Archive | August 2011

A Case Study on Blogger Engagement: Nuun’s Hood to Coast Team

When done well, a promotional partnership between a brand and an online influencer is mutually beneficial. Though it sounds simple, it is often difficult for companies to develop strategies on how to best engage bloggers in a meaningful and effective way. Over the last three months, I’ve watched closely as one company – nuun  – has, in my opinion, brilliantly executed a blogger engagement campaign in conjunction with the popular Hood to Coast relay race taking place this weekend in the pacific northwest.

Unless you are an athlete, you probably haven’t heard of nuun. As an avid runner, even I hadn’t heard of nuun until late May of this year. That’s when all my favorite running bloggers starting posting about this seemingly obscure product. My interest piqued, I did a bit of digging and discovered that nuun is an electrolyte-enhanced hydration product.

“Okay… I don’t get it,” I thought. Yes, the product is certainly relevant to runners. But it didn’t look big enough for all these major blogs to start posting about it almost simultaneously.

Through some additional research, I learned the reason so many blogs had mentioned nuun was a contest of sorts had been announced:

Nuun is putting together an ALL FEMALE, ALL BLOGGER team for the 30th anniversary running of the Hood to Coast epic relay event

A blog post on the company website provided more information about the contest, which asked bloggers to submit creative applications on why they should be chosen for the Nuun Hood-to-Coast team. Those selected for the team would have everything taken care of during race weekend, except for travel costs to and from Seattle.

Image from the 2010 documentary "Hood to Coast"

As the bloggers began submitting applications, they began promoting their entries through their own, very established social channels. I was hard-pressed to browse my Google reader that week without seeing mentions of the Nuun Hood to Coast team.

In late June, Nuun announced the bloggers who had made the team – and to everyone’s surprise, the company ended up selecting two teams comprised of 20 bloggers (and four nuun employees).

As a runner who one day hopes to compete in a relay as exciting as Hood to Coast, I was excited for all those selected, eager to read their posts as they trained and planned for the event.  As a communications professional, I couldn’t help but admire nuun’s genius campaign. Through the initiative, the company handpicked 22 influential fitness bloggers with large communities to be ambassadors for nuun in the months leading up to Hood to Coast.

When nuun announced its teams of bloggers, I added all the blogs I wasn’t already reading to my RSS feed.  Since then, I’ve noticed weekly posts from each of them covering their training, packing plans, team bios, information about their specific relay legs and, of course, the nuun product. A couple of weeks ago, nuun sent the bloggers a care package filled with products. Around the same time, the company provided a 25% off promotional code the women could share with their readers.

The best part? The bloggers’ posts never seemed overly promotional. From what I read, they did not feel taken advantage of or under-compensated. Instead, they were all genuinely excited to be a part of nuun’s team, which made me – as a reader – excited about Hood to Coast and even got me to check out the nuun product website several times. In fact, I’m planning to make a trip to Washington CitySports soon to pick up my own tube of nuun as I hit the homestretch of my Army 10 Miler training plan so I know the program gained nuun at least one new customer…

Kudos to the nuun team – this certainly made for a great blogger engagement program. To all the runners, good luck this weekend!


Be Memorable: How to Have an Effective Brand Presence at Industry Conferences

This weekend, quite a few of my favorite health and fitness bloggers made their way to Philadelphia for the 2011 Healthy Living Summit (#HLS). HLS features several networking opportunities as well as a full day of panels covering a variety of topics that further educate members of this extensive online community.

While I was browsing the HLS website, trying to decide if I could fit it into my budget this year, I noticed that Quaker Oats is a Gold Sponsor of the 2011 event. Several other health-focused brands are listed as sponsors – some well-known, others I’ve never heard of before.

Companies know the importance of getting their products and services in front of online influencers at conferences. In my day job, clients constantly ask for calendars of industry events where they should have an official presence. Unfortunately, the larger the conference, the more difficult it can be for brands to break through the noise.

I’ve worked with clients who have spent millions of dollars on booths, panels and marketing stunts at big conferences like CES and Comic-Con, only to see their messages get lost in the onslaught of media coverage that typically arises from these types of events. With Twitter users, bloggers and mainstream outlets producing content constantly throughout the conference, a fantastic client mention in an article or Tweet could get pushed down (and lost) within a few minutes.

At the conferences, hundreds of companies can be squeezed together into the ever-important exhibition hall – competing for the attention of attendees in the same space as their competitors.

