Just the Right Chemistry1 May, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response
Charles Mooney says direct response marketing mixes perfectly with Vitaquest’s product development expertise in the vitamin and supplement space.
DR has changed so much, because the consumer, media and the regulatory landscape have changed around it,” says Charles Mooney, vice president of marketing and business development for West Caldwell, N.J.-based Vitaquest Intl., one of the largest custom contract manufacturers of nutritional supplements in the United States. “This took a while for the traditional DR marketer to grasp, because 20 years ago it was enough to just sell on the front end, and figure out the rest later. Today, marketers need to plan for all the directions the business can take you, so they can capitalize on them when they present themselves.”
Mooney speaks from decades of experience, having spent 18 years at Vitaquest, after getting his start in a family business that also lived in the direct-to-consumer space at age 21. “Yes, it’s true that I’ve been in DR longer than I’ve been at Vitaquest,” he says with a laugh. “I’m almost a junkie for direct response!”
Mooney believes Vitaquest is “the only company that can provide a one-stop shop” for those looking to break into the vitamin, supplement and nutraceuticals space. The company offers product development, manufacturing, comprehensive packaging and retail distribution.
Those capabilities, combined with Mooney’s marketing expertise, have continually earned rave reviews. “Charlie is the one who literally gave me an education on the direct response business,” says Steven Bostic of myrightsize.com, a successful meal-replacement smoothie product developed with Vitaquest. “He essentially taught me the basics of the business and guided me along when I first got started.”
Learning on the Fly
Mooney found his start in the DR world during a class at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “I took a class on DR marketing, where the professor talked a lot about DR print, in the backs of magazines,” he recalls. “But the idea of a message, broadcast wide no matter the media, that could be measured and changed by one word or one instance in the message to create the difference between success and failure — I really liked that idea.”
Immediately after college, Mooney began managing a family business at age 21. “It was a baptism by fire, and — I would argue — more powerful than an MBA program for me because I was exposed to so many responsibilities, like finances, people skills, human resources and, most importantly, marketing and business development,” he says.
Two years later (while still managing that family business), Mooney started a direct response company called Value-Fax. “We collected tens of thousands of fax numbers by zip code by paying college kids to go through the phone book before everything went digital to create a distribution list,” Mooney says. “I then sold coupons on a Value-Fax coupon sheet to local restaurants and services which went to thousands of businesses right in their own backyard. It worked, and I was hooked on DR for good!”
Eighteen years ago, though, Mooney saw the opportunity to maximize his interest in DR by joining forces with Vitaquest, which has been family owned and operated since 1977. “Originally, I worked under Keith Frankel, the owner,” he says. “As his right-hand man for many years, I learned everything about the business, including products on home shopping and in both long-form and short-form DRTV. Eventually, I earned my wings.”
As did Vitaquest — today, the company’s 300,000-square-foot facility produces more than 500 million doses per month.
‘Now I Get It!’
Mooney leads Vitaquest’s business development efforts with “customers both old and new,” he says. “There’s a concentration on marketing using DR and other media as a tool to grow the business.”
Vitaquest develops and manufactures cost-effective, market-leading products in every distribution channel, including retail, direct selling, branded, direct-to-consumer (Internet and catalog), professional lines, television shopping, and direct response TV and radio.
“Our interests are theirs,” Mooney says of Vitaquest’s clients. “We offer a variety of consultation services to help guide them in the right direction depending on their level of sophistication.”
Vitaquest’s customers range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. “For those Fortune 500-level customers with the staff and resources in house needed to successfully market their product, we gladly provide our best-in-class manufacturing services and labs,” Mooney says. The company’s globally-sourced ingredients, patented technologies and advanced delivery systems add value and efficacy to those high-level products.
But, true to Mooney’s background, he prefers working with some of Vitaquest’s other key customers. “My passion is with the mid-size or even start-up company that has the energy and desire to grow,” he says. “These companies need the resources and experience to develop or compliment their business plan. Whether it is custom product development, which we are best known for, or a market product positioning plan coupled with back-end strategies, we just try and fill the holes in their game by helping guide them.”
