DTC Marketing with Ritual Multivitamins

Bigeye’s podcast discusses direct to consumer advertising and promotional tactics with Claire Knebl, Sr Director of Marketing at DTC multivitamin brand Ritual.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Direct-to-consumer multivitamin brand Ritual’s Senior Director of Marketing, Claire Knebl, discusses the evolution of the company. Claire explains how her previous role with Glossier has influenced the way she approaches building the Ritual brand. Sharing the challenges of managing a distributed team during the pandemic, Claire reveals lessons learned in 2020, and offers practical advice for students and recent graduates seeking to secure their first marketing role. 


Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. According to a 2019 survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, more than four in five American adults, 86% regularly take vitamins or nutritional supplements. The types of vitamins with the highest levels of penetration in the US market are adult multivitamins, which were first introduced in the 1940s. Although private-label multivitamins generated the highest level of sales last year at around $315 million, the top-selling name brand multivitamins are Bausch and Lomb PreserVision, which supports eye health, and Centrum Silver, a multivitamin specially formulated for adults over the age of 50. Centrum is owned by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Research from the National Institutes of Health found that the consumers most likely to take daily multivitamins include women, seniors, people with higher levels of education and higher than average household incomes, and those who have healthier diets and lower body weights. People in the western United States use multivitamins most often. Someone who is intimately familiar with the highly competitive world of multivitamins is our guest this week: Claire Knebl is the Senior Director of Marketing at Ritual, a Los Angeles-based direct to consumer multivitamin company. Claire has a decade of marketing experience, encompassing campaigns, products, innovation, and launches, social media,  brand strategy, media, editorial, community, and partnerships, including positions with Glossier and Conde Nast. Claire is joining us today from our home in L.A. Claire, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS! 

Claire Knebl: Thanks so much for having me. I’m happy to be here and happy to speak with you today.

Adrian Tennant: The market for daily vitamins and supplements in the US is highly competitive. Why did Ritual decide to take on such well-established brands in this space and to select a direct-to-consumer business model?

Claire Knebl: About four years ago, our founder and CEO, Katarina, was pregnant with her first child and was looking for a prenatal vitamin because, you know, for many women, even if they don’t take vitamins, pregnancy is a time when, prenatal vitamins are really made a priority by oneself, driven by doctors, for the most part, it’s just widely accepted that prenatal vitamins are part of what you do, so to say. So she was looking for a vitamin that matched the standards that she has for the other parts of her life – that’s high quality, one where she knew where the ingredients came from, and why they were included. And not only that she knew where those ingredients came from, but she was really happy with them and felt really confident in each ingredient. So she couldn’t find one that she trusted, which led her to launch Ritual with the help of many of the best scientific minds in the space.  Ritual is a very different multivitamin. It’s entirely vegan. It takes a “less is more” approach,  where most multivitamins have many ingredients Ritual has just exactly what you need. So our Essential for Women 18-plus Multivitamin has 12 nutrients versus the 30 to 40 you would see in other vitamins. Long story short, there was a need for a different type of vitamin, and Ritual became that vitamin, but our business isn’t just the physical product, our business is really the relationship that we have with our customers. So, like you mentioned, the company is entirely direct-to-consumer and on top of that, it’s entirely subscription-based. And the reason why that’s important is because Ritual thinks of itself as a habit company: our mission is to turn healthy habits into a ritual. And we take the products, the things that you use every day, that are foundational, but in time have an impact on your health,  and we help people make those products into rituals. So it’s really important that we help our customers with habit formation and that we help them develop a habit that sticks. So that’s part of why we’re direct-to-consumer because we take pride in managing that direct relationship with the customer.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, what led you to your position with Ritual?

Claire Knebl: I was living in New York before I joined the Ritual team and I was taking their products. So I was an Essential for Women customer, a very early customer of the brand. I grew up taking a multivitamin and was looking for something better and stumbled upon Ritual, and joined the company because as a customer, and someone who observed the brand very closely, I saw that there was a really interesting opportunity to grow the brand that was rooted in and surrounding these excellent products because I can’t stress enough, Ritual products are really best-in-class, the best of their kind. But, when I joined two and a half years ago, there was an opportunity to build and amplify the brand that surrounded those products. So we did our first brand campaigns. We really honed in on brand positioning. And we’ve grown incredibly from there. And that’s still exciting to me today because when I joined the company, one of the things I was really excited about is that Ritual is part of a category of the vitamin, mineral, and supplement space, which is riddled with skepticism, which makes sense – there’s a lot of things to be skeptical about when it comes to vitamins. But I have been really excited and remain excited about this mission to build trust with our customer base and to really uncover the stories around our ingredients, and everything that goes into the products that our customers really want to know in order to form that connection and make sure people feel really good about what they’re putting in their bodies and know exactly why they’re doing so.

