Greetings from São Paulo, Brazil: Marketing Dietary Supplements

You only sustainably drive results, when you add real value to the life of the people you serve—your clients and consumers. And to be able to do so, you must know them. Robert Schermers explores the market in Brazil and offers marketing strategies.

Robert Schermers

January 22, 2016

5 Min Read
Greetings from São Paulo, Brazil: Marketing Dietary Supplements

It was January 2009 when I landed in Brazil, to work for Unilever. I thought I knew quite a lot about the country from some previous quick visits, yet how wrong I was. I did not see the sun for three weeks in a row. It was grey, rainy and cloudy. The people I saw in the streets had nothing to do with the image of supermodels and samba-dancers that Brazil is known for. But the city grew on me. The sun came back quickly to stay. Bigger Sao Paulo turned out to be a New York-style metropolis with estimates of the number of inhabitants going up to 23 million. Even now, more than seven years later, I am still impressed when flying over the city by its sheer size and its high-rises that disappear behind the horizon only. Life is vibrant and intense and you will find the best cuisine, nightlife and the most welcoming people around every corner. The city offers the best and sometimes—unfortunately—the worst humanity can create in a single city.

When moving to a new country, you assume you know things, quickly having to admit you actually know very little. As a person, you grow because of this. As a marketer, it can be the same. Discovering new horizons can be an enriching experience, or a costly mistake.

Brazil has more than 205 million people, of which, according to the Ministry of Health, in 2014 52.5 percent was overweight, going up from 42.7 percent in 2006. 17.9 percent of the population above 18 years old is obese. Amongst men, even 56.5 percent is overweight. In the age-bracket between 45 and 64 years old, 61 percent of the population is above its ideal weight. Are these numbers you would expect, when you picture Brazil? To me it was a surprise.

This brings me to the lesson we should always take to heart as marketers: make sure you know your market and your clients. I have seen—both in my previous roles in the FMCG-industry and currently as consultant—few companies really living this. Marketers assume they know their market. More than often, they actually hardly do. You only sustainably drive your results, when you add real value to the life of the people you serve—your clients and consumers. And to be able to do so, you must know them.

I urge any team and any business to follow the next steps to develop a strategy—be it to enter a new market, be it in general.

1. Get to know the people you serve.

To understand the role a brand or company can play, knowing the reality of your consumers and clients is the first step. Yet, empathy and understanding are not created by sitting in a research agency behind mirrored glass listening to what “consumers M/F class A/B 25-45 years of age" say about a product. I advise multi-functional brand-teams to personally talk to consumers and/or clients, discovering the ambitions, the fears, the joys, the values and the beliefs that form the basis of behaviour. Empathy is a first step, always.

2. Identify a human truth where you can play a role.

Talking to consumers and clients will help you identify the tangible tension in their lives where your brand can play a role. This human truth is relevant to the people your brand serves on a motivational or aspirational level. Most of the readers of this article will be in the industry of dietary supplements. Examples of tensions for your end-user on a motivational level could be: “How can I keep my self-esteem when the world around me imposes how I am supposed to be beautiful?" or “How can I stay healthy when there are so many artificial ingredients being used in the food industry?" or “How can I be a good mom for my kids and make them grow up well without taking away the pleasure in their meals?" I easily identify very different motivations to use your products. Identifying what drives people on a motivational level, will allow you to identify the space where you can play a role as brand and company.

3. Identify the purpose you want to deliver on as brand-team and/or company.

Given the examples of human truths I identified above: What will be the role you take as a brand? Will you drive self-esteem? Will you inspire people to live healthily? Or will you help to be a great mom? All fantastically inspiring roles for you to bring to life with your brand. But you need to choose, since you cannot be all. Marketing is about clarity on whom you serve and what you will deliver on. What do you bring to the world that is different than others? Your differentiator is hardly only found in what you offer (your product), but generally lies in the answer to the questions: Why do you offer it? Why are you there?

4. Translate your purpose into action: define your product-truth.

A great purpose is not enough to deliver results. You need to also define what the brand delivers to bring your purpose relevantly, authentically and credibly to life. How do you translate the purpose of your brand in your communication, in the actual product, in packaging, at the point of sale, in innovation, in your consumer call-center, if you have one, in the messages of your sales force or any other service you offer?

I have travelled South America extensively, both professionally and for leisure. It is a continent of opportunities and possibilities, and as any market you enter and want to do business in, a market you need to know well. As I mentioned earlier: knowing the people you serve around this vast continent, can create a huge opportunity for growth. It is worth exploring!

Robert Schermers is a senior partner and marketing consultant at Innate Motion, living in Brazil since 2009. Prior to joining Innate Motion, he worked in senior marketing roles in Unilever in various countries for 18 years. Contact Robert via [email protected] or learn more via

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