The dietary supplement industry has experienced a sustained pummeling in 2015 from the media and the legal community, which has set the stage for internal discussion of the need for significant changes. What those changes will encompass is unknown; some of them are likely to involve increased transparency and some may be regulatory in nature, but it’s a safe bet that more proof of identity and quality will be involved.
For companies that have sourced ingredients by price alone and have done minimal product testing, welcome to a completely new world! Companies that have been using ingredients backed by science and intellectual property (IP) are in a stronger position, and they should be focused on making sure that information is available to the retailers selling the products and to the consumers buying them.
What does this process look like? Assume a company is working on a formula for a new product and is starting to look at ingredient sources. The search should be focused on those ingredients with science to back them up, made by a company with a track record of consistent quality. Ingredient suppliers that have invested significantly in research and development (R&D) and have patents and clinical studies on their ingredients are going to make that information available to utilize in marketing programs.
Look for companies that offer education on the science behind their ingredients, and ask for clinical studies on their ingredients, specifically. For any ingredient that is in any way proprietary in terms of processing, studies that are not on that specific product are irrelevant. “Borrowed" science is not going to impress today’s educated and informed retailers and consumers, and, in fact, it’s likely to be a red flag.
Speaking of clinical studies, it is not uncommon for there to be clinical studies on diseases, so the marketing department will have to pick and choose what they include to make sure regulatory compliance is met.
Ingredient suppliers can often help with formulation because no one knows the ingredients like they do. Some can provide intermediate steps, such as blending or tableting, which saves time and money.
Once the formula is set, the next step is to bring the science and quality of the ingredients into the marketing program. Consumers, more than ever, are interested in knowing where ingredients come from and the processes in place to ensure product efficacy. Investing in science-backed ingredients up front allows companies to put together a marketing plan that clearly demonstrates product quality to both retailers and consumers.
Marketing a science-backed ingredient starts with communicating the process. There is a world of difference between companies that source ingredients the right way and companies that buy the cheapest ingredients possible. To accurately convey the quality that goes into a product, it helps to think like a journalist. Marketers should be involved, learning and documenting the process every step of the way. The goal of involving marketing early is to demonstrate how an ingredient goes from being a component in the product formulation to part of the finished good purchased by consumers. Documenting the process involves everything from photos of raw material sources (if they are available) to short videos and blog entries documenting the measures scientists take to evaluate and test an ingredient.
If documented correctly, the story of one ingredient from source to shelf can tell volumes about the way a company approaches the quality of its products as a whole. The old adage “show don’t tell" is an especially valuable guideline to follow in the age of telling genuine product and brand stories that convey a transparent, quality-focused production process.
With the story of how you use science-backed ingredients to produce quality products that are properly documented, it’s time to build materials that will inform both retailers and consumers alike. Both audiences respond best to short, to-the-point materials that convey the story in an interesting manner. Videos, infographics and slideshows are all specific marketing tactics that work well to portray complex information in a digestible fashion. While writing a whitepaper about the process of formulating with quality ingredients may help to capture all the details in one place, very few retailers or consumers will ever spend the time to absorb the information. Instead, focus on short pieces that can be used in all marketing channels, including social media and consumer newsletters. Also, don’t forget to share the content with the retailers, as they are also looking for good content to share with consumers.
The most difficult way to leverage ingredient quality to build an effective marketing strategy is to finish the product and then turn to your marketing team and ask them to convey the quality of the product after the fact. This approach, more often than not, leads to overused tag lines and proclamations that lack the substance needed to convince customers.
Todd Pauli, partner, strategic marketing, The Shelton Group, works with clients in the natural products industry to develop integrated marketing strategies that work cohesively across social, digital, print and event marketing. Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa, is actively involved in Sabinsa's extensive cultivation program, interacting with farmers to insure sustainability.
Looking for more information on Leveraging Quality Ingredients in Marketing?
Todd Pauli and Shaheen Majeed will speak on “Leveraging Ingredient Quality to Build an Effective Content Marketing Strategy" as part of the Natural Products INSIDER track in the SupplySide West Education Program. Their session will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 6, from 4 to 4:50 p.m. at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Visit http://west.supplysideshow.com/edu-more.aspx for more information and to get registered.