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Growing a Global Plant-Based DTC CPG Brand

“Fulfilled” — one word from Inessa Yusupov when asked about ZENB. She added, “After years growing and nurturing this brand, we feel fulfilled by what we accomplished, because it’s been about doing so many meaningful and exciting things for an ever-changing, purpose-driven company.” The work has ranged and changed for years as we guided nearly every aspect of the brand experience. The breadth of that work is a sea of buzzwords from crafting the brand DNA & go-to-market strategy to ongoing creation of data-driven branded content here in our studio. Toss in a Shopify ecomm experience, website UX & design, content strategy & production, media management, and we’ve only just begun.

Fulfilled indeed.

The Challenge

What began as the mere challenge of branding, differentiating, and launching a new CPG brand only grew to new and greater challenges over the years together. But, that’s what comes with being an agency of record to an agile, disruptive lifestyle brand like ZENB. So, from going from zero awareness to trial & community…to positioning them as more than another snack…to expanding & localizing into global markets…to not only getting through COVID but growing and growing throughout, it’s been a wild, wonderful ride with an amazing brand team.

The Results

Beyond the vast numbers of orders sold & shipped, or the on-going daily surges in hungry new customers, or the 204% average order boost by quarter, or the heaps of stunning custom content created, or the average order value of $34.43 (for a snack!), the team can sum up all the amazing design, development, and brand experiences with ZENB in that one word: fulfilled.

DS was the perfect partner for us as we were gearing up for our initial launch and the earlier part of our brand lifecycle.

Christiane Paul, CMO

Planting the Seed for a Plant-Based Brand

With a product ready to launch in only a few months, the ZENB team sought out Digital Surgeons to help quickly & effectively craft their brand identity, positioning, and go-to-market in the crowded snack category. While on-the-go snacks were certainly not uncommon, ZENB’s ingredients set the stage for true differentiation. Being made with vegetables, the message became one of a unique, premium, culinary lifestyle full of inspiration for healthier living, not mere convenience other snacks provide.


With a defined direction built on differentiation and plant-based purpose, the brand began to take shape. But, whereas we understood ZENB and their intentions, we needed to know our consumers.

To prepare for launch, we began growing & evolving their brand to not only differentiate itself in market with our target consumers, but also to create conventions that allowed for both fast-paced content development and line expansion into new product & flavor innovations. 

In terms of typography, we used a mix of serif and sans serif fonts not only to extend the brand language and contrast against the logo, which is important because it helps people remember it easily, but also so the brand could translate to important marketing platforms like email, in which font choices are limited.

Then, as we crafted the design, copy, and UX of the Shopify Plus ecomm site, we developed a custom photo stylebook that would visually tell the right story. Originally, a clean, stylistically organized look was provided — almost geometric — but we quickly realized it could mislead people to think the product was lab-made, as opposed to embracing all that nature provides, so we pivoted from the original brand direction to a more nature-made look — something styled in organic flowing patterns and lit strictly in natural light.

As DTC Grows Globally, So Does ZENB

As you know, even before COVID, traditional brick & mortar was on the decline and DTC disruptors were on the rise. ZENB was right there with them, carving out their own path through an ecosystem of branded experiences that curated a community through lifestyle content, like email newsletters, blog articles, organic social, community management, and custom recipes, while introducing new friends to the brand daily through direct-response advertisement. That’s because DTC winners don’t win in stores, they win in experiences.

Uniting these points of the funnel was a modular content system of custom photography, video, design, and animations, built to translate across media & channels while also creating a component library of assets that allows for quick-turn custom imagery as needed.

Planting the Seed

Bringing the brand experience home — in a recyclable box — were custom handwritten seed cards, which could be planted into herbs. These handwritten notes solidified the brand lifestyle experience that began earlier with purposeful & personable organic content. With each note came a message just for you — whether celebrating a timely holiday or anniversaries since you first joined the community.

Flourishing in the kitchen

Accompanying the handwritten notes were a series of seasonal recipe cards, furthering engagement with the culinary community by featuring custom recipes curated, created, & photographed by Digital Surgeons to celebrate the flavors of ZENB as well as its plant-based lifestyle. Each new recipe allowed the community to enter a monthly UGC recipe promotion, with participants eligible to win prizes and be featured on ZENB’s Instagram.

Going Beyond Organic

While organic content creation & community management engaged and inspired our existing audience, the acquisition of new customers was a consistent and necessary process. Though always evolving to best utilize trends, tactics, and opportunity, the core media strategy evolved into an unconventional approach. Aimed at growing their brand through a “free trial” promoted across multiple platforms and media channels, we found that targeting new audiences with a trial offer was equally if not more effective than traditional site traffic and retargeting campaigns. While conversion rates for retargeting audiences was always higher, new users were less expensive to target, unlocking lower CPAs and redefining our awareness and conversion funnel. 

Capturing the right data for a pixel for a fresh brand is a delicate, slow process and will establish the foundation of marketing efforts. We began by targeting a broad spectrum of interests to generate as many conversions as possible. Once we began generating trial orders, we had the data needed to unlock the power of the platforms. Once we established a baseline consumer, we were able to produce look-alike audiences, update creative immediately, and saw the number of trial box orders from paid media campaigns skyrocket.

Additionally, to help the brand understand and activate the content, media, & digital strategies to reach new customers, we ran the full marketing tech stack. Setting up a series of data models and predictive data models, we built an entire cloud-based data lake using a combination of Google BigQuery, Google Data Studio, and Google Analytics.

Python scripts ran every 4 hours, pulling data from Klaviyo and Shopify, running through an ETL (extract, transform, load) so we could build real-time reports and data visualizations using Google Data Studio. This allowed us to closely monitor KPIs in realtime and experiment or adjust strategy accordingly.

Supermetrics were also used to pull in Facebook, Instagram, and Google ad data to closely monitor ad performance, spend, and ROI. Then, Mixpanel allowed us to closely track UI usage and metrics to further optimize conversion.

With this collection and usage of data, we were able to make strategic decisions that would leverage consumer behavior to inspire and direct content and creative. As an example, we built cohorts of users that had interacted with the community recipes, who were shown to be twice as likely to convert AND twice as likely to repeat purchase. So, content creation, including photoshoots, organic social, native ads, and blog articles, were optimized to leverage the data, better supporting recipe-seekers on their journeys, and acquire more like-minded consumers.

“You’re going to have a hard time writing this case study because we did so much and achieved so much with ZENB. How are you going to express it all?” 

— Russ Martonis, Group Account Director

How’d we do, Russ?

It didn’t really matter what was going on or how hard of an experience we were having or what kind of a challenge was put in front of us. Everybody, down to the person, was ready and willing to figure it out and bring the thinking forward on a very personal level.

Christiane Paul, CMO

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