So, how do companies ensure their efforts (especially the dollars spent) are worthwhile? Here are a few recommendations:

  1. If you’re giving away swag, make it memorable. People love free stuff so it’s not surprising to see conference attendees making their way through exhibition hall booths, grabbing up anything free left out on company tables. Unfortunately, this usually results in a bag filled with branded pens, jump drives, and notebooks that might get used but  won’t necessarily make a person go out and purchase your product (especially if the product you’re selling isn’t a pen, jump drive, or notebook…). Instead, try handing out a piece of swag that will spark memories about your company. At a fitness event, it makes more sense to hand out high-quality branded water bottles or subtly-branded yoga mats than pens and jump drives. Yes, it’s a more expensive swag, but it’s likely to be more effective since the consumer will most likely use it during an activity that relates back to your product or service.
  2. Provide an experience that is relevant to your product/service. While reading recaps of BlogHer 2011, I noticed quite a few fitness professionals offered free classes or demos that allowed attendees to fully experience what they are trying to sell. Many bloggers reviewed the classes on their websites, providing additional promotion for the companies after the conference ended. I also like the idea of food brands hosting live-cooking events at their exhibition booths, which can provide a great opportunity to connect with the conference community in a memorable, relevant way. I believe this is more effective than say, hiring male models dressed as construction workers to stand in your booth.
  3. Be strategic when planning panels. Some companies sponsor panels or have employees speak at conferences.  When executed well, this can provide great brand exposure.  Unfortunately, if poorly planned, this can also have a negative effect on corporate reputation. Though it might seem like common sense, it is imperative to put significant time into planning the panel, I’m always amazed at how many panels often seem thrown together at the last minute. To ensure attendees leave your session with a positive impression, make sure the panelist is  engaging with the audience, being open and honest about the presented topic (and not merely pushing the product!), has clearly thought about answers to tough questions, and is staying on message as much as possible (without sounding like a corporate robot).

What other recommendations do you have for brands planning to attend or sponsor a conference? If you are attending a conference, what would you like to see brands do to better engage with you?

Not Just Another Chain: Lululemon’s Community-Centric Model Aids Revenue Growth

Living in Washington, D.C., I often play tour guide to out of town guests. When I ask them what restaurants they want to try or places they want to go, they always come back with similar answers:

“Oh, anywhere is fine… AS LONG AS IT’S NOT A CHAIN!”

In recent years, I’ve noticed more people bemoaning the idea of big corporate chains, turning instead to local small businesses. I find this particularly true in the fitness world – most of my friends who are runners swear by their neighborhood running specialty stores while shunning bigger retailers.

One global chain that hasn’t fallen victim to this trend is Lululemon Athletica.

The company is headquartered in Vancouver and has 142 locations across Canada and the United States. In 2010, when the recession hit North America particularly hard, Lululemon experienced significant growth in net revenue – +57% according to an earnings press release.

How did a store that sells a high-end, expensive product to a niche demographic fair so well in an economic downturn?

I believe it comes down to the community-centric model that makes Lululemon stores feel less like those of a faceless, international brand and more like the little shop around the corner where employees remember customers’ names and clothing preferences.

It begins with the company’s employees.  Sales representatives at Lululemon tend to exemplify the famous company manifesto.  They are athletes – runners, yogis, Pilates instructors, personal trainers – who are trained in goal-setting.  Most locations prominently display their staff’s short and long-term goals in the store, reassuring customers that they are buying athletic wear from people who actually “get it.”  Every Lululemon location is featured in the “community” section of the company website, inviting users to join email lists specific to their selected area, allowing stores to engage with nearby customers.

Beyond the point-of-sale, Lululemon is known for its ambassador program. Each store selects local talent, usually yogis or runners, to be ambassadors to the community.  This group receives Lululemon gear at a discounted price that they model around town, but they are also encouraged to organize community activities such as “fun runs” and free yoga classes.

I can testify to the success of the in-store activities. When I started training for my first half-marathon, I knew I needed to find a running group to stay motivated. I learned that the Lululemon in my neighborhood hosts a weekly run club so I signed up without ever having visited a store.

After my first run club – which begins and finishes at the store – I stood around chatting with Lulu employees, ambassadors and other runners.  Of course, I was surrounded by athletic gear emblazoned with the company’s logo.

Somehow, I managed to walk out of the store that night without buying anything (probably because I was too embarrassed to try on anything while covered in sweat…)

A couple days later, I popped back in and tried on a few pairs of running shorts… and ended up buying some.

And, now, I am one of the countless athletes who swear by Lululemon’s running shorts (I’ve already purchased two more pair).  Without the Lululemon run club, I might not be a customer at all, let alone a loyal one who often sings the store’s praises to anyone who will listen.

So, while people might prefer using local businesses for some products and services, Lululemon demonstrates how global brands can still benefit from tying themselves to the communities they serve.

What large chains do you think do a good job of supporting local communities? Do you think this has an effect on revenue?