It’s here where Mooney and his team truly bring their prowess to the table. “This is where I feel we provide the most value, and it’s often the most rewarding for me,” he says. “DR can be a major asset to new company, and I am often surprised how daunting traditional businesspeople feel DR can be. However, when they finally see the results and the power it can provide — and how quickly — the reaction is immediate: ‘Now I get it!’”
The Vitaquest team’s expertise in taking products to market via DR also includes relationships with best-in-class vendors across the spectrum, from production and media to the back end. But perhaps no relationship is more important for new and existing marketers in the vitamin and supplement space than getting the right advice in a muddled legal landscape, especially when it comes to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Although we help provide support from product development to FDA-required labeling, we always suggest our customers use some of our great FDA attorney partners,” Mooney says. “In particular, we like these reliable firms who have real world expertise to the dietary supplement industry: Todd Harrison or Claudia Washington at Venable; Jim Prochnow at Greenberg Traurig; and Ivan Wasserman at Manatt. They have best-in-class knowledge of the business and the ever-developing regulatory environment surrounding it.”
Mooney has not idly watched as the DR industry has changed over the years from a strict direct-to-consumer play to a mix of concepts that now includes extensive online and retail planning. He’s not only changed with the times, but also helped drive some of those changes for his clients.
“DR is incredibly powerful, although the strategies that are employed using it have changed with the times we live in and so has the end customer,” he says. “If marketed responsibly, we have witnessed DR allowing our customers to create a national household brand name in matter of months! We have seen it used to drive retail in way that not only gets product into the stores, but continues to drive sales through the stores for real brand equity.”
Mooney says that during one recent month, eight of the top 10 products in an industry ranking of nutritional supplement products were Vitaquest products, and mentions companies like New Vitality (Super Beta Prostate) among a “who’s-who” of DR market leaders as Vitaquest customers.
But it’s not just the successes that help drive Mooney. He says that he — and Vitaquest — have learned nearly as much from the failures that are part and parcel of any DR marketer’s history.
“DR is a funny animal, and I never believe anyone who says they know exactly how the public will respond to a campaign before it launches,” Mooney says. “The customer is the only barometer of what works. Now, how and where that message is positioned compared to its peers past and present is where the experience helps.”
Mooney’s exposure to “thousands of DR campaigns and their results on both the back and front end” is perhaps his biggest advantage. “It affords us the ability to offer what I consider is my most valuable advice: knowing what will not work, or at least hasn’t in the past,” he adds. “I think knowing what others have tried and failed is powerful when you’re spending dollars and time trying to find out what will work. By helping our customers avoid a direction that we know is a dead end can only help them find a path that might work.”
But Mooney says that, especially with start-up and mid-sized clients, patience early in the process is always tough to find. “People get frustrated if they don’t have instant success, and it’s much harder than ever to find instant success,” he says. “Campaigns these days often launch with results that don’t look promising, but making sure the client sticks with it and allows for a full read of the entire media buy before deciding to trash the campaign is more crucial.”
That’s because, Mooney says, today’s DR campaigns all must include plans for different scenarios of success. “For instance, Super Beta Prostate was never intended to be a retail product,” he says. “But its success showed the importance of having a contingency plan should that happen. You have to lay the groundwork for those contingencies at the beginning of a campaign.”
All of this is due to the growing knowledge of consumers — and their expanding desires to have a relationship with their favorite brands — when it comes to marketing. Nurturing the consumer and their relationship with the brand has become as important as managing the DR campaign itself,” Mooney says. “This means the volatility of DR is unavoidable, but so is taking care of the customer, which only supports the brand.”
Mooney says that creating that good brand relationship is more important than ever, especially when it comes to avoiding regulatory issues and creating a good rapport with the vast majority of customers who, nowadays, want to visit GNC or Walgreens to pick up these products, rather than buy directly.
He adds, “Data tells us that more than 80 percent of eyes and ears that hear a DR advertisement don’t buy directly, yet marketers spent media dollars sending their message to them. How we leverage that while complementing the DR campaign is something we think we have figured out. But it all starts with quality products and taking care of the customer relationship.” ■