The science behind the sales

The business of suppliers co-branding ingredients with manufacturers has steadily expanded over the past 10 years, and for good reason. Jeff Hilton explains how science brands ingredients successfully and sells finished products to a skeptical public

Branding a raw material ingredient is a win-win-win proposition for suppliers, manufacturers and consumers. The idea is driven by joint research, promotion and education at the trade and consumer levels. But the winds are changing. With the escalating cost manufacturers pay for research-backed, branded raw ingredients, they are increasingly looking to suppliers for assistance in funding the education and promotional activities required to launch a successful ingredient brand.

In short, suppliers are being asked to step up and participate more actively in terms of both effort and dollars. And that seems fair. Why should manufacturers be required to foot the branding bill alone? After all, the concept is to share both risks and rewards.

Is branding right for you?
Branding is the ongoing process of creating and maintaining a unique and compelling brand image in the minds of current and potential customers. Building brand awareness, acceptance, preference and above all loyalty for an ingredient is not a simple or inexpensive process, and you should carefully consider whether or not branding and eventually co-branding is the best path for you.

As you make branding decisions, be sensitive to what is happening in the marketplace around you. It is easy to see as we survey the consumer landscape that confidence in dietary supplements has been eroding for some time. Consumers are more skeptical, confused and unsure about dietary supplements and functional foods. They are looking for ways to assess and understand product quality and make better purchase decisions.

As a result, we find in our marketing research with consumers that science is increasingly driving the brand message. And that has important implications for marketers in this industry. It places the burden on marketers to create brand value through science, integrate science into the key selling message, take a more education-focused approach to marketing, build up intellectual property value, and look for research-oriented co-branding partners.

Marketing science
As an industry, we need to improve the way in which we talk about science in our marketing materials. Much of what circulates today is overwritten, needlessly complicated and mostly irrelevant to its intended audience. Here are some basic guidelines that can help to keep a science-based message both focused and relevant.

Become your customer: before you begin to speak, know your audience and assess their expectations. Hear your communication through their ears. Make sure you have sufficient insights into the demographic and psychographic profiles of your customer so that you understand:

  • What product features and benefits will be relevant and meaningful to them;
  • What their general attitudes are about the category or categories your product competes in;
  • What their core purchase and usage patterns are;
  • How they view your key competitors.

If that is information you don?t have or can?t access, you should probably conduct some preliminary research to gather this kind of data or consult existing secondary sources.

Integrate your science: the surest way to weave your science into the DNA of the brand is to make the scientific validation and support you have generated for the product central to the product?s positioning and key selling message. That means more than just adding a line of copy to your ads and brochures about the clinical research you have conducted. Consider and internally discuss the following options:

  • Revise the product name to communicate a more clinical or science-focused attitude.
  • Revise the packaging to reflect a more science-driven image.
  • Consider putting the product in a box with a consumer-friendly product insert or booklet summarizing and visualizing relevant research findings.
  • Make science the focus of your consumer seminars, retailer training, trade show activity and product literature.
  • Consider using a health care practitioner to endorse or speak on behalf of your product.

When to brand, when to blink In general, you should brand when you:

  • Hold valuable patents or trade secrets
  • Have scientific support specific to your ingredient
  • Will be doing business in substantial, active categories
  • Have potential co-branding partners to share risk and invest in the brand
In general, do not brand when you:
  • Are selling in undifferentiated commodity categories
  • Have no compelling scientific support relating to your specific ingredient
  • Have minimal funds to devote to promotion and education
  • Have no intellectual property to speak of


Examine the tone and attitude of your advertising. Make it more indication-specific. Use science-oriented visuals and illustrations. Then carry that over to ancillary marketing tools like your website, direct mail and press materials.

Relate to your audience: many manufacturers have convinced themselves that if they throw enough technical jargon and confusing multisyllable words at the consumer, they will be impressed enough to assume legitimacy and buy the product. While that technique may work with a small niche of uneducated consumers, focus-group research indicates that consumers are much more savvy and knowledgeable than we as marketers give them credit for. Most are quickly able to cut through the smoke.

As an industry, we must learn to talk about science in more comfortable, everyday language. Language that consumers can understand and relate to. Language that helps them see the wellness benefits to the products we offer. Consumers get it. They can handle more information than we think. They have become accustomed to shopping for these types of products. They read labels and are capable of intelligent and discerning judgment.

If you speak openly and honestly to consumers, you will earn their respect and their loyalty. The key lies in learning to present science in simple and basic ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • Don?t address them like your R&D staff, but don?t talk down to them — it?s a delicate balance.
  • Describe your science in familiar terms.
  • Use analogies or comparisons to facilitate understanding.
  • Use consumer testimonials to support relevant product credibility.

In summary, remember that your scientific information is only important to the consumer as it relates to his or her own personal wellness or the health of a loved one. Beyond that, you?re wasting your time.

Keep your science interesting: just because science is serious doesn?t mean it has to be boring and lifeless — though you wouldn?t know that by looking at many of the science-driven ads in consumer publications.

Remember that health and wellness and vitality are the product benefits. The science is a tool to help us all get there. Don?t be afraid to have some fun. Take a lesson from direct-to-consumer advertising for Claritin, Allegra and Zocor. The products are serious and credible, but they feature people enjoying what life has to offer. Upbeat and positive approaches are generally best. May I offer a few practical suggestions:

  • Use visuals whenever possible to facilitate communication.
  • Tell a story about your product.
  • Invite interaction with the consumer.
  • Consider the use of overstated color to cement brand identity.
  • Demonstrate your scientific support in a dramatic way.
  • Provide enough data to draw in readers or viewers but not enough to overwhelm them.
  • In communication, as in life, people pay attention to what interests them.

Consistently brand your scientific message: once you have honed your key message and strategy, it is important to integrate that message through all of your communications. And your corporate culture must also deliver on the brand promise. Keeping up with current technology will support your message. So will aggressive new product research and development. Effective branding means consistently and persuasively communicating your product positioning at all points of customer contact.

How to create brand value
There are a number of potential strategies for creating and sustaining brand value for an ingredient. Outlined briefly below are several ideas to consider:

  • Launch a third-party website to promote the health benefits of your product category.
  • Sponsor an annual symposium or gathering of scientists working in your category.
  • Conduct consistent retailer training.
  • Plan and execute trade show seminars and events.
  • Create a new distinctive and descriptive logo for your brand to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
  • Consider distributing a video news release or matte story focusing on a newsworthy aspect of your ingredient story.
  • Contract with a celebrity spokesperson.
  • Find an author to write a book promoting your ingredient.
  • Sponsor an athlete who benefits from taking your product.
The future growth of the natural products industry lies in smart manufacturers and savvy suppliers partnering to bring innovative and science-based ingredients to market. Consumers are demanding it. Retailers will support it. And it can drive your business to new heights if it?s done right.

Jeff Hilton is president and chief marketing officer of Integrated Marketing Group. Respond: [email protected]
All correspondence will be forwarded to the author.

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