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How Adagio is beating Bigelow Teato the social media punch

  • By Jeff Molander

tea2aTime to read: 8 minutes. Bigelow and Adagio Teas are two competing “tea-commerce” brands.  But Adagio is a clear category-leading online purveyor of tea.  In this short article I’ll quickly give you the skinny on what they’re doing to sell more tea using a remarkable approach to Web marketing and social media.  This ten-year old ‘pure’ Internet company is dominating its larger, older competitor.  And they’re doing it without even taking phone calls from customers.  Here’s their secret so you can follow their lead.

The U.S. specialty tea market is exploding with growth.  Adagio is winning because it follows key Web marketing success principles.  Adagio publishes with purpose.

Their marketing-focused blogs and tea-lover tools (like a Tea Timer that prevents over or under-steeping) are highly useful to customers.   Full stop.  This is critical to appreciate (and act on!).

Second, they’re organizing around driving customer behaviors that create marketing opportunities.  They’re allowing customers to do what they’ve already expressed an interest in doing — or ARE (already) doing.

Remarkably successful companies are creating qualitative online experiences that create more frequent customer behaviors.

“The engine of your social efforts is what your business does, not what you hire smart people to declare,” says international speaker, author and branding consultant, Jonathan Salem Baskin.  “The creative part comes in deciding how this reality can become real for everyone else.”

“Consumption of messages isn’t an action, taking an action is an action… the real challenge is to invent ways for consumer behaviors to track with your corporate actions,” says Baskin.

Adagio’s “ethical bribes” are appreciated by customers and profitable to the company — they’re designed that way.  That’s the key.  It didn’t just “happen” because they Tweeted it or blogged about it.  It was highly premeditated based on their target customer’s KNOWN behavior — their NEED.

Useful tools for customers

“When you create a utility you’re creating something that gives people time back.  It becomes less about information as pollution and more about information to help people get through life.”

Nick Law, CEO, R/GA North America

Case in point — Adagio’s Tea Timer is designed to help computer-usin’ tea-lovers by putting a customizable timer (based on tea type) right on their desktop.  Pre-loaded with their favorite teas.  Convenient?  Useful?  You bet but also to Adagio.

Adagio benefits big-time from this non-monetary transaction.   It gathers email address, first name and favorite tea types from customers and prospective customers.  Sure enough, they use that information to market and re-market to customers. 

They use the act of providing value to customers to create marketing opportunities.


If you read me you know how critical I am of Twitter use.  Adagio makes me proud.  Featured prominently on their front page they offer a sizable $5 discount on an order just for following them. That’s right.  They provide an incentive to follow them.  Sounds simple but few brands do it.  They’re too busy “humanizing” themselves and having interns tweet gibberish.

Don’t like what they Tweet?  No worries, you still get the $5 — with which you can actually buy a sampler tea product (in fact 2!).  The process was as easy as clicking the offer, providing my Twitter name, checking for a direct message from Adagio and jotting down the discount code.

And here’s where Adagio scores a negative.  They’re tweets are enormously self-centered and pompous.  This week they’re asking Twitter followers to assist them in reviewing and improving their new mobile e-commerce Web site.  Sorry, guys, but I’m not interested in building your business — and nor are a majority of your followers I’d wager.  I’m not interested (let alone willing to) act as a free consultant to improve their mobile e-commerce business.   What action did followers display that gives Adagio this impression?

Blogs & newsletters: Publishing

Adagio is the hands-down winner with their use of blogs and newsletters.  The real story here is how useful its blogs are for customers.  Adagio’s e-commerce business rather quietly — until you start peeking at how they’ve penetrated Google’s search results.  Their blogs are beautiful, useful (to customers), adored by Google and drive remarkable customer acquisition.

Adagio is achieving “page one” Google search placement on high volume queries like “black tea” and niche teas like “golden monkey tea.”  The latter query demonstrates Adagio’s true prowess — it’s ability to use content-focused blogs to generate page one Google listings for its e-commerce site AND its blogs.

Adagio is relying less on search marketing ads (Google AdWords) and more on high quality content.  Simply stated, they’re investing in publishing useful information and making it discoverable.  Not using advertisements.  Using the “natural” search results (where most searchers click!).  Note:  the content is not merely entertaining, fun or “engaging.”  It’s honestly useful and relevant.

Adagio is keen on WHERE searchers click more often — and also WHY they click.  Namely, searchers like discovering useful information, community and tools.  They’re focused on bringing them into the sales funnel using content!  They’re providing customers with “ethical bribes” — a stream (example: e-mail newsletters) of useful content.  Eventually, yes, customers/prospects purchase.

Bigelow struggles with its blog although they’re really trying.  Unfortunately its linking is extremely gratuitous, overdone, haphazard and not well-organized.  But it’s typical.  And this is why it’s simply not creating results.

Bigelow, like so many brands who blog, believes that celebrity gossip is how it will attract readers — a totally different approach from Adagio which blogs to a more sophisticated customer.  Adagio is also more technically expert in executing inbound (to its blog) linking strategies that create better search results on Google for its e-commerce and blog sites.


Here Adagio earns a D (and I’m being generous) with its TeaV featuring Zack Luye.  They’re very busy trying to be cute, funny and entertaining — just like most brands.  Adagio fails to leverage video to provide useful information or prompt customers to take actions.  Adagio is too busy enjoying itself and laughing at itself.

Bigelow mostly falls into the same trap.  But I give CEO Cindi Bigelow props for putting herself on the front burner.  And honestly?  She carries it better than Adagio’s Zack.  While most of what Bigelow is putting out there is rather typical (“branded entertainment” drivel) it is occasionally useful. Ms. Bigelow actually prompts customers repeatedly and she occasionally provides useful information.  The videos are designed to get customers/viewers to DO something.  I give them a C.  They could earn a B if they prompted customers to take more action.

Marketers are publishers

In the past, you used a budget to buy audience.  Now you have to invest in ideas to attract an audience.

Adagio has a bevy of newborn community sites that aim to do just that.  Each will likely blossom based on what we see at their ridiculously innovative  Think “cool uses of tea for cooks of all kinds.”  But don’t forget — the real story here is how they’re dominating natural (“organic”) Google search results using publishing platforms that they own and operate.

In my own words

Bigelow and Adagio share similarities — they’re selling products in stores and online.  They also have differences — like Adagio not using a telephone or Bigelow’s discontinuing lower-demand tea flavors because they, “cannot make those passionate fans happy” and turn a profit.  Adagio is ‘co-creating’ specialty teas for literally everyone while Bigelow is busy apologizing.  Very interesting.

When it comes to online Adagio gets it.  Bigelow gets it too but their audience doesn’t demand the high-brow approach — in fairness to them.  Bigelow’s investment in e-commerce (the channel opportunity) is likely far lower as well.  In the end, Bigelow is likely “2.0’ing” (sexing up) itself and not yet taking e-commerce very seriously.  It’s certainly not taking e-marketing very seriously when compared to Adagio nor is it chasing a discerning specialty tea customer.  Ok, I get that 🙂

I also need to mention that Adagio pairs its marketing with superior user experience — a better e-commerce machine.   But that’s another story!

What do you think?

About Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is the authority on starting sales conversations online. He teaches a proven, effective and repeatable communications process to spark buyers curiosity about what you're selling. He's a sought-after sales prospecting trainer to individual reps, teams of sellers and small businesses owners across the globe. He's an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded the Google Affiliate Network and what is today the Performics division of Publicis Groupe.

Jeff also serves as adjunct digital marketing faculty at Loyola University’s school of business. His book, Off The Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You, is first to offer businesses a clear, practical way to create leads and sales with platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs.

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Leave a Comment:

Patrick says

Very good analysis Jeff. I wonder about Adagio’s use of different “media” for different purposes though. I get your point on the TeaV, but I suspect they are trying to keep it entertaining with that piece, though they certainly can develop customized content based on their customers level of interest.

It would be very interesting to get Adagio’s investment on their content creation strategy, clearly it is paying off in more ways that one, but they would be a great case study to illustrate, while many of the tools are “free” the content generation takes time & energy which equates to dollars spent.

Great stuff here.

    Jeff Molander says

    Thanks, Patrick… and for the critical thoughts on my analysis. I’ll admit, yes, that Zach probably has his fans. My question is this: Why can’t he entertain and offer more usefulness — as a pattern/reliably? Maybe I’ve not watched enough of the videos but I don’t see that pattern. I’m a big believer in pre-meditated behavioral patterns that drive customer behavior. Is humor or entertainment value part of the equation? Absolutely. I think it’s critical.

    Yes. I am constantly looking for more information on the return on investment piece — when it comes to content marketing. I will share more details as I learn them (if I can re: Adagio). I published a similar piece about (ecommerce use of video example) but, again, it gets dicey with regard to the actual tracking of ROI. Bye the way, Bigelow’s ad agency insists that they tracked the ROI they claimed to achieve (a % rise in sales) with their Youtube videos but decline to provide *how* they actually tracked that ROI… how they associated the rise in sales w/ the videos.

    Thanks also for the Tweet!

Ilya Kreymerman says


I will be happy to answer any additional questions you may have about Adagio Teas if you are in fact looking to write a follow-up article.

Ilya Kreymerman
Adagio Teas

Logical Juice :: The Media Logic Blog says

[…] if your competitor is asleep at the wheel and you are active with an entrenched lead position the tea leaves read well. As referenced by Jeff Molander’s comparative case study of Adagio vs. Bigelow in the world […]

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