Food for Thought: Marketing Supplements for Improved Cognition

Two demographic categories account for rapid growth of the global market for supplements targeting cognitive function—aging Boomers and concerned parents. Consider five steps to effectively market cognitive supplements to these demographics.

Sharon Benedict, Sharon Benedict

April 2, 2015

4 Min Read
Food for Thought: Marketing Supplements for Improved Cognition

Brain health is hot. According to a report from Euromonitor International, the global market for supplements targeting cognitive function reached USD $1.39 billion in 2012, a 23-percent increase since 2007. Two demographic categories accounting for this rapid growth are aging Boomers and concerned parents.

A Tale of Two Demographics

Aging Boomers:

Baby Boomers are getting older, and they’re serious about maintaining cognitive function. This group of nearly 77 million people—about a quarter of the entire U.S. population—is more concerned about health than previous generations; therefore, they are more willing to purchase dietary supplements that can help them preserve their mental function. Boomers desperately want to either prevent or slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and cerebrovascular disease. More than half of seniors say their memories are worse than when they were younger, according to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation; and a recent Associated poll revealed Boomers rank losing their minds to Alzheimer’s as one of their top two health fears, second only to dying from cancer.

Concerned Parents:

While smaller in number, concerned parents of children with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also keenly interested in brain health products that can help their children succeed in school and life. Diagnosis rates of these diseases have skyrocketed over the past decade. While one in 150 children was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2000, that number jumped to one in 68 just 10 years later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Although better diagnoses could account for part of that increase.) ADHD is even more prevalent. As of 2011, more than one in 10 school-aged kids had been diagnosed with the disorder, CDC reported. And when you expand the pool to include those with milder speech and language impairments, it gets much bigger. Data from CDC also revealed one in six children in the United States has a developmental disability.

5 Steps to Marketing Cognitive Supplements

While aging Baby Boomers and kids with learning disabilities may seem like wildly different demographics, the same marketing principles apply to both. These five steps can help natural product brands effectively market cognitive supplements to these demographics:

1. Get serious

Not all consumer health concerns have the same weight. A brand can afford to be light-hearted if its’s marketing a supplement for something transitory and relatively mild like PMS or indigestion. But being afraid that your mind will deteriorate or that your child will not be able to live a normal life are serious concerns. Avoid puns and cutesy brain graphics and make sure packaging and tone of the copy respect that.

2. Make it work

Because of the serious nature of these conditions, both demographic groups are highly invested in finding products that work. Therefore, brain health supplements should have at least one ingredient that has been the subject of human clinical studies and is provided at the effective dosage. This will build a solid foundation for making strong structure/function claims, and will also ensure consumer loyalty and repeat sales. With cognitive supplements in particular, consumers expect to see results.

3. Fewer is better

Avoid the “kitchen sink" approach to formulating: a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Simple formulas with a few effective ingredients are appealing to both demographics. Moms and dads want to know the products they’re giving their children are safe. The fewer ingredients they have to research, the better. Aging adults may be taking multiple prescription medications. The more ingredients included, the higher the risk of contraindications.

4. Stake the claim

As with all categories of dietary supplements, manufacturers are prohibited from making any claims that a product diagnoses, treats, cures or prevents disease. However, there are a number of compelling structure/function claims brands can make that are perfectly legal for cognitive function, brain health, clear thinking, memory, learning, attention, focus and mood. Just make sure evidence supports them.

5. Consider alternate delivery

Of all demographic groups, kids and aging adults (65 and older) are the most likely to be resistant to swallowing pills. Consider alternative delivery forms to increase compliance. For water-soluble ingredients, great-tasting powders are a convenient and appealing option for young and old alike. Emulsions work well for fat-soluble ingredients such as fish oil and phosphatidylserine (PS). Chewable tablets and gummies are other popular options. However, new technologies are arriving on the scene all the time. Think outside the pill and look at gels, shots and “melt in your mouth" stick packs.

Sharon Benedict is a brand strategist with a strong background in copywriting. After studying rhetoric in graduate school, Benedict started her career as a technical writer at 3M, then developed her branding expertise as marketing communications manager, director of marketing and now director of strategic brand messaging at BrandHive. During the past six years, Sharon has managed and developed messaging for more than 200 creative marketing projects, and she’s positioned and developed messaging for more than 60 brands.

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