How To Reach Consumers With A Science-based Message

In a world of increasingly sceptical consumers, a poorly conceived science-based marketing drive could write your product?s obituary. Get the message right and it could be the ?great differentiator?, says IMG?s Jeff Hilton

I observed several focus group research sessions recently and listened to consumers talk about their usage and attitudes regarding dietary supplements. I have sat in that room behind the mirror and watched similar discussions unfold literally hundreds of times over the past 12 years. But this time, it was different. As they talked, these active category users were more guarded and hesitant in their expressions of confidence in the ability of supplements to perform as promised. They were less forthcoming about their recommendations to friends and family regarding the products they use. The scepticism was palpable.

Yet they seemed to be struggling to find a reason to believe. They talked about preventive self-care and their distrust of the mainstream medical establishment. They were determined to find ways in which they could take greater control of their own health. When asked about how their confidence in supplements could be restored, they spoke of scientific proof in the form of clinical research or studies. They wanted third-party validation of the health claims made about the supplements they purchase, and most felt that the majority of supplements on the market do not currently provide this type of substantiation.

My observation in coming away from these groups was that while consumers are becoming increasingly interested in third-party scientific validation, they really don?t know what that means or what it should look like. So as manufacturers scramble to generate scientific evidence to support health claims, the question arises: ?What is the optimal way to market products that are science-driven to this new, more sceptical consumer??

Let?s consider some ways to communicate scientific data and information in a more interesting and credible manner.

Understand Your Customer
Before you begin to speak, know your audience and assess its expectations. Make sure you have comprehensible insights on your customers? demographics and psychographic profiles:

  • Which product features and benefits are relevant and meaningful to them?
  • What are their general attitudes about the category or categories your product competes in?
  • What are their core purchase and usage patterns?
  • How do 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 information or consult existing secondary sources.

Integrate Science Into Your Product Positioning
The surest way to accomplish this is to make the scientific validation and support you have generated for the product central to the product?s positioning and brand image. That means more than just adding a line of copy to your ads and brochures about the clinical research you have conducted. Depending on your country?s local regulatory regime, consider the following:

  • Revise the product name to communicate a more clinical or science-focused position.
  • 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 summarising and visualising 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.

Make Your Science Relevant
Many manufacturers have convinced themselves that if they throw enough technical jargon and confusing multi-syllable 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 of the products we offer. 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.
  • Don?t talk down to them.
  • Try to describe your science in familiar terms.
  • Use analogies or comparisons to facilitate understanding.
  • Use consumer testimonials to support product efficacy.

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. Other than that, you?re wasting your time.

Scintillating Science
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, 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. Vioxx uses the colour purple to create a visual device to aid in product recall and recognition. Upbeat and positive approaches are generally best. May I offer a few practical guidelines:

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

Communicate Simply
My company, IMG, recently created an ad campaign to help position a branded ingredients supplier called Unigen Pharmaceuticals. The focus of the first ad was to communicate the unique science-driven perspective that Unigen has on the marketplace, developing patented and clinically tested ingredients. We could have posted photos of labs and scientists, but instead we used a side-by-side display of a common mushroom and a leafy green. On the left side, the items were labelled as great ?pizza toppings? or ?salad fixings?. On the right, the same items were recognised as supplements for immune support or antioxidant power. It?s all in your perspective. And Unigen?s perspective is different. Not an easy message to communicate simply and memorably, but we think it worked here.

Consistently Brand Your Science Message
Once you have honed your key message and strategy, it is important to integrate that message through all of your communications. And the corporate culture must follow suit. 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.

In the battle for the mind and loyalty of the increasingly sceptical consumer, science is the ?great differentiator.? But make your message focused, relevant and interesting. Success will follow.

Jeff Hilton, President Integrated Marketing Group Tel: +1 801 538-0777 Respond: [email protected]

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