Cover Story: Tipping the Scales1 Sep, 2016 By: Thomas Haire Response
Patrick Carroll says NutraClick — the marketer of Force Factor and other health and wellness brands — uses omnichannel, performance-based marketing to maximize ROI and consumer adoption.
“I’ve never considered direct or performance-based marketing divorced from brand building in any way,” says Patrick Carroll, chief marketing officer (CMO) of Boston-based NutraClick, a technology-driven health and wellness products company. “Look at something like the George Foreman Grill — among so many other examples: a campaign using direct-to-consumer execution that built a huge brand.”
He adds, “On the other hand, it’s a little odd when companies sell products without the goal of building brand. There’s so much long-term value in a brand that customers begin to evangelize. We see what we do as maximizing a performance-based marketing platform to serve our consumer brands.”
The entity now known as NutraClick launched in 2009 as Hungry Fish Media to market a single product: Force Factor. Its rapid success in the digital marketing world led to its appearance on retailer GNC’s shelves within months.
By the time Carroll arrived in early 2011, the business (which was rebranded NutraClick three years ago) was on its way to introducing the third of its now six health-and-wellness brands. He was just a little more than two years past graduating from Harvard College and brought a knack for utilizing technology to reach consumers and deliver results to his initial role as a marketing analyst for the Force Factor brand.
“I learned the fundamentals of how to measure results and analyze data early on in my career,” Carroll says. “The goal when I came here was to perfect that learning. Too many marketers are overwhelmed by data-driven marketing. I learned quickly that, while it might be complex, it’s not complicated. It still comes down to basic funnel analysis.”
Carroll’s ascension through the company’s ranks was rapid — but not as rapid as NutraClick’s incredible growth in the five-and-a-half years he’s been on board.
‘Impacting Human Behavior’
When Carroll graduated from Harvard, he was already well invested in the idea that technology had the “power to impact human behavior,” as he says. “I was interested in technology at a young age, tinkering with computers, and really any technology I could get my hands on,” Carroll adds.
During his time at Harvard, he worked on e-commerce and information technology (IT) at Harvard Student Agencies (HSA), the largest student-run company in the world. While he earned a degree in government — and spent extensive time studying astronomy and astrophysics, as well — HSA is where he cemented his interest in the intersection of business and technology.
“I was in an e-commerce role, and when I started, I hadn’t really coded much,” Carroll says. “And here I was, responsible for transactional websites for a $2 million dollar business. I learned how to learn quickly, which is a constant necessity in a young company. I ended up handling all IT for HSA — basically, the job was to manage complete chaos, solve problems, and deliver results. I knew quickly that I wanted to work in marketing.”
After graduating in 2008, Carroll took a marketing position at Harvard Business School Publishing, where he was responsible for helping build and grow Harvard Business Review’s e-commerce footprint. “I learned how powerful e-mail marketing could be,” he says. “Harvard Business Review has a great product, a great offering. The goal was to market that portfolio efficiently. But the mechanics of the job were the same.”
After two years, Carroll joined Hungry Fish Media, which had followed Force Factor’s initial success by introducing the Peak Life brand in 2010. After serving as a marketing analyst for Force Factor, he became its marketing manager, and then marketing director of the company’s entire brand portfolio. In 2012, he became CMO.
“My role is to drive demand for our products across all of our brands and channels,” Carroll says. “That includes positioning, messaging, customer acquisition and retention, and more for all six consumer brands. I love every minute of both the quantitative analytics and consumer psychology sides of the company’s tech-driven, direct response marketing initiatives.”
Carroll has grown in parallel with the NutraClick business. The year of his arrival, the company debuted its Stages of Beauty brand. One year later, the Health Experts brand hit the market, and in 2013, Femme Factor and SmartBiotics became the company’s fifth and sixth brands. Most have followed the same path that eventually led the Force Factor brand to encompass 45 distinct products and more than 25 retail partners.
The company, which started with four employees in Cambridge, Mass., under CEO Daniel Wallace and James Sietstra, now resides in Boston and boasts more than 100 employees. The company officially became known as NutraClick in February 2013 — a name the company says “reflects and affirms its commitment to producing cutting-edge health and wellness products that enrich consumers’ lives.”
Performance Products, Performance Marketing
NutraClick drives product awareness via online and offline marketing campaigns that generate billions of impressions per month, creating sales and building brand recognition. The company believes its marketing technology platform helps educate consumers online about its products — which are developed and formulated in house — in ways that are revolutionary in the natural products space.
“Performance-based marketing is our marketing strategy,” Carroll says. “We even apply the same ethos to media that may be harder to drive a response from, such as social media. We want to generate direct ROI from the very first conversion.”
While the company’s primary advertising channel remains digital, Carroll says, “We have an advantage over our competition there, but we’ve become very multichannel — TV, radio, print, direct mail. Our DNA, though, is on the digital side. Since our beginning, we’ve been driving consumers back to our websites to learn about our products and to convert them into customers. It’s worked to build a number of multi-million-dollar products, so it makes sense.”
Carroll says as the company has scaled each of its brands, each has naturally reached more consumers. “We develop our products’ look, feel, and story,” he adds. “When you have great products and can demonstrate to consumers how those products change lives, you can convert those consumers into believers.”
Clearly, NutraClick’s strategy is not a one-step sale. “Only 1 percent of those consumers who see our marketing convert immediately — that leaves a big opportunity with the other 99 percent,” Carroll says. “We try to expose those consumers in an immersive way across all media. Those same consumers can see and purchase our products at thousands of stores across the country. It’s all one effort — performance-based strategies and brand building going hand in hand.”
