The Nutrabolt-owned C4 Smart Energy drink rebranded this week, armed with six new flavors, revamped packaging and an updated formula with new ingredients—including a plant-based caffeine source and citicoline, a supplement that promotes focus and attention—all to support its move into the “functional” energy drink category and brand repositioning as the “fuel” to achieve greatness.
The launch kicked off with a brand experience for attendees and Austin residents at SXSW 2023 last month, which highlighted its “4 Moments Of” campaign and drove a sampling effort across the city. The latter was, and continues to be, an important part of the campaign, according to Robert Zajac, Chief Marketing Officer at Nutrabolt. And with SXSW being an engine for creative minds, it made sense to start there.
We talked through the launch strategy with Zajic, who joined the company in late 2022, as well as his overall growth strategy for Nutrabolt’s brands; the importance of establishing “clarity of proposition” within that process; lessons learned from previous roles at Abercrombie & Fitch, ESPN and Nike; how experiential factors into his growth strategy; and his approach to working with influencers and talent.
CM: How are you getting the message of the C4 Energy rebrand out there to consumers?
Robert Zajac, Chief Marketing Officer at Nutrabolt: It all kicked off at South By. We have a multi-year partnership to be the official energy drink partner of the festival, and we thought there’s no better place than South By to launch this. It’s the home of this consumer, this mindset. South By exists to help creatives accomplish their goals.
We sampled over a hundred thousand cans around Austin and created an experience that brought all of that creative energy of South By together into one place, and then we fueled it with the product. A lot of the UGC that was created as part of the Smart House experience is going to become an out-of-home takeover in Austin. It’s just people—the faces of consumers that came by [the activation].
CM: What’s entailed in the broader campaign?
RZ: In the next couple months, there’ll be a broader campaign push that’s focused on a new messaging platform that we created with Wilco Agency that’s about staying focused on the moments that matter most—the idea of fueling your good to make you great. It gets unlocked through these smaller moments. We have short films featuring real people: a cutting-edge chef, a young designer, an Austin-based band about to break through, a powerhouse working mother.
And then we’ll have product-focused communications on the benefits. We have some exciting talent partners that are coming on board. It’ll go across retail and new platforms, and we also have a new LinkedIn strategy. If you’re going to fuel the next generation of creators, entrepreneurs, dreamers, doers and achievers, that’s a great place to do it.
CM: What is your overall strategy for growth for the brands that you oversee, which also includes Cellucor and Xtend?
RZ: The first part is clarity of proposition. So, clarity of message, clarity of brand, and evolving our overall mindset to be brand-driven and consumer-led. That sounds very basic, but we have gone through a bit of a reset, from our industry segmentation to in-depth interviews and qualitative studies to resetting how we track our brands, our KPIs and the return on those investments, to implementing a commercial mix modeling system. We’ve reset the table when it comes to how we want to approach data, insights and inputs, and how we separate out the different products and make sure that they’re targeted all the way through from the internal decks through consumer communications and execution.
CM: And this will be applied to all the brands?
RZ: Smart Energy is the first example of that. Some of the first work we did when I got here was asking, what is this product really about? Who is this product for? Why are we doing what we’re doing? And all of that led to South by Southwest as the perfect place to do it.
We’re doing that across all the brands in the portfolio. At the end of the day, we’re still a company in hyper-growth mode. We just need scale. We need people to understand what our products are, what our propositions are.
The other big piece is building out the right infrastructure, teams and processes, and then creating a more commercially-minded brand and marketing organization. You’re pushing the big ideas and you’re creating energy with one hand, and you’re measuring those ideas and sitting on the side of the commercial team with the other hand, in a way where they’re both working together.
CM: Previously, you worked at Abercrombie & Fitch, ESPN and Nike. What marketing lessons did you take from those roles?
RZ: They’re very different companies, but one thing that holds them together is that winning is a team sport. That’s obviously rooted in a sports mentality, but even at Abercrombie, teaming up was port-of-call in almost every meeting. If everybody wants to win, and everybody knows what winning looks like, it does so many amazing things. It checks your egos at the door, and it genuinely opens up discussion and collaboration. There’s a lot of simplicity in that. It builds stronger teams.
The other piece that’s followed me through is the notion that at the end of the day, ideas win. When we’re trying to drive a business, a channel, a retail partner or a new marketplace… there’s a genuine desire to embrace them and take calculated risks, and then watch them pay off and learn from them.
CM: How important is experiential marketing to your growth strategy for Nutrabolt brands?
RZ: Getting those products out into the hands of the right consumers in the right places at the right time is a huge part our strategy. It’s bringing together our activation team, experiential team and our field marketing team. We sampled over a hundred thousand cans at South by Southwest, and we immediately saw the business impact just within the city of Austin. Once people had it and experienced it—not just the brand, but the product and the flavor and the benefit—they started to buy it. Part of our strategy moving forward… is finding partners and then activating in the right way and scaling it.
CM: You have some upcoming partnerships with talent, and you worked with dozens of artists at SXSW. Do you have a specific approach to working with influencers and talent?
RZ: A lot of our strategies on the marketing side, but also on the sales/products/operational side, stem from our corporate culture. We have an entrepreneurial spirit; we have a CEO founder, and we’ve been around for 20 years, which is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things. There’s an internal push that says, “Hey, this was us 15-20 years ago.” So how do we, as an organization, support the next generation of people who are trying to create the next great product, band or restaurant?
That goes into our talent strategy as well. First, we want to work with people who genuinely like the product, and that goes from very big [talent] all the way to what’s next—the next talent, the next athlete, the next artist, the next musician. We want to get to a place where we can help them and they can help us. That’s how you build longstanding relationships versus just transactional. We’ve found more genuine connections when it starts before there’s a transaction, and then goes beyond that.