Adrian Tennant: What does a typical Ritual buyer look like?

Claire Knebl: One of the interesting things about our brand, and this is both an opportunity and a challenge, is that we at this point essentially have one single product or multivitamin but for every adult stage of life, as well as now kids and teens. So we have a quite wide audience. But I would say our focus has been on developing a relationship with our female customer base. So the Ritual customer – we think of her as a woman, she’s in her thirties, what we know is that all of our customers prioritize their health. So in whatever way they’re doing that, all of our best customers have that in common.

Adrian Tennant: You mentioned the fact that Ritual started with a focus on vitamins formulated especially for women. Today, Ritual also offers vitamins for men, children, and teens. Was that always part of a strategic plan for Ritual or is it something that company introduced in response to customer feedback?

Claire Knebl: We certainly have always thought that everyone deserves a high-quality multivitamin, because we think of a multivitamin as serving a really key need in your everyday health routine. So we’ve been really thrilled to be able to translate Ritual to all of these different audiences. And it certainly speaks to our strategy of really developing our relationship with our core customer base, who I just mentioned as well, because we found that women like myself who are taking Ritual from the early days, have other people in their lives that they want to introduce Ritual to. So that was both – definitely a strategic decision, as well as something that we see mirrored in customer feedback. You know, now that we’ve expanded into new audiences, there’s always something that our customers want. And, that’s always a really interesting input to consider.

Adrian Tennant: Ritual’s brand as expressed in its visual language is distinctively different from the conventions typically found in ads for multivitamins and your signature brand color is a bright yellow and the bold style of photography feels like something we might see in the pages of Bon Appétit. Are these visual elements intended to disrupt the category?

Claire Knebl: That’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure that the colors were intended to disrupt the industry more than the product itself was and is, but I think what we’re doing, in general, is very disruptive and very much necessary in the vitamin space. And I think that the brand really speaks to everything we stand for. So for instance, the choice of the color yellow really speaks to the morning, which is not something we talk about really, but it’s a nice nod to when most people are taking their Rituals, starting the day with us. And I think that beyond the color choice, when you look at our brand on someplace like Instagram, which is where I spend a lot of time with my team, you can see that while we have a range of different types of content, I think everything feels very cohesive, which the really strong branding that has been part of the brand since day one definitely helps guide. So it makes it really easy for us as a team to,  well, not really easy – I… creative things are never easy, I should give them much more credit that they deserve. But I think the colors and the strong sense of brand does make it easier for our team to really create new content within that umbrella on a daily basis. So we can take UGC – user-generated content – or an original meme or something like that, and really make it fit into our brand world by nature of having such strong branding and brand identity.

Adrian Tennant: Ritual details its vegan ingredients and provides information about how it sources ingredients and provides advice specifically for people who identify as trans and nonbinary. What’s the strategy behind this more inclusive approach?

Claire Knebl: That’s a great question. We would love for everyone to have a Ritual product for them, so we do whatever we can to make sure that whoever comes to our website and is interested in our brand gets the direction that they deserve in order to find what’s best for them. And on the vegan component of the question, this is something that we really believe in just from a product quality perspective. We believe that it’s possible to create an amazing, high-quality multivitamin that’s vegan. And I think that’s great for, of course, the vegan community, but also for everyone, because there’s really no need for a non-vegan multivitamin.

Adrian Tennant: How far in advance do you typically have to plan and design new products to allow for the sourcing of materials and the manufacturing process?

Claire Knebl: We are a startup company, so we work on an annual product innovation roadmap, and we have some very exciting things in store for 2021. So I would say we move at a fast pace, but we also have a strong sense of where we’re headed and plan as far out as possible.

