Last year, the 99-year-old Vitamix company substantially upped its recipe content game and started a customer loyalty program. This may seem a bit odd for a premium-priced blender brand. I mean, how many $300 bullet-proof mixers does a household need?
But this loyalty program was not grounded in buying more stuff so much as in rewarding people engaging with a growing library of content about what you could do with that appliance investment. Surprisingly, the strategy is as popular with prospective customers as it is with Vitamix owners. And little did Vitamix know how well this positioned the brand to super-serve customers in the current crisis. Jimmy Wojtila, Associate Manager, Email Marketing, is scheduled to dig into Vitamix’s loyalty strategy at the rescheduled Email Insider Summit July 8-11 in Deer Valley, Utah. Meanwhile, we explored with Jimmy how a locked-down clientele is hungry both for comfort food and comfort content.
(Editor's note: Since speaking with Jimmy weeks ago, Vitamix’s situation has evolved. The company tells us that under Ohio’s stay-at-home order, Vitamix’s role in supporting food and health services makes it an essential service. Production goes on at about 50% of capacity, with all on-site personnel following an regimen of safety barriers, site cleaning and distancing measures. All Vitamix workers that can work from home continue to do so.)
MP: People generally don’t buy a pricey blender too often. Yet, when I go to the Vitamix site today, a prominent invitation to join the rewards program is the second thing I see after the blenders themselves. Why has loyalty become a marketing priority for the brand?
Wojtila: We were just looking for ways to differentiate ourselves even more than in our products portfolio in the market. Part of our mission statement is to create relationships for life. In 2019, we really wanted to activate those [product review] ratings. How can we really activate those people and reduce returns, and also create advocates out of people who really, really love the product? That's what fueled our pivot toward the loyalty strategy.
MP: So this is not necessarily aimed at increasing lifetime value or attaching another set of accessories to the main purchase?
Wojtila: I think the program first and foremost is built around engagement, for Vitamix owners and future owners. You can be a prospective customer and still join the program. They can come and use our new resource center for new recipes, articles, and best practices for using their Vitamix machine. And then [they have] the opportunity to win rewards by engaging in this exciting content.
MP: What are the elements of the program?
Wojtila: You can take part in a number of activities in order to earn points toward your next reward in our rewards catalog. We offer our wealth of recipes; we have a whole in-house culinary team that develops amazing recipes for Vitamix.com. We award loyalty members points for viewing and, eventually, making those recipes. We also have a "learn techniques" section which provides articles on how to best use the machine, which we also offer points for.
A big part of the program is referral-based, so we have a pretty steep referral bonus, and more points if they convert to purchase. Our quarterly sweepstakes get people re-engaged with the program. They can, again, use their points toward an entry to win a free blender.
MP: How does email, specifically, play a role in this?
Wojtila: Once you sign up, you're being flagged as a rewards member and our ESP, which allows us to segment, then targets you accordingly. Any updates that we're sending to the rewards program are usually going to be coming through the email first.
We also implemented a monthly recap email, and it gives you your point economy: how many points you've earned since becoming a member, the points you redeemed so far, your membership join date and all these fun, dynamic pieces about you as a member. That helps to drive logins and engagement with the program as well.
MP: Other brands, usually in the financial services sector, have told us how powerful it is to give people content about their own behaviors. It's like a Fitbit applied to a whole bunch of different behaviors and interactions.
Wojtila: Absolutely. After we launched this particular recap email campaign, we saw a massive increase in our rewards redemptions; our overall logins for that week were higher. Giving people that information to reinvigorate them with the program is super-important, and we've seen that ring true with our members as well.
MP: I think we had discussed at some point that you also have used email very effectively to reduce returns. You have a program specifically for new buyers, is that right?
Wojtila: My Vitamix30 caters to owners -- essentially, it's a 30-day challenge. It starts you at introductory blends, so your smoothies and things that are more of an easy purification-style blend. Then when you get into the week four blends, we're doing more challenging things like frozen desserts, and flours and doughs, things like that. If you decide to op -in to the email program, you will be getting 30 days’ worth of My Vitamix30 email reminders. We also send a check-in email, which gives our customers the contact center information if they're struggling with any of the blends that we prompted.
MP: How are you gauging success in the loyalty program?
Wojtila: By the end of this year, we're hoping to reach 181,000 members. We're currently just over 80,000 and we only launched in June of 2019.
We also look at total engagements of recipes and techniques. We've had over 140,000 engagements with recipes and techniques, which is huge. We've had close to 2,000 product reviews on the website. We had almost 15,000 people in our rewards program register their Vitamix machine online.
We sent surveys to members and had over 6,000 survey responses. From members we've had about 18,000 member purchases on Vitamix.com. It's been successful in driving engagement not just within the rewards portal but on the website as well.
MP: I'm curious about what other data points that come off of this. What are you discovering about your own customer base from this project?
Wojtila: The engagements with recipes and techniques says it all. People want content. That's just a big thing with email right now in general.
The email landscape is getting pretty muddy. While offers and promotions still work, you need to be providing content as well in order to succeed. I'll split out a recipe campaign into owners versus prospects and we're seeing almost the same engagement.
It's kind of funny. The prospects are really seeing the value-add with the Vitamix when we're sending all this differentiation with recipe content and technique content. It helps to justify this big-ticket purchase they might be making for their kitchen.
MP: Pivoting to the Covid-19 pandemic, how have lockdowns affected your own company's operations and people?
Wojtila: Cleveland is in a state of lockdown. All of our production and business personnel are at home. We are still able to ship. We have a skeleton crew in our shipping facility. So we do have inventory.
MP: On the sales side, what have you seen from customers? You're in a category which is sort of related to health and nutrition, which seems to be getting a lot of attention.
Wojtila: Sales have been pretty consistent, actually, since this has all gone down. I don't think we're seeing a huge decrease just yet. Right now, it's just a big unknown of how long will production be down. Being that our content strategy and our relationship strategy did grow so much in 2019, it really did set us up for success as it pertains to this particular situation. Because that's what people want right now.
We are trying to provide our customers with relevant content and tools they can use in their homes. So recipe content has been boosted even more so than it normally has. We're sending now two pieces of email content per week. One campaign is called "Healthy made easy." It's giving people things that they can do with their blender to be healthy, make sure they're keeping their immune system strong while they're at home or as strong as they can.
We're not trying to be doctors or step out of the lane where we know we're strong. But whole-food eating has always been something we have touted and we've always been good at showing people how to incorporate more whole foods into their diet. It's allowing us to highlight the areas where we've always been strong. That's definitely that whole-food eating angle.