Supplement branding expert: ‘Don’t lead with the science’

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Supplement branding expert: ‘Don’t lead with the science’

Related tags: Transparency, Supply chain

Most dietary supplement consumers expect a product to have scientific backing, so putting science at the forefront of a marketing or branding campaign just comes off as ‘noise,’ said one branding expert.
Pure Branding founder and CEO yadim medore
Pure Branding founder and CEO Yadim Medore

Yadim Medore is the founder and CEO of Pure Branding​, an agency that offers consulting, market research, and brand development services to health and wellness companies.

He has worked on projects with companies like Gaia Herbs, where he helped establish its Meet Your Herbs campaign​, a traceability program where consumers can look up the journey of specific ingredients in a product throughout the supply chain. The company has attributed this initiative to increased sales​.

In his 20 years’ experience working in the industry in a consulting capacity, he said that one of the biggest mistakes companies do is leading branding and marketing with science.

“Often times, people would say ‘What? What are you talking about? How can that be a mistake?’” ​he told us.

Pure Branding recently completed an online survey of a census-balanced sample of 1,067 US adults and found that scientific backing ranked third among the transparency practices that consumers want to see from supplement companies. It is published in a report titled the ROI of Transparency.

“So it’s not that the science isn’t critically important. It’s just that for the consumer, it’s noise. It’s expected to be there because it’s a level of validation that they’re making a good decision. But a brand can’t lead with the science—it just becomes noise,” ​he argued.

So when do consumers want to hear about the science? “Although it’s really important for transparency, once a consumer connects with a brand emotionally, they’re going to want to dig deeper, and it’s important for that science to be transparent, but it’s not an entry point into a brand,”​ he added.

Consumers have a somewhat negative view of transparency among supplement companies

Pure Branding’s survey also looked at consumer perception of several industries, including food and beverage, personal care, technology, and apparel industries. The survey results found a link between perception of transparency and a positive view of an industry.

"It’s important for science to be transparent, but it’s not an entry point into a brand,”
Yadim Medore, founder and CEO, Pure Branding

Personal care and technology were most likely to be perceived as transparent, while government (specifically Congress) had the lowest level of transparency perception with only 5% agreeing that it is transparent.

Dietary supplement companies leaned on the negative side, with only 16% choosing it as one of the most transparent industries.

The survey didn’t reveal data on why this perception exists, but from Medore’s experience in the industry he suspects it has to do with mixed messages coming from multiple media outlets, from blogs to news outlets to the supplement company marketing platforms.

“There’s such a confusing message that appears in the media constantly that drives that distrust. Consumers don’t really know who to believe, on the one hand what they’re hearing in the media versus what they’re hearing from the companies,”​ he said.

So how do you build trust?

Preceding scientific backing should be what Medore calls ‘second tier’ transparency practices. Don’t be fooled by its name—it is called second tier because it is not a necessity, but slowly becoming an important differentiator that companies can use to win over buyers.

This includes environmental impact and commitment, factory conditions for workers, and third party certification. The ‘first tier’ transparency practices, which includes proper ingredient labeling and supporting science, are now considered a given.

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“I think there’s a growing greater expectation of transparency​,​ he said. “We actually asked in the study, are they expecting a greater degree of transparency than they did 5 years ago, and 69% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that they expect more than they did 5 years ago. So I think the bar keeps getting raised, what was acceptable then is no longer good enough.”

Being vulnerable, admitting to mistakes

Another avenue for building trust and being transparent to consumers is by admitting mistakes, the report revealed. This is especially important for companies who have been marketing a controversial ingredient or perhaps was once led by a disgraced executive.

Study participants were given scenarios to choose from, in which they had to imagine two different vitamin and supplement companies. The first one was a company they like and buy from, while the second one was a company that they don’t currently buy from.

“In the scenario, some point it is made public that one of the ingredients they both use in their products is legal but controversial. What happens after that is the company they buy from gives just enough information as required by the law, but the other company acts very transparently, tells people everything about the controversy, the pros and cons of using the ingredient, explain how they plan to deal with it in the future,”​ Medore explained.

“Sixty percent of our respondents said they would be motivated to change their purchasing behavior to try and buy from the more transparent company. Almost a third said they would definitely buy from the more transparent company.”

And what’s the perception around admitting to mistakes? A whopping 80% said they would forgive, and 26% said they would have an even higher opinion of the brand, the survey revealed.

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