Nutritional Supplement Marketing: What We’re Up Against

by Sarah on December 4, 2009


Just this morning I read through another article (this one in the NYTimes) panning the supplement industry. 

Essentially it said that there’s very little that distinguishes one vitamin brand from another.  And it goes on to quote Consumer Lab’s Tod Cooperman in saying that most manufacturers short-shrift consumers when it comes to ingredients. 

Finally, it contains a few doctor-certified statements dismissing the need for supplements if you exercise and eat right.

The original article is here: (Please note, if you leave to read this, come back and see my suggestions for marketing in this context)

As a supplement marketer, it’s frustrating to see this.  As a person who has seen the difference supplements have made in the health of my family and friends, I’m outraged.  Especially when