To the everyday consumer, sports nutrition appears to be on the cutting edge with its use of proprietary ingredient blends and claims of extraordinary performance enhancement. The reality is the category is reaching maturity and slowly becoming the cereal aisle of the nutritional supplements category, suffering from a severe case of "me-too-ism" – little differentiation in product name, packaging or unique selling points among these products.
The only effective way to stand out from the crowd is to create a truly distinctive concept and position. New product launch research shows that only one in seven products succeed. However, superior and differentiated products have five times more success over me-too products.
The key to success in a seemingly interchangeable sports nutrition category is to incorporate these successful components of brand and product differentiation. The products shown at right have all achieved success in at least one of these categories.
Create technological leverage and deliver features not available in competitive products. The axiom from sports nutrition researcher Douglas Kalman is that clinical trials and properly designed studies can have the average price tag of one or two pages of advertising in a medium-sized magazine. By this he means unique, effective ingredients and formulas, not some made-up complex that simply puts "lipstick on the pig" of basic unproven ingredients. Prove products work and this could be the feather that tips a unique position in your direction and probably earn the brand ten times its cost in sales.
To be successfully positioned, a brand must deliver differentiated benefits that are simple and relevant, yet compelling to the customer. If you say three things or more, you don't say anything. Check out any GNC shelf and see how many brands have fallen into the thought contagion of the front panel displaying the three benefit formula. Are they really saying anything of substance or even style?
The brand must deliver a benefit, not just an attribute or a feature. A brand's failure to deliver on its claims is now disseminated rapidly across the Internet and nothing kills a brand faster than not delivering on its promise. A brand is only as strong as a customer's last experience with it. With efficacy and results comes trust, which is followed by loyalty. A loyal customer is a profitable customer.
Marketing is king in the sports nutrition industry; the best product in the world unfortunately will have limited success if no one knows about it. The perceived quality of a brand increases with advertising impressions regardless of message. Make it memorable – avoid being forgettable. With new electronic technologies and social media formats, a brand can outsmart the competition without having to outspend them.
Sports nutrition consumers are passionate. They like brands that have a story and stand for something or have come from somewhere. They connect and engage with brands that create experience or have an individual who is an icon for the brand and sport. One of the most recent successes is Gaspari Nutrition, whose CEO Rich Gaspari has a passion and love for the industry second to none. His credibility is like a magnet to many serious sports nutrition consumers, and gives his customers trust and purpose because they know he believes in his brand and what it stands for.
Give value for the money
Meet customer needs. Price is never an obstacle if you can create a product that customers want and are able to identify the value and role it plays in their daily lives. If a brand simply copies its competitors and offers no point of difference, then it needs to be armed and prepared to do battle in a low price war. This is a completely different strategy in itself and one that also must be planned for.
James O'Byrne, MBA, has worked within the performance nutrition industry for 18 years, including establishing European distribution for brands such as EAS, Twinlab and MET-Rx. He consults in North America and Europe on taking product development and brand direction from conception to consumption. [email protected]