I've been following the growing trend of supplement companies reaching out to health care providers. It's no longer big pharma vs. supplements; now we're encouraging doctors, nurses and other providers to learn and suggest supplements as appropriate.
I posted about this subject on LinkedIn, and had a lively conversation with companies that do just this, and have been doing it successfully for years. One such company was BNHResearch, a nutraceutical research, development and production company, involved in organic and natural supplement products that address the immune system, liver and obesity.
Quentin Weber, CEO and Founder, BNHResearch, got in on the discussion, saying his company only works with doctors. They do this without a web presence; all communication is direct to naturopaths, medical doctors and other alternative healthcare professionals.
This piqued my interest, and I asked Weber to write a bit about his company and how they sustain a business without reaching out to consumers directly. Below is his response.
"In this era of instant Internet answers for every question imaginable, one would think it's a foregone conclusion that advertising and marketing supplements on the web will reach the largest possible population and thus would be the best solution; but, you would be wrong. A much more plausible and effective method is person-to-person contact. Why, in this day and age, would a manufacturer of supplemental products circumvent such a powerful 21st century form of communication for a retro style of marketing that harkens back to the 1940s and 1950s? In brief, free will and information overload.
"In the case of free will, consumers do not want to be force-fed advertising and as a result, are in full control of their 'delete' buttons. The general population will go to great lengths to avoid succumbing to marketing ploys while conducting their searches on the Internet. Weve all relegated entire companies to that black hole known as the 'spam blocker.' Consumers look at their computer screens as their personal space and intrusive Internet ads are often viewed as an invasion of that personal space. This is hardly the scenario for building a positive rapport with potential clients.
"In the case of information overload, it is ridiculously easy to get information onto the web, but incredibly difficult to get it to stand out among the multitude of flotsam and jetsam available through our search engines. Gone are the days when an Internet search yielded five or six targeted responses. Now, one can receive six pages or more of sites related to a key word. Plus, the average elapsed time spent on a website in search of information is declining due to the use of smart phones. Supplement companies find the amount of time it has to market its products is significantly reduced.
"Like many supplement companies, BNHResearch LLC first began to market its product when the Internet and the nutritional supplement industries were still in their infancy. We were working with programs such as Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, and like others at the time, spending high dollars to create a presence on what we thought was the next marketing giant of our time, the emerging web. We created a place to define our products and generate a sales base. The high-powered search engines were largely nonexistent then, so the majority of the traffic to our initial site was via word of mouth. As our clients achieved success with our products, they spread the word creating person-to-person referrals to our informational website. As our client base grew exponentially, so did the health questions they posed to us regarding their conditions. Liability issues came in to play and were the catalyst to bringing a medical professional on board as a consultant.
"Here is where our initial web momentum came to a halt. The nutritional supplement industry was still too new in the eyes of the medical profession to get those professionals to commit to tearing down the fences and endorsing a wider view on health care. Without a doctor on board, we could not legally answer the burgeoning questions of our clients, so the website was put on hold while we sought a viable solution to giving them the feedback they were requesting.
"While the website was not operational, the word-of-mouth momentum was still going strong. As our clients began to see significant improvement, doctors began to take notice. In the broader picture, nutritional supplements were becoming more widely accepted, and naturopathic physicians became a significant link in the word-of-mouth communication chain. Doctors now recognizing the success of supplementation was an opening that could not have been opened by an Internet presence.
"It was then that we approached a handful of physicians, not to sell them product, but to ask their input on our products. Our mutual clients became case studies of a sort and suddenly our person-to-person networking became doctor-to-doctor networking. At that point, we knew face-to-face marketing to specifically researched and targeted doctors (already open to comprehensive alternative medicine) would yield a far greater and more receptive audience for our product than relying on random searches via an Internet presence.
"Now and in the future, we most certainly have Internet representation, but merely for the specific purpose of introducing our company, its mission statement, and our scientific and medical affiliations; in short a 'who are we' website reference for the clients weve already gained. The detailed information on our products themselves is provided in data sheet form upon delivery of our product to the doctors and then on to the clients, face to face. Just like the milkman, produce peddler, insurance agent, knife sharpener and ice cream vendors of old, we are building our business person to person, one handshake at a time. "
According to Weber, this approach is working for BNHResearch. It seems counterintuitive to not advertise online, but focusing its marketing efforts solely on practitioners helps this company stay compliant. This case shows reaching out only to health care practitioners can build a customer base that sustains a company.
I don't recommended this practitioner-only approach for every company; the Internet is a great place to educate consumers and doctors about the benefits of supplements. However, I do recommend every supplement company do what it can to reach out to medical professionals as well as consumers. I may not be the only marketing you do, but it can be a great way to reach more consumers.