Adrian Tennant: Now the COVID-19 pandemic has created heightened concerns among consumers about self-care and preventative health. Multivitamins and dietary supplements that focus on immunity may help defend consumers against infection. I’m interested, has Ritual seen an uptick in sales since the outbreak of the coronavirus?

Claire Knebl: We’ve certainly seen that many people have been prioritizing their health more than ever during COVID, and it’s something that definitely relates back to our brand in terms of new people discovering it. And we’ve also felt a sense of responsibility as a brand throughout COVID, to do whatever we can to support the health of healthcare workers who are on the front lines of our crisis. Because we think that, you know, if our multivitamin can play some small part in supporting their foundational health, that’s such a huge win. And we really just wanted to say “thank you.” So, back in March, we announced an initiative to provide three months of multivitamins free to all healthcare providers on the front lines. And within 24 hours, we received about 4,000 submissions from people all across the country, which I thought was really incredible, and speaks to the fact that everyone is really looking to take care of their health right now,  whether you are a healthcare provider, or whether you are working from home like I am, whatever field you’re in.

Adrian Tennant: You are working from home. You’re based in Los Angeles. How is that remote collaboration working for you?

Claire Knebl: This year has been key in my understanding of how to effectively lead a team into new territory while being remote has really helped us hone in on our communication practices and it has really helped us understand where we succeed in efficiency of workflow and where we don’t. So this year has been so huge in terms of learning. I think it’s been a huge growth year for me and for many people in similar positions. It’s been challenging at times, especially because earlier this year we launched four new products in the span of just about two months. But I’m also so incredibly proud of our team. And I think we’ve really done our best work this year, all while being remote. So we adapted really quickly and successfully.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Claire Knebl, Senior Director of Marketing for the direct-to-consumer multivitamin brand, Ritual. Claire, if you had zero budget or very close to nothing to spend on marketing, what would you not want to stop doing at any cost?

Claire Knebl: It’s a great question. I think marketing at its core, the way I define it at least, comes down to introducing someone to a good idea. And then hopefully that person introduces someone else to that good idea. So if I had a very small marketing budget, something that I would not want to stop doing, what would be to gift our product to influential figures. And that doesn’t mean just influencers with a capital “I” but really just people, bringing additional people into the brand who we think have powerful voices and we would like to get the product in front of. I think that’s a small but effective way to start more word of mouth-driven marketing, to start getting the word out on social, and is something that you can do effectively for a lower budget if you’re really strategic about who you’re gifting to and why.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, prior to Ritual, you held a position with Glossier. What lessons did you learn from Glossier that you’ve applied to the Ritual brand? 

Claire Knebl: Yeah, so I was part of the very early team at Glossier. I built the brand marketing function, so leading many of the product launches at the time from a brand marketing perspective. And I learned so much, you know, I think between Glossier and Ritual, I’ve been very fortunate to be part of these fast-growing companies that, really, you know, in the earlier days, felt like a training ground for my marketing experience. And it helped me develop my own unique point of view. But I think one of the things that I learned, that I really believe in personally, is that I think the quality of your work externally is really only as strong as your culture internally. So when I was involved in creating our go-to-market process for new launches and new initiatives, I really emphasized, you know, just the quality of cross-functional work and the way that we work together to get from the beginning of a project all the way through the project being live in the world, because I really felt like the more we were speaking the same language as a team and really just finding joy in our work for lack of a better phrase, the better chance that work had in succeeding in the world. So I really appreciate a lot of team-building activities and really think that your internal culture is so important. So that’s something I learned there in the early days that’s very true to how I think and operate every day. 

Adrian Tennant: Now you’re a decade into your career. How do you keep up-to-date with the constantly evolving landscape of technology platforms and the myriad of digital tools now available to brand marketers?

Claire Knebl: Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, we’re always looking to learn. We’re always looking to understand our brand in the world. And we’re also looking to understand consumers as it relates to our brand and our customers. So, you know, we spend a lot of time thinking about the best ways to measure these things and we have both set practices that we really rely on. So there’s a specific brand sentiment survey we’ve been running for years that we really rely on internally. But at the same time, we also talk to different new vendors and try new things as we think it’s relevant with our goals. So we ran a brand study with a new group that I wasn’t previously familiar with called Whisper, a few months ago. And that was a really helpful way for us to understand our brand in comparison to some other brands and the industry overall. So it’s a mix, I think, of building on what we already know and our routines and rituals, as well as having your ears and eyes open and being open to trying new things, as they make sense for you.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any products that are on the roadmap for introduction in 2021?