NutraClick has grown all of its brands in retail: from an initial phone call from GNC about Force Factor in 2009 to residing in more than 50,000 retail locations today, including Walmart, Walgreens, The Vitamin Shoppe, and CVS. While maintaining that growth, Carroll says the company’s had to keep up with the rapid evolution of marketing technology — something that calls directly to his expertise.
“We are constantly evolving,” he contends. “We are intentionally focused on creating and maintaining a nimble, reactive culture — staying cutting edge. You often hear the phrase, ‘change or die.’ We’ve faced the reality of that phrase and embraced it.”
Carroll adds, “While change in outlets or media is constantly accelerating, though, marketing doesn’t change. It still comes down to having a great product, conveying that information clearly and convincingly to consumers, and once they buy your product, keeping them happy. The basic tenets of consumerism don’t change — but many marketers ignore that fact.”
Retail, Radio Roll Up Success
Carroll, though, remains clear that NutraClick is committed to residing at the leading edge of performance-based methods. “If you look back two or three years ago, only about 20 percent of our marketing would look familiar,” he says. “We’re capitalizing on new trends. Mobile now accounts for half of our customer acquisition — more and more people are executing transactions on smartphones. We’ve adapted our mobile conversion funnels very quickly. We’re keeping up and evolving as they evolve, and it’s been advantageous.”
At the other end of the spectrum, though, Carroll says that the digital advertising environment has become more congested. “Looking at it from a macro level, more advertisers jumping online has driven prices up and inventory down,” he says. “It’s more difficult and more expensive to buy digital than ever. So we have moved some more of our spend to TV and radio, where the rates aren’t increasing as rapidly. It’s also allowed us to scale and reach consumers who would never click on a digital ad.”
Overall, Carroll calls NutraClick’s recent campaign performance “strong.”
“The way our model works is such that, at any given time with the market’s unique dynamics, one product might be doing well while others take a back seat. Our systems optimize to that reality to maximize ROI across our portfolio of products,” he says.
In the past year, the company’s award-winning products have continued to succeed, whether via direct sales or retail sales. Force Factor’s GainZzz™ and VolcaNO Fury™ products, ProbioSlim®, and ProbioSlim Advanced have earned reviewer accolades and solid sales. And, in late June, the company launched a new addition to the Force Factor line, the Test X180 Tempest™ testosterone booster.
Carroll and the marketing team have relied on their flexibility as NutraClick’s product lines have grown and marketing channels have shifted.
“We’re seeing an interesting shift in the retail channel,” he says. “After seeing our online channel dominate, expanded TV and radio campaigns have led the retail channel to accelerate in a way we’ve never seen. Still, 90 percent of our marketing is digitally focused. But our biggest growth areas right now are at our 50,000-plus retail doors and on Amazon. So, while our direct-to-consumer ROI might be slowing a bit, retail ROI is more than picking up the slack.”
Carroll is particularly impressed by radio. “It’s always interesting to see how consumers react to different types of media,” he says. “Radio is working extremely well — for a small scale investment, it’s been incredible at getting the products in front of new consumers who really want them.”
NutraClick’s radio campaigns are “straight national buys,” Carroll says. But he thinks he might be able to put a finger on their success.
“If you think about digital and how it’s evolved into huge mobile growth during the past five years, and you think about how people consume TV — with both mediums, consumers are often splitting their attention between multiple devices and media,” Carroll says. “But radio, most of the time, is a medium that’s consumed solo. Listeners aren’t as distracted and the message seems to come through more clearly. The response rate to radio is unlike anything we’ve seen.”
‘Measure Every Dollar’
Carroll’s analytical skills are impressive when you chat with him. It’s no surprise that he says he’s constantly learning from each campaign NutraClick tries.
“I tend to learn more from campaigns that don’t work,” Carroll says. “Campaigns that work well tend to work well for mostly the same reasons. Campaigns that don’t work fail for all kinds of different reasons. You can always learn something to avoid, or something to exploit.”
The evolution of marketing technology has accelerated Carroll’s — and the NutraClick team’s — learning curve. “We run thousands of campaigns, to the point where our digital platform is evolving daily,” he says. “We can learn in the span of a day what to do — and what not to do. That’s rooted in one idea — always measure results.”
With such a belief, it’s not shocking that NutraClick’s marketing team is extremely hands on. “We use very few outside vendors,” Carroll says. “It’s easier to track and measure with fewer cooks in the kitchen.”
However, when the company expanded its TV and radio efforts, Carroll says NutraClick had to look outside its walls. “When you have TV and radio agencies that are buying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of air time across hundreds of clients, they can get rates we can’t —and they understand campaign planning in those media better than we do,” he says. “Those agencies provide great competitive analysis for us that is very helpful as we learn.”
Carroll says that he considers the “hundreds of publishers and networks on the digital side” as NutraClick’s most important partners. Some of the company’s biggest online publishing partnerships are with AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google, CNN, Fox News, and ESPN.
“What works best is when those partners put in an effort to understand our business,” Carroll says. “If they understand our goals, our ROI drivers, our product mix, we become more successful with them. And it also helps keep us front of mind when a new opportunity arises. You want to be in the right place at the right time.”
All facets of NutraClick’s marketing efforts are centered on putting the company in the right spot to drive performance for its brands. “Every day, we work to perfect the analysis of our results — be it through human analysis or machine learning. Almost all of our campaigns are measurable — but some still aren’t as measurable as we want. We still do pre- and post-campaign analysis of ROI goals for those. Without question, we want to measure every dollar spent.” ■