Originally Published NO January/February 2010
With economizing on the mind, consumers may be looking for smarter, budget-friendly ways to pursue healthcare. A 2009 online survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (Washington, DC) revealed that the purchasing loyalty of some dietary supplement users has changed due to cost-cutting. As with many other types of purchases, consumers may be switching to lower-cost alternatives.
While this may sound alarming to companies selling brand-name dietary products, these marketers should realize that there is opportunity to win customer loyalty with branded products.
The Need for Value
There are two types of consumers: those I call traditionalists, and others I refer to as committed dietary supplement users. Traditionalists' purchasing behavior is largely unaffected by price. These customers are fairly brand-loyal and tend to be less swayed by cost-savings. Conversely, committed dietary supplement users have trended toward spending less on wellness overall. These consumers may perceive more value in "me too” generic-version supplements.
Despite their differences, both traditionalists and committed supplement users still seek evidence that a product truly works. As consumers are forced to stretch every dollar, all are demanding value for their buck.
Both consumer groups measure value according to their confidence that a product will do what it purports to do. And these consumers are savvy. They have grown more confident in the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements because they have actively been seeking more information about supplements through due-diligence and word-of-mouth recommendations before purchasing. Both consumer groups know how to differentiate between good products and great products, and if they have not been fully convinced of a product's merit, they will move on.
Show Them the Evidence
Ultimately, the challenge for product marketers is to convince consumers of the quality and superiority of their dietary brand over others-and to a level that will motivate consumers to buy not only once, but repeatedly. Even with committed dietary supplement users, for whom price might be paramount, opportunity still exists to convince these customers that regardless of price, there is value behind a high-quality brand.
Information supporting product efficacy is of utmost importance to both types of supplement users. Consumers are looking to companies to provide up-to-date, accessible, and easily understood information that is concise, emotionally satisfying, and convincing. How can product makers meet these needs? They must continuously build solid evidence that will, 1) back up product claims and increase consumer trust, 2) set branded products apart from less-expensive, generic versions, and 3) provide consumers with meaningful and valuable information that will drive purchase behavior.
When companies show that they value science, research, and integrity in their product development and marketing, consumers perceive value. Product makers that seek ingredients that are generally recognized as safe or that have new dietary ingredient status show commitment to using high-quality, scientifically backed ingredients.
Also, companies must differentiate their products' quality from the competition. Companies that sponsor trustworthy, proprietary studies to prove claims and efficacy for their products will stand out over those that rely solely on existing data.
Companies should also be sure to confirm product efficacy at their products' indicated dose. This is particularly important in differentiating functional foods. It is difficult to declare condition-specific benefits when the proper dosage of ingredients to achieve a product's health claims has not been established.
Earn Their Loyalty
Condition-specific supplements and functional foods are uniquely positioned to meet the changing financial, health, and quality-of-life needs of consumers. In the face of an evolving healthcare landscape, consumers are demanding more-meaningful information from supplement makers because they truly want to believe in the value of dietary supplements. Evidence is a powerful tool that drives consumer loyalty. As the nutrition industry sees more generic brands enter the market, branded-product manufacturers need to work harder than ever to increase credibility of their brands.