands like MegaFood, which was founded in 1973, often think that because they have been around for so long, they know who their typical customer is: female, alternative, obsessive (and don’t forget the Birkenstocks).

Don’t get us wrong — those types of customers absolutely buy MegaFood, but times have changed since the 1970s and 1980s. “What happens is that brands begin to suffer a little from confirmation bias,” says Peter Littell, marketing and research director at Pure Branding. “Whenever they see one of these types of customers either buying MegaFood or talking about whole foods, they confirm their belief that these are the core customers.”

Pure Branding began with quantitative research, looking to understand consumers who purchase supplements in the natural channel.

“We wanted to capture those who purchase whole food–based supplements, people who are aware of whole food supplements but don’t purchase them and those who purchase supplements in natural food or vitamin stores,” remembers Yadim. “To get the right mix, we went to panels and media partners, as well as MegaFood customers themselves.”

Pure Branding closely examined the data, looking at elements like loyalty, supplement knowledge, behavior, reasons for purchasing brands, attitudes and self-perception of their own health. From these multiple dimensions, we defined the factors and used latent class analysis to identify clusters.

“What we initially saw was different from what we expected in terms of segments,” says Yadim. “So, we tested to make sure the respondents fit into the correct segment assignments. And then we tested for consistency of the data, repeating it multiple times to make sure the data was very stable. We also reordered the data and reran it. It was clear after this rigorous testing that we had our segments. It was time to flesh them out and see who they really were.”

The next step was to conduct qualitative interviews with select respondents from each of the identified segments. “These interviews gave us greater insight into why segments made the choices they did. It helped us humanize them when we created the RealPersona profiles,” says Yadim.

At the end, MegaFood had information about the whole food market, and more importantly, had profiles of people who shopped for whole food supplements, including those who were not yet on board.

“We learned that our most valuable persona was not who we thought she was.”

“Pure Branding delivered four distinct RealPersona profile boards that brought our customers and potential customers to life,” Robert says. “Furthermore, we learned that our most valuable persona was not who we thought she was. Now, we knew how to talk to her, how to engage her, what her beliefs were and how she interacted with the supplement category. We also knew what messaging directed at her would resonate the most with the other three.”

In addition to a written narrative that captured the voice of each RealPersona, each profile board featured age, archetype, character attributes and personality traits. Marketing could now see how each was different in her brand attribute preferences, shopping habits, supplement spending per month and supplement consumption per day, how they interacted with supplements, how they defined whole food vitamins and the percentage who used them. These RealPersonas were also defined by their belief in the food and medical systems, their perception of their own health and their lifestyle in relationship to media, commerce, pleasure and responsibilities.

MegaFood’s marketing team integrated the research into their efforts. “Knowing your consumers gives marketing the confidence it needs when launching campaigns. We know what interests our customers and how they behave around supplement usage. It’s no longer a guessing game as to what works,” remarks Jean Lizotte, VP, Brand at MegaFood.

Robert and Jean felt that everyone at MegaFood should be as familiar with their consumers as they themselves were, so they enlarged the RealPersona profiles and displayed them throughout headquarters. This way, all staff would be reminded who they were serving.

“I see them in the hallway every day when I go to work,” says Robert. “I’ve gotten to know them like family, and it affords me great customer empathy. I think about them and their needs all the time.”

And what was the impact of this research?

As with all research, it’s how you use it that matters the most. Two years after the RealPersonas became part of the company consciousness and campaigns were launched to engage the natural products trade and shoppers, the company nearly doubled in size while maintaining very attractive profit margins. In 2014, the company was acquired by Pharmavite, makers of the Nature Made brand, the number one brand in the mass channel.

“The Pure Branding team came in and helped us identify who our consumers are, what they care about and what they need from us. Not a week goes by that we don’t refer back to these RealPersonas and the market intelligence they provided. Pure Branding deeply understands the nutrition space and has my highest recommendation.”

Robert Craven
CEO, FoodState