Claire Knebl: There are no products that I can tell you about. But what I can tell you is that we are in a very exciting period for the company. And I think that all of the growth this year that you touched on in terms of introducing Ritual to men, men 50-plus, teens, for him and for her and then kids, are all really good examples of sort of the rate at which we are innovating as a company and we have some exciting things up our sleeve that we’re excited to share soon.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, as you know, we have an internship program here at Bigeye. For anyone who is currently studying marketing communications or has recently graduated, what advice would you give them for securing their first position?

Claire Knebl: When I graduated college, I actually got started in editorial, in magazines. So I didn’t start in marketing. And I think that’s totally okay. I think you can start in any industry and end up in marketing, if you work towards it, because I think that, like I was mentioning before, I think marketing comes down to really strategic thinking at its core and that’s something that can be honed in many different types of ways. So in terms of exact advice, I think one, I would say, to not be worried about exactly what that first step is like I think the most important thing is to take a step, and whatever that step looks like for you, you can continue shaping your career from there and you have years to do that. The other thing that has been so important to me in my experience, and this was how I landed my very first internship, was personal outreach. So I reached out to  a magazine editor who I really admired. I did so in what I thought was a pretty thoughtful and personal way. And that turned into an internship, which turned into a full-time job, and really was the on-ramp to the rest of my career. So I know it’s not always easy and sometimes people don’t reply or they’re busy or whatever it is, but it doesn’t hurt to try. So if there’s someone whose career you really admire, write to them and see what happens. I think that’s a really good thing to do, and you have nothing to lose.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, what are your daily sources of inspiration? Are you a music listener, a reader, or a listener of podcasts?

Claire Knebl: I try and make time every day to work out in some way. And now that I’m working from home to go on multiple walks a day if I can swing it. I try and do walking meetings whenever possible. And that’s really important to me because I find that I really get inspired just by giving my mind time to do its thing. And that happens most when I’m moving my body. So that’s something that’s really important to me. And I also listen to podcasts. I try and listen to The Daily just to stay really informed. We also advertise on a number of podcasts, so I always think it’s fun to listen to some of the podcasts that we advertise on. I think number one for me is really just movement and giving my mind time to do its thing.

Adrian Tennant: It’s so interesting to hear you say that. We started this season with an interview with a creative director and when he’s looking for inspiration, he goes to the gym.  

Claire Knebl: Totally. Oftentimes I think that if you’re struggling with a challenge, I think sometimes the answer is there, you just have to give it some time to make its way out and make itself visible. So I find that for me, working out as a really clear way to do that. So yeah, I love it. That’s one thing I would never want to give up.

Adrian Tennant: You mentioned advertising in podcasts. Has that become a very important channel for you over the last year or so?

Claire Knebl: Yeah. I can take no credit for it. it’s a different team who oversees it and they do an excellent job. But podcasts, in general, have become a very significant channel for us and it’s something that our team has grown over the course of several years. So it’s been really interesting to see that momentum compound year to year. And I think it’s a really interesting channel from a brand perspective because, you know, I mentioned the power of word of mouth and that it’s hard to scale, but I really believe in introducing someone who has influence – and by the way, we all have influence – to your brand and then hearing them talk about it is such a powerful driver for the brands. So podcasts are really interesting because it’s a more scalable way to hear personalized takes on advertising. It feels very personal because the host is speaking oftentimes. and I think that makes it really special.

Adrian Tennant: Claire, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about Ritual, where can they find you?

Claire Knebl: You can find us at ritual.com and I hope you’ll check us out.

Adrian Tennant: We certainly will. Claire, thank you very much indeed for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Claire Knebl: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Claire Knebl, Senior Director of Marketing for Ritual. Now, if you’d like to try Ritual’s multivitamins for yourself, go to www.Ritual.com. Claire has arranged a special offer for IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners. To receive 10% off your first three months, enter the code INCLEARFOCUS – that’s all one word – at the checkout. You’ll also find a link to Ritual’s site and this offer code on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” And if you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, or your preferred podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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