Atkins Gains Consumer Loyalty Through E-Learning

Over the past several years, the popularity of the Atkins diet has sprouted a cottage industry. The company that started the craze, Atkins Nutritionals Inc., promotes a diet high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals with low amounts of sugar and no trans-fats. “It’s a nice marriage between lifestyle, healthy choices, and products, not one without the other,” said Colette Heimowitz, VP of nutrition, communication and education at Atkins Nutritionals.

But the company was a victim of its own success. Food products claiming to be part of the Atkins movement and making low-carb claims lined the shelves at grocery stores; and Atkins Nutritionals, whose products are called Atkins Advantage, found it difficult to maintain its market leadership in the face of so many imitators.

To help drive awareness and purchase intent in its rapidly crowding market, the company turned to online consumer education provider Powered to create an ongoing education program.

“The marketing objective was to drive awareness to Atkins Advantage products, and the nutrition advantage it presents compared to the competition,” said Heimowitz.

The Power of Teaching

Beginning in 2005 and continuing to the present day, Powered creats between five and 10 courses each month for its client, and offers them online at the Atkins Advantage Learning Center which is also found through the company’s main web site. Each course is divided into about six lessons. Typical courses have names like “Fuel Efficient: Using Nutrition to Optimize Your Exercise,” “Menu Mastery: A Guide to Healthy Options at Restaurant,” and “Tips to Rev Up Your Immune System and Optimize Energy.”

The on-demand lessons are paired with topical discussion boards monitored by Atkins experts. “Those discussion boards become [a venue of discussion for people] going through the same experience, or those thinking about going through the same experience,” said Dave Ellett, CEO at Powered.

While educating consumers on lifestyle changes in the Atkins style, the lessons also include advertisements for the Atkins Advantage line.

Messaging promoting Atkins’ learning program is included in the company’s display and search advertising programs. In addition to creating courses, Powered is involved in writing and sending the e-mail blast campaigns promoting the learning center.

Results

The Atkins Learning Center enrolled 60,000 people in 2006, offering close to 50 courses during the calendar year. Through follow-up surveys the courses received positive feedback; surveys of participants of 2006 courses, 91 percent said they were satisfied with the experience, and 94 percent said they would try another course.

Participants take surveys after completing courses, which help both Atkins and Powered develop future courses. Surveys also gauge consumer attitudes and intent to buy. Through those surveys, the company found that “52 percent are purchasing Atkins products, and 54 percent reported an increase in purchase consideration,” said Heimowitz.

Additionally, the discussion groups moderated by nutrition experts attract an average of 2,000 participants each, which increases time spent with the brand, which theoretically increases sales in turn.

“There’s a lot of reasons for engagement in bringing people back to the site and building community interest,” said Ellett.

Independent research conducted by Next Century Media entitled “Consumer Education Produces High ROI” included a survey of 200,000 consumers who participated in any online education program in 2005 finds 20 percent of consumers will purchase a product as a result of their experience, and 94 percent have a more favorable perception of the brand because of the online education experience.

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