Not long ago, Craig Elbert found himself stuck in the vitamin aisle searching for vitamins for himself and prenatals for his wife, who was pregnant with their first child.
Little did the former VP of Marketing at Bonobos know that an unsuspecting journey to the vitamin aisle would set him on his greatest venture yet.
What he assumed would be a simple process to purchase healthcare products for his family turned out to be a much more complicated experience than expected.
We’ve all been there — stuck in the vitamin and supplements aisle with million choices (and health buzzwords) thrown at us all at once.
The experience prompted Craig to envision a vitamin brand that truly offered guidance and built trust with its customers.
Craig saw an opportunity to recreate the customer experience altogether — something he was already doing at Bonobos. If it worked with men’s clothing, why not vitamins?
Taking on the CPG Industry
Fast forward to 2018 — and Craig is now CEO and co-founder of a brand that offers exactly that: Care/of.
He knew that Care/of would be joining a crowded marketplace dominated by big nutrition brands and every vitamin aisle in America.
However, what the competition lacked was a consumer-centric approach that offered a personalized selection tailored to the unique needs of every customer.
Trends show the ecommerce CPG category growing steadily over the years, especially as consumer habits shift to buying consumables online, from groceries to pet supplies.
Care/of attracted interest among colleagues, and Craig was able to secure $3 million in funding from Juxtapose and the co-founders of Bonobos and Casper — two brands that reinvented the shopping experience in their own verticals.
Knowing that he would need a board of real healthcare professionals, Craig teamed up with leading doctors and Akash Shah of healthcare startup Hometeam — who helped co-found Care/of.
Craig and Akash went against traditional big CPG brands with a unique, customer-centric business model that uses a digital store to sell directly to the consumer.
It made sense to shift this category online. There’s more room to give customers the information they need about the vitamins they’re considering, like what clinical research has been conducted on a particular product or how it’s been used in traditional medicine.
-Anu Verma, Head of Marketing at Care/of.
Anu also notes that customers who buy CPG products are often repeat purchasers, making Care/of’s vitamin business a perfect fit as a subscription service.
“It’s also one where many consumers find it easy to get on a subscription, rather than have to return to the store periodically to stock up.”
A Reimagined Vitamin Experience
True to his original vision, Craig took the customer experience and turned it upside down. Overwhelming product aisles and generic vitamin bottles are absent here.
Instead, customized vitamin packs are delivered right to your door — all based on a simple questionnaire you fill out on Care/of’s website.
Within a few minutes of taking the quiz, you’re given a curated list of vitamins which you can then customize.
Care/of is the only place where you can get guidance on the vitamins you need, based on your specific diet and health needs. You take a quiz on our site, and we recommend the right vitamins for you using an algorithm that takes into account clinical research.
Each box is delivered right to your door and has a designer-esque look to it, complete with your name and a fun fact on the packaging — little things that go a long way in differentiating a brand.
Each vitamin packs starts at $5 — and prices scale upward depending on what you add to your box.
It’s a simple yet brilliant system — and Care/of’s consumer-first approach is helping the brand carve out a place in a market projected to be worth $220b by the year 2022.
A Content Strategy That Delights Their Audience
Another hallmark of successful DTC brands — and CPG brands in particular — is the careful consideration placed in simple yet elegant content design and the strategy behind it.
From the creative found on their Instagram to the packaging of their vitamin pills — Care/of has carved out a unique look that can only be described as refreshing, especially against the backdrop of a crowded market saturated with jargon and health buzzwords.
Care/of’s maintains the feeling of simplicity throughout the entire customer experience — from its website to its social channels, to the packaging that shows up on your doorstep.
We wanted the Care/of experience to be easy and delightful. We take the same approach in all that we do, whether it’s designing the quiz on our website, how to photograph products in a way that showcases their key ingredients, or creating informative content about how supplements work in the body.
Leveraging the Power of Instagram
Effective use of social channels is another trait of disruptive DTC brands, and Care/of is no exception.
Today, Care/of commands a loyal following of over 80,000 on Instagram and also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Instagram is a great place for people to get to know our brand in a deeper way. We have an opportunity every day to share content between our stories and our posts. We often go a bit more in-depth on topics with educational content about our products or health trends or push out content that’s a bit more playful.