International Race Series Finds Success with Local Running Event

Earlier this week, my local running store partnered with athletic apparel retailer Lululemon to orchestrate a pretty exciting event for DC-area runners: a fun run with running superstar Josh Cox.

Josh Cox gets his run on in Washington, D.C.

As a marketing professional, I have to say the event was a complete success.  Four days later, I’m still thinking about the fun run and what I learned about running from Josh.  I have a deeper sense of loyalty to both the running store (Pacers) and Lululemon (which, of course, causes my bank account to weep…).

In addition to this, I have signed up for my second half marathon – the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA.

When I first heard about the event late last week, I wasn’t quite sure why Pacers and Lululemon were bringing American record holder and former Bachelorette star Josh Cox to town to run with our group.  I figured it was just another perk of living in the second-healthiest city in America.

As the notifications and reminders about the run with Josh starting pouring in from Facebook, Twitter and email, I began piecing together more information. The Competitor Group, which owns the Rock ‘n’ Roll series of races, was putting on the event in order to spread awareness about the “newest race coming to Washington, D.C.”

Several people smarter than me put two-and-two together to determine a Rock ‘n’ Roll event was making its way to the Nation’s Capital.  The Pacers/Lululemon fun run with Josh Cox would be a way to formally announce the news about the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon and Marathon directly to the vast D.C. running community. This would happen the same day a major press conference would be held.

Now, that’s a pretty ingenious way of tapping into your target audience, isn’t it?

What the Event Sought to Accomplish

  • Raise Awareness for a New Race – The Rock ‘n’ Roll series is taking over the National Half and Full Marathon, an event that has racked up some negative press in recent years.  In order to market new ownership of the race, the Competitor Group needed to raise awareness among the running community since they will most likely serve as ambassadors, recruiting friends and family to also run the race.
  • Secure Large Number of Registrations  – As with most races, directors hope to reach capacity prior to race day.  Kicking off the process with a high number of registrations in the first 48 hours is a way succeed in this area.

Why the Event Worked

  • Celebrity Access – Providing area runners with the opportunity to interact with a high-profile running celebrity like Josh is sure to grab people’s attention and make them more likely to show up to the event.  This worked particularly well because Josh’s first marathon was the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego so he was able to share his experiences with the series and why he enjoys running these races so much.
  • Cross-promotional Efforts – This event was not only a huge promotional effort for the Competitor group, it was also a big win for Pacers and Lululemon.  It’s safe to say that joining forces with local stores most likely created a larger turnout than if Competitor had tried putting on an event by itself.  These stores are recognized within the community and both have established methods of communicating with hundreds of runners.  By working together, all three sides could leverage their existing audiences to combine into one mega-event, which generated buzz for all involved parties.
  • Right AudiencePutting on a half-marathon and marathon means targeting athletes and seasoned runners.  Competitor hit this out of the park in all aspects – from centering the event and announcement around a group fun run and brining in an elite runner.
  • Tapped into Audience’s Existing Habits – I think one of the main reasons this event worked so well, particularly given the shortened promotional period, is because both Pacers and Lululemon already host weekly fun runs that see a high turnout.  Combining the Competitor announcement with these already scheduled runs made it easy to reach the target audience without having to get them to fit in another event into their calendars.
  • Timing – The timing of the event couldn’t have been better.  It was held the same afternoon as the full-blown press conference, which meant there was already some buzz by the time all the runners gathered together at Pacers.  This allowed some excitement to build and also sustained conversations that might have otherwise started to die down after the morning’s presser.  Additionally, Rock ‘n’ Roll significantly decreased the registration cost of the race for 48 hours, which was also announced at the fun run.  That right there is what put me over the edge when deciding to sign up.  Without the discount, I probably would have sat on registering for a few more weeks… letting the excitement of the event wear off, which decreases the odds I’d actually sign up for the race.

What Would Have Made It Even Better

  • Longer Promotional Window – As I said above, I only began hearing about this event a week ago.  With so little information available at that time, it wasn’t clear at first who was hosting the event or that Competitor was even involved.  Had I had more time to prepare and been given more information, I probably would have invited more of my running friends to the event and promoted the fun run via my own social media channels.
  • Digital Outreach – I’m a pretty avid reader of D.C.-area fitness and running blogs, and I don’t remember seeing anything written about the fun run on any of these sites.  D.C. has a thriving health and fitness blogging community that is very active in the blogosphere and on Twitter so getting these people on board could have added an extra element of promotion for the event.
  • On-site Registration – Maybe I missed this or it wasn’t announced, but I was shocked the Competitor group didn’t have computers set up to register people on-site at the fun run.  I live right down the street and by the time I got home I was already wavering on whether I should sign up!

Have you experienced any successful hyper-local events like this one?  If so, what was your reaction?  Do you think more national companies should tap into local events in this way?