Science fiction offers us two futures. In one, we’re onboard the Starship Enterprise and everybody is wearing jumpsuits for some reason. In the other future, everything has gone Mad Max and desolation, but the fashion sense is less dorky.
In direct sales, the future offers more options. We’re not talking drone delivery for your omega-3s, but it’s easy to see technology shaping a market in which consumers get more out of nutrition than they do staring at those giant tubs of multivitamins at Costco.
Self-quantification is one destination in that future. In a few years, the Fitbits and other fitness monitors on the market now will look like dial-up modems in a broadband world. Predictions include devices tracking heart rate, blood pressure and more. Google is testing a “smart” contact lens that will monitor glucose levels.
It’s not a big step from that to your iPhone planning your menu and ordering supplements tailored to your lifestyle. Imagine a protein shake customized to your metabolism.
Personalized medicine offers even more potential. Progress is less than steady, with the recent 23andMe debacle with FDA chilling innovation, but industry insiders foresee a day when your genetic code will optimize a combination of diet and supplements. That can’t happen at Costco. People will need “genetic counselors.” There is opportunity here for direct sellers in an emerging practitioner channel.
Online sales are an obvious future in direct, but the tie-in to mobile has not been fully exploited. Neil Thanedar, interviewed on page 22, presents his LabDoor app as bringing meritocracy to supplements with rankings of product quality by lab testing and ordering right from your phone. That’s a start, but a wide-open frontier awaits.
With all this, it’s starting to look very Star Trek, but Mad Max lurks. If becoming a “genetic counselor” becomes as easy as getting ordained online by the Universal Life Church, viral skepticism could scuttle the movement. When “20/20” does a “Your iPhone Is Trying to Kill You!” segment, self-quantification as a diagnostic tool retreats to the techy fringe.
That doesn’t mean we’ll be driving hotrods in the wasteland, but we’re not going to be living as well as we could if the ideas above aren’t executed carefully and responsibly. Direct marketing— particularly MLMs and infomercials—does not have a stellar reputation for either with much of the public.
It’s a proceed-with-caution moment. The future is there for the taking. But don’t order your jumpsuit just yet.