“Our community has grown steadily and we have strong engagement. If people enjoy our content on Instagram, that’s fantastic. If they engage enough with our brand that they become curious about trying us out, even better.”
Beyond reaching customers and generating demand for their products on social channels, they’ve also managed to build a compelling “Stories” section on their website that serves as an aesthetic testimonial from their customers.
Care/of’s content is light on color scheme and heavy on customer empathy — simple yet effective for their customer profile.
Anu explains the end goal of this strategy is always to support the customer experience,
The goal is for the customer to truly enjoy engaging with the content we create, and for them to view it as simple and informative.
Creating and Capturing Demand with Advertising on Social and Search
Having a presence on social media is one thing — but being able to drive traffic to your website is another.
Care/of sees value in both, and has a cohesive advertising strategy on both social channels and Google Search to drive performance.
Social channels have been a meaningful driver for us, and search has been a crucial tool as well, particularly in helping us ensure that people who see our offline advertising end up in the right place.
A full-funnel approach to advertising means generating awareness using top-funnel drivers like Facebook and Instagram and also driving lower funnel conversions on your website when customers research your brand on Google.
It’s why Google and Facebook work so well together.
“We have a fairly broad set of channels at work to support customer acquisition, and our priority is generally to generate strong top-of-funnel awareness among our target audience.”
This omnichannel presence is critical for creating a seamless customer journey in today’s digitally fragmented landscape.
The Future of the CPG Industry
Dominated by billion-dollar companies and corporations that own their supply chains, the CPG industry is notoriously difficult to break into.
That’s all beginning to change, however, as shelves become replaced with product pages and consumers go directly to suppliers rather than brick-and-mortar middlemen.
We have seen a lot of interest from CPG companies in understanding the dynamics of direct-to-consumer brands and thinking about how they might approach the growing set of customers looking for consumer products online.
We are beginning to see Fortune 500 brands cede ground to smaller, younger lifestyle CPG brands like Harry’s and Care/of.
The CPG landscape is changing faster than some would like, forcing big brands to adopt DTC strategies of their own or buy out others that directly threaten them.
It seems clear that traditional CPG brands are interested in ways to innovate. I would expect to see them test strategies that involve collaborating with startups, developing online properties, or acquiring brands that occupy a differentiated place within the market.
Tips for Aspiring Direct-consumer CPG Brands
We had a chance to sit down and listen to Anu about what advice she’d offer young aspiring brands looking to shake up the industry.
Here are three big takeaways that we can learn from Care/of’s success.
1. Data is your friend
The biggest strength that digitally native brands have over their traditional counterparts is the power of data.
There’s a wealth of data available to brands who leverage online marketing channels to understand the behavior and engagement level of the typical user on site and the relative cost of driving a purchase or a site visit. My advice would be to make full use of that data.
2. Build relationships with your customers
Today’s wave of successful digital brands all focus on the customer experience by building lasting relationships.
From a brand perspective, I think that digital brands have a unique ability to develop a connection with the customer — through communication via email, or the development of a following on social.
Care/of knows its customers on a first-name basis — and shows it with every packaging. What are you doing to build relationships with your customers?
3. Differentiate yourself from the pack
If you are going to survive in today’s competitive marketplace, you’ll need to carve out a unique presence that resonates and advocates for a specific audience.
Care/of differentiates itself in just about every way — from its subscription model to educational content, to packaging and intimate customer stories.
Finding unique ways to engage the customer is another way to set your brand apart from others in the space.
What’s Next for Care/of
Anu says that Care/of has many exciting developments on the horizon, and they’re only getting started.
Our goal is to make it easier to live a healthy lifestyle. Whether that’s helping you figure out the right vitamins to take, creating educational content about health and wellness, or making it easy to develop healthy habits with our app. We see a lot of potential to continue to release physical or digital products that can help people achieve their health goals.
Want to learn more about direct-to-consumer brand strategy or the CPG industry?
The Wholesale Brand Disruption Guide
How Do Shoppers Buy CPG Products Online?
Advertising on Social channels and Google?
Instagram for Business | Marketers Guide 2018
The 2018 Facebook Advertising Guide
Why Paid Branded Search Matters (Or How To Lose $40k in Two Weeks)