How should dietary supplement companies market to seniors?

Smart supplement brands will account for seniors’ interest in quality of life, including mobility, balance, and maintenance of cognitive capacity.

The US Census Bureau predicts that by 2034—not even 15 years away—Americans aged 65 and older will outnumber those aged 18 and younger.1 And with today’s seniors living longer than their predecessors could ever hope, those entering their golden years will have more golden years in which to live.

And why shouldn’t they? As Mark A. LeDoux, chairman and CEO, Natural Alternatives International Inc. (Carlsbad, CA), says, “We don’t arrive on this planet with an expiration date stamped on our foreheads.”

To wit, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business report that average life expectancy in the United States has grown from age 49 in 1900 to 79 in 2013.2 And that, says LeDoux, “is the good news.”

The bad news, he continues, “is that more than 60% of Americans older than 65 have multiple chronic conditions requiring medication or other interventions.” One key intervention is nutrition, and as the dietary supplement industry develops products that help seniors squeeze more life out of every year, they’d be wise to spend time considering which messages—and platforms—best connect those products to the seniors who need them.

Priority Demographic

“Each day of the calendar, more than 10,000 Americans alone turn 65 old,” LeDoux says. “That’s a sizable demographic, to be sure.”

And it’s a demographic that’s always been important to the supplement industry. “Seniors benefit from the collective wisdom of their years, as well as from a store of accumulated disposable income that they can direct at ways to age gracefully,” LeDoux points out.

What’s more, today’s seniors are “avid learners,” he adds, eager to dig into consensus views about how best to remain active, alert, and functioning members of society—including through the use of supplements

All of which would suffice on its own to rank seniors near the top of the industry’s priority list. But the disproportionate effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted on older patients “has gotten everyone’s attention even more,” LeDoux says. “And one interesting outcome of this latest medical crisis is that doctors are now extolling the benefits of vitamins and minerals in enhancing proper immune function.”

Aging Gets a New Look

But even once COVID-19 becomes an episode we can all look back upon, our industry will still face the question: What does it mean to be a “senior” in an era of lengthening lifespans and rising expectations?

“That’s actually a very good question,” LeDoux says. With baby boomers being entering the senior class en masse, “many in their 60s and 70s still feel much younger, and want much more out of life, than they stereotypically and historically would have,” LeDoux says.

The upshot, he says, is that “while life-insurance actuaries may consider 65 to be the commencement of senior status, an active boomer in her late 60s or even early 70s may take issue with that assessment.”

Equally debatable is the definition of “healthy aging,” which has become a rallying cry not only among seniors themselves, but among brands that court them.

The World Health Organization, for its part, defines the notion as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age.”

Even so, LeDoux points out, “Heathy aging will inevitably mean different things to different seniors. And the natural products industry needs to understand that while our products aren’t intended to treat, prevent, or cure diseases, they are, importantly, created to provide excellent nourishment and structural support to our metabolism—thereby improving bodily and systemic function by assuring adequate nutritional content well into old age.”

What Seniors Want

As for specific health concerns, LeDoux wagers that seniors of all stripes hope to avoid type 2 diabetes, various cancers, and heart disease.

“Looking at the impact of the coronavirus on those over age 65, epidemiologists have lamented the significant loss of life in patients with one or more of these conditions, combined with morbid obesity,” he notes.

“Other concerns in this age group are dealing with vision issues, like cataract development; depression; joint and bone issues including osteoporosis; and memory function.” And smart supplement brands will also account for seniors’ interest in quality of life, he adds, including mobility, balance, and maintenance of cognitive capacity.

Speaking Seniors’ Language

In addition to addressing issues that seniors care about, brands need to speak to their audience in terms that they consider relevant and convincing. And that, LeDoux says, means providing cold, hard evidence.

“Anecdotal information is instructive, but it’s not really meaningful from a scientific perspective,” he says. “People in this demographic tend to review scientific articles before making purchases, so the quality of the science needs to be superior and duplicated in multiple sites to achieve credibility in consumers’ minds.”

Communicating the results of scientific studies in clear language makes the message even more compelling, LeDoux adds, as “there’s considerable interest among these consumers in reading scientific studies in layman’s terms that they can understand.”

As far as communication platforms go, television remains an important resource for older consumers. Nevertheless, in today’s environment word of mouth is an increasingly “effective influencer of behavior,” LeDoux says.

Regardless of platform, key to getting a nutritional message across is the ability to present credible, detailed intelligence, LeDoux insists. “The most effective type of communication is that which can provide long-form information that points out the benefits and concerns uncovered in investigative scientific trials conducted on sufficient numbers of subjects and in double-blinded, placebo-controlled environments, to help eliminate bias and evaluate placebo effects.”

That said, he concedes, “With social media and the advent of electronic real-time communication, there’s a real opportunity for health experts to share information that’s distilled into easy-to-comprehend bites with supporting data, delivered in a calm and rational manner.”

Get in Early

And don’t wait until the seniors are “officially” senior. As LeDoux points out, “Middle-aged people are concerned about their parents’ and grandparents’ welfare and are looking for ways to keep multiple generations of their families healthy, intact, and far from the need for expensive nursing homes and caregivers. To the extent that consumers can source high-quality foods and supplements with sound supporting science, they’re investing in the future welfare and health of their older relatives and younger ones alike.”

Which is why the best message that our industry can deliver is the lived experience of improved health.

“Older consumers who elect to use supplements need to experience demonstrable results in their health profile,” LeDoux says. “We know for a fact that long-term supplementation can slow the degradation of skeletal bone mass, improve cognitive function and resilience, strengthen the metabolic pathways that provide cellular energy, and repair and supply the building blocks that help the immune system ward off environmental pathogens and chemical insults.”

If dietary supplements can show seniors that they can do all that, that may be the only strategic messaging they need.

References

  1. Vespa J. “The U.S. joins other countries with large aging populations.” United States Census Bureau website. Published March 13, 2018.
  2. University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business budget model. “Mortality in the United States: Past, present, and future.” Published June 27, 2016.