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Three Channels for Educating and Influencing Consumers in the Dietary Supplement Marketplace

In a previous article, SPRIM analyzed the methods in which a dietary supplement manufacturer can set its product apart from the brands that lack transparency. This article will take a deeper dive, focusing on approaches to educating the consumer on the legitimacy of products.

Most high-quality products are made with better ingredients, they’re tested by third-parties and often have clinical research to back the product’s efficacy. Considering the resources and time spent on proving a product’s safety and value, it is important to educate consumers so they understand the justification of a higher price point when considering their purchases.

As it pertains to dietary supplements, consumers primarily gain information from three channels: doctors, the internet, and a product’s label. Manufacturers need to leverage these channels to educate and influence consumers, and ultimately provide advantages over competitors in the marketplace.

Doctors and other Health Care Professionals (HCPs)

 Physicians are just as likely as the public to consume a dietary supplement. What’s more, such physicians desire to learn more about complementary and alternative medicine. This provides an opportunity to educate physicians which will trickle down to consumers since patients often inquire about and trust the advice of their doctors.

 When dietary supplement companies seek to inform physicians, whether through sales reps or more modern digital methods, the science should always come first. While complex scientific data can overwhelm consumers, HCPs almost always require it before taking a product or recommending a product to a patient.

With more than 120 types of specialties in medicine, it’s also important for dietary supplement companies to target the right market of physicians. Furthermore, many companies overlook the importance of health care influencers (HCIs) such as dieticians, midwives, physical therapists, nurses, etc. which have just as much, and in some cases, a more direct impact on consumer behaviors. What does that mean?

Companies need to consider who holds the most professional authority for their products before choosing who to market to. For example, for a supplement proven to alleviate symptoms of joint inflammation, a company may default to targeting Rheumatologists when in reality, a better target may be physical therapists. This needs to be considered prior to investing in targeted education.

 The Internet

While physicians still command authority and trust, the internet has given rise to the self-directed consumer – allowing them to bypass doctors altogether. Seventy percent of Americans use the internet to get health information and make decisions on healthcare.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) websites are just a few that publish accurate, truthful information online. The ODS website provides a health information section where users can examine a dietary supplement label database (DSLD) or even supplement fact sheets. While these websites offer a wealth of information, consumers, unfortunately, aren’t aware of (or just aren’t visiting) them.  

A company is likely to be much more effective in orchestrating its own digital presence. Social media is low hanging fruit for consumer education for one simple reason: it’s where people consume a wealth of information. Social media also allows businesses to easily target their ideal customers. Take for instance, a dietary supplement that claims to improve cognitive function. Advertisers could target the pool of more than 184.4 million people who have expressed an interest in, or liked pages related to meditation.

Unlike HCPs though, consumers don’t speak science. While it’s important to use the science behind a product in education efforts, the science must be translated into a concise message that is meant to be understood by a consumer audience.

 Product Labels

In a world where there is growing interest in the transparency of a product’s label, manufacturers can pay to prove their supplements’ ingredients accurately match what is listed. There are three well-known independent third-party agencies for certifying products:  ConsumerLab.com, NSF International and U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). Such organizations do not prove therapeutic value in the drugs, but instead focus on the purity and contents of the supplement, essentially testing for product adulteration.

According to the National Marketing Institute, a third of Americans are willing to pay up to 10 percent more for food products produced by manufacturers who are certified as USDA Organic. While not directly tied to the supplement industry, this research illustrates the impact a “verified by” or “certified by” seal can have on consumers. Additionally, products that obtain third-party seals are more likely to be recommended by HCPs.

Clinical research data on a product label can also help influence consumers. A concise stat, such as “80 percent of men saw reduced hair loss” is an evidence-based, convincing claim. Amazon –  where 77 percent of online supplement purchases are made –often allows for more information and photos to accompany a product listing, and many companies use these photos as an extension of product labels, where this research can be displayed in a visual and concise way.

In a world where there are more than 90,000 dietary supplements on the market, consumers are calling out for help in differentiating good products from bad. If you have a quality product – invest in making it known leveraging a multi-channel marketing strategy.