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I have to admit that I’m rather a sucker for a free gift or trial. I’m probably the sales director’s worst nightmare… the person that takes the free gift and cancels before the contract kicks in. But I think I might have found one that I won’t cancel… and one I was attracted to purely by their intelligent marketing. Marketing that has impressed me over a two-year journey – from ‘quirky start-up with a good idea’ through to ‘national treasure’.

Graze (healthy snacks, ordered online and posted to your place of work) has been around for a couple of years. They exploded onto the food scene and in the words of a (envious) client of mine at the time were “everywhere you looked”. They were bang on trend, hitting at the perfect moment – when the world was starting to question where their food came from and the health benefits of our increasingly stressful working lives (and resulting poor eating habits).

It’s a simple process. You go online, you order a box and then they’ll send you one. It’s an essentially random selection process (in terms of the contents of your box) but you can go through their food lists and mark items you love, hate and don’t mind. The theory is that the more you try the more you interact with them – genius. It’s drawing you in to communications relationship… an ongoing, weekly interaction with a supplier. How many of us would like that sort of relationship with our customers?

So how was I snagged? They sent me this email. Nothing particularly extraordinary but that it was refreshingly plain English. It was clean and clear and stood out in sea of spam. Who wouldn’t relate to a strap line that qualified ‘healthy eating’ as ‘fewer biscuits’? So I clicked and I ordered… and I was impressed.

First, their website. They have so nailed their branding… it’s achingly effective. Clarity, intelligence, perfect copywriting (not a phrase that passes my lips often), understandable imagery, useful functionality, ease of navigation, clarity (did I say that already?), clear calls to action, useful information, clarity… it is, frankly, a destination worth going to and worth repeatedly going to.

Second, their use of Twitter steps outside the usual chatty messages and what’s on… they’re actually a UK company using Twitter to have conversations. We thought that only happened in California! Yes. People ask them questions or post comments and, shock horror, they respond. There are conversations for people to see. There is customer care – demonstrating that they do stuff to help… that they care. There are tips and suggestions as well as the odd piece of up-coming news. But most of all it’s about listening to and communicating with their customers.

Not that they’ve forgotten the sales point here, though… clever things that they are… they’ve only gone and put their website address as their Twitter name @grazedotcom Impressed.

Third, I touched on branding but it really needs a bigger mention. The first time I came across Graze was in their early days. They were doing a link-up with Firefly Tonics to provide a prize for a competition that Firefly was running. I was doing the same for another client and had a look at what Graze was up to. They impressed me even then. They identified, very early on, who they were targeting and used brand link-ups (like this) and clever press PR to get their name everywhere (hence my client’s comments). They built their brand recognition up by piggybacking on more established brands… and they didn’t just play at it. They jumped in with both feet for the better part of year’s concerted effort. And aren’t the results paying dividends now? You only have to look at their website to see the sorts of press exposure they’ve had.

Fourth, the experience is worth writing about. Not only was my first box free (and my 2nd half price) but also it arrived well packaged, on time and was preceded by a couple of well-written emails telling me what was happening. I was even given the option, up front, of fine-tuning my first selection box (thereby cleverly introducing me to the wider range, before I’d even tried the first). When my box arrived it contained good food that lived up to the promise in terms of quality and taste. It came with a personally addressed note, offering me vouchers to pass on to three friends – soliciting recommendations. So clever, every angle was covered.

Finally, an intangible success. They’ve kept things simple. They’ve used a number of elements of the marketing mix to canon themselves to success but they’ve used them intelligently and in a cohesive campaign of effort. They have all been equally functioning cogs in the machine. Social media, PR, email marketing, special offers, brand partners, competitions, recommendations… the list goes on. But none of them have been flashy. They’ve all spoken, on a personal level to their target customers.

We can learn from this. Whatever our market sector there is merit in doing our marketing to the very best of our ability. Taking pride in our communications and grounding it in ‘what our customers want to hear’ has to be the ultimate objective – with integrated marketing plans and clarity of brand messaging being a close second and third. Above all, Graze’s willingness to listen to their customers has to be an inspiration to us all – not only through their use of social media but through their fantastic website.

But don’t take my word for it… have a look for yourself… and let me know if you want a voucher – I’ve got three!