Case Study

Clif Bar

The Short Version

It’s a good thing we weren’t cycling up Hawk Hill when the good folks at Clif Bar came calling. What was the ask? Basically, they were a little bit behind in digital (their site was cutting edge in 2008, but hadn’t been revamped since), and were looking to get up to speed in a hurry. When we dug a little deeper we found that rapid growth from a down-home sports bar maker to a burgeoning CPG brand was creating a bit of an identity crisis. We helped them connect their origin story to their business strategy and paved the way for a new kind of digital storytelling. Their new site, new social presence, and new attitude shows the world who they really are: a down-to-earth brand with big-time aspirations.

And they’ve been nailing it on storytelling ever since.

What We Did

  • Prototyping
  • Research
  • Strategy
  • Teaching
  • Workshopping

Clif Bar

The Whole Story


The Problem

We need help revamping our digital strategy.

Clif Bar knew it was past time for a new website— hadn’t been touched in six years, a veritable eternity in internet time. As they shopped the idea around internally they found vigorous support, but also saw signs of looming trouble. Each of Clif’s brands (Clif Bar, Luna, Builder’s, Shot Bloks, Kid’s Z-bar, etc) wanted a priority position in the new site. They each wanted to tell their unique story in their own unique way. Clif Bar was about outdoors-y adventure. Builder’s was about gaining muscle. Shot Bloks was about performance. Z-bar was about healthy eating for kids. Additionally, Clif Bar’s new strategy was moving beyond the energy bar aisle and into the more lucrative and competitive snack aisle alongside Quaker and Frito Lay. They were offering new products up as the healthy, earth-conscious alternative to chips and granola bars.

Wendy Mayo, the head of the digital team, asked herself, “How can we bring all these disparate ideas together in one website and still let our unique company mission and culture shine through?” And that’s when she called us.

The Research

The company was growing fast and couldn’t agree on a direction.

We started out by interviewing people across the org—from experience marketers, to product people, to brand managers and internal creatives—mostly to get a better sense of how things were and weren’t working currently. We’d heard from their CMO that, because no one could agree on storytelling priorities, getting territory on the site was basically a turf war. And that pretty much bore out. Their efforts in social were understaffed and underfunded: “People aren’t checking Facebook on their mountain bike!” But, the more we talked to people, the more we realized that the bigger problem wasn’t really just a ‘digital’ problem. Or a storytelling problem, really. It was something much deeper, and in a way, much simpler.


The Insight

Clif Bar was having an identity crisis.

Because the company had grown so quickly and so organically of late—with their eye on becoming a full-on CPG company—people on the inside were struggling with how to make the brand make sense. How do you engage triathletes and suburban moms at the same time? How do you sell snacks and performance nutrition simultaneously? And who are we? A bunch of bootstrapped, white road, foodie, adventurists? Or the next Nabisco?

The Answer

Embrace the culture that’s already there, make it your purpose.

With those questions in mind, we started to take account of who Clif Bar really is. One of the clearest tells was the company culture. Their offices, a fifth of the occupants being pet dogs, look like a exhibition of adventure sports past. From championship winning mountain bikes to first generation snowboards, the walls are dripping with celebration of the outdoors. Employees look like they just walked out of a Patagonia catalog. They are frequently seen jogging around the neighborhood or hanging upside down in the in-house climbing gym. As well they should—they literally get paid to work out. Getting hired there requires a bonafide passion for adventure and the outdoors.

Our solution was to embrace the true essence of the culture and let it shine. Rather than emulating Nabisco or General Mills, we asked them to get back to basics and focus on what’s always been true about Clif. It’s a human potential brand—literally making the fuel for adventure. Our mantra for them: Know yourself. Know your audience. Know the medium. And connect with consumers at shared points of passion. And, bingo, you’ve got the beginnings of a coherent brand (and digital and social) strategy.

“You guys have the unique ability to get at the real heart of a client’s problem. I’m guessing, in most instances, that’s not actually the problem you were hired to solve. But you dig it out, because you are insightful listeners who can communicate your findings in a way that inspires change.”

Wendy Mayo

Director of Digital Communications
Clif Bar & Company

The Work

We aligned the team by helping them connect the purpose to the product.

Having identified the problem and a strategy to overcome it, we workshopped approaches for solving it with a cross-disciplinary team of stakeholders from throughout the company. Together, we identified and codified the crucial ‘ingredients’ of any Clif story, agreed to who our audience(s) were, developed a methodology for engaging with those audiences in the social space, and pressure-tested a new approach to structuring and maintaining content across all of the company’s digital channels.

By helping them focus in on their intent, we reenergized the team and gave them a reason and an opportunity to talk about snacking and adventure. They learned how to draw the lines between the company’s mission and the role their products play in fulfilling it. To that end, our content strategy was a roadmap for connecting the various sports, environmental and social causes they support to the food they make. They suddenly had a story that was both inclusive and meaningful.

Oh, and finally, we hooked them up with Bukwild, the perfect digital agency to build both the site and an algorithmically-driven, predictive content management tool that allowed them to tell all these stories in a fresh and relevant way, sans turf war.

The Ending

They got a sweet new website and are nailing it on storytelling.

After getting the brand story dialed, briefing Bukwild, and serving as a sounding board during the design/build process, we were super-gratified to see things take root and really flourish. Not only are the folks on the inside no longer squandering solid-gold storytelling opportunities—they’re playing nicely with each other again. In the end, not only did Clif get a swell new site. They got a crisp and clear way to tell their story to the whole world—and a brilliant methodology for tuning, tweaking, and targeting content based on who they’re talking to, where, about what, and when.

Couldn’t be happier with the results.
Although we sure do miss the free Shot Bloks.