Introducing Thorntons Chocolate Factory

Introducing Thorntons Ultimate guide to Easter eggs. Read on to see how (and why) we invested search budget into this content and why it’s just the start of things to come.

As the Digital Search Manager for Thorntons, I spend a lot of time focusing on content creation/marketing in order to drive search visibility and organic revenue. Easter is a key season for Thorntons, second only to Christmas, so this year I decided to create something special with the help of our friends at Cogent Elliott. Introducing Thorntons Ultimate guide to Easter eggs. Read on to see how (and why) we invested in this content and why it’s important for other businesses to take content marketing equally seriously in 2016.

Coming up with the idea for our ‘Ultimate guide’

We knew that Easter was a key season for Thorntons (the reasons why are fairly obvious) and that meant we needed to create something that would get us noticed. We needed something that would tick the keyword/content boxes, portray the right brand message and make influencers want to talk about, recommend and link to the content we produced.

‘Easter eggs’ is something that Thorntons do really, really well (in fact I just happen to think better than anyone else, but I’m bias!). we’ve been making eggs since 1922 and were the first company to personalise Easter eggs with recipient’s names. Today we sell a huge selection of Easter eggs and so the theme for our content was obvious. This year we would produce a piece of content that showed our authority on Easter eggs, why we’re the best and how we make them so great year after year!

A chocolate factory, to an outsider at-least, is a mysterious and wonderful place. The closest many consumers have got to seeing the inner-workings is probably when watching ‘Charlie and the chocolate factory’. We wanted to change that perception by showing a little magic of our own whilst demonstrating the craftsmanship, heritage and hand finishing that goes into every Thorntons Easter egg. The idea was born. Queue the music…

The ultimate guide to Easter eggs, by Thorntons

The ultimate guide to Easter eggs, by Thorntons

The long-form content – copywriting

Step one was to collect all of the facts, figures and ‘interesting stuff’ that goes on inside the chocolate factory. For this we interviewed a number of people who worked at various points within the factory, as well as taking a number of illustrators, copywriters and fact-hungry marketeers around the factory when Easter egg production was in full swing. During this early stage of the process we decided it’d be really nice to include some of these rich snippets of information within the guide. We also figured that meeting a few of the people within the factory shouldn’t be a privilege that was just for a handful of marketeers, and these should be included in the final content, too.

Call-out facts from the Ultimate guide to Easter eggs

One of the call-out facts from the Ultimate guide to Easter eggs by Thorntons

Harry Hopalot made an appearance too, but was too shy to interview. The team did manage to get some snaps of him which were included in the guide, as well as some more obscure Easter related information. Technological Easter eggs, anyone? Finally, we also included a selection of frequently asked questions which aimed to answer commonly searched for questions in Google.

After reviewing the type of content that’s often expected when searching for topics around Easter and Easter eggs we devised a list of areas to be talked about and set to work collating all the interesting information we’d gathered into a long blog-style article complete with beautiful photography, call-out facts and links to further reading.

10x better Easter content

Here’s where things step-up a notch. When it comes to content marketing to be the best in your field you need to produce something that’s 10x better than anything else currently on the web. Its a message first introduced by Rand Fishkin of Moz back on his whiteboard Friday titled ‘Why good unique content needs to die‘. The long-form content we’d produced was good (heck, it was very good!) but it wasn’t 10x better than anything else. Yet. Queue the music (again)…

Arguably one of the most valuable assets we have is the chocolate factory. It’s where every single Thorntons Easter egg is made and, like I said earlier, it’s a mysterious place to an outsider. Talking and writing about it is good, but letting users explore the factory for themselves? That’s extraordinary! So, we set out to create an engaging and immersive experience which would really get people talking. No small feat, but one which we were really keen to get bang on!

How we made the interactive chocolate factory

The chocolate factory is a big, complicated place. It’s actually fairly easy to get lost amongst all the liquid chocolate, so mapping it all out and allowing users to explore it on a computer screen presented its own set of challenges.

Understanding the manufacturing process

The first step was understanding how the Easter eggs are made, and simplifying the process into five simple(ish) steps. After taking the group around the factory we broke the process down into its component parts whilst an illustrator started sketching out how each machine could look.

Understanding the process of Easter egg manufacturing

one fifth of a sketch documenting the process of Easter egg manufacturing.

Designing each chocolate machine

Each of the five steps had been identified and confirmed (Chocolate melting, Egg spinning, Personalisation, Packaging and Dispatch). Now the illustrators could begin drawing the machines and how they may work in the digital version of the factory. This step really evolved the concept of the Easter content and gave it a real feeling of fun and playfulness.

Easter egg machine sketch

A proposed sketch for one of the Easter egg machines.

Creating an overall floor plan

With each machine sketched and agreed the illustrators could put all the individual machines together, connected by conveyor belts, to create a total floor plan. The floor plan below is the final sketch, however we went through several iterations in order to get the balance of cartoon and real-life aspects just right.

When finally happy with the balance, the sketch was signed off and further work could begin. Whilst this sketch sat on my desk it caught the eye of almost every colleague who walked past, with universally positive comments. It was at this point that I knew we were onto something special.

The Thorntons chocolate factory sketch

The Thorntons chocolate factory sketch

The sketch may look slightly more like a cartoon than a real working factory, but many of the elements are in-fact true to the actual factory process. The eggs are indeed taken down a helter-skelter style conveyor belt in order to be fully cooled, and the eggs are actually spun through all angles in order to create an even shell. And yep, there really are huge vat’s of liquid chocolate being stirred before being piped off across the factory!

Bringing the factory into a digital world

So far all of the efforts had been largely offline. In order to get the factory animated we used Cogent’s specialist CGI department. They were able to take the 2D sketch and turn it into a three-dimensional model. Once they’d got the structure they applied textures and colours to the model in order to allow individual elements to stand out.

The chocolate factory - from sketch to model and finally rendered

The chocolate factory – from sketch to model and finally rendered

You can see from the right-hand image above, the rendered model doesn’t have any Easter eggs, factory workers or information points at this stage. These were added later once the colouring and render of the model was approved.

Adding the interactive elements

Once the factory (with completed Easter eggs) had been completed the team added 2D characters (including the five individuals we interviewed) and information points which revealed interesting information about the factory and processes. We even added a little Easter egg hunt, which gives users the chance to win an exclusive tour around the real-life chocolate factory!

Of cause, the factory had to move, so the CGI team added all the animations, too, to really bring the factory to life!

The final interactive factory - Created by Thorntons

The final interactive factory – by Thorntons

Marketing our new chocolate factory

As all digital marketers will know, creating 10x content is just half the battle. The real challenge is getting people talking about your content. To kick-start our content marketing campaign we invited a selection of high profile bloggers and journalists to Thorntons park to show them this content for ourselves, and also take them on their very own factory tour so they too could see the similarities between the real-life factory and the interactive factory we had created. We showed them how we pride ourselves on Easter egg personalisation by giving them a live demo, and introduced them to one of our chocolatiers who demonstrated how to make some amazing chocolate creations.

In addition to inviting a number of journalists to a launch event we also reached out to a number of other website verticals including technically-minded sites due to the computer-based nature of the content. Our interactive chocolate factory has even been submitted for a number of awards, and whilst it’s early days we’re super proud of what we produced!

Finally, we launched a social campaign which focused on driving traffic to our chocolate factory, and used aforementioned facts in the style of micro-content to drive engagement and sharability.

An example piece of micro-content to promote the factory on social

An example piece of micro-content to promote the factory on social

Thanks to everyone who’s been involved in the creation of our chocolate factory – and have a cracking* Easter!

* Sorry, I had to get at least one Easter egg pun in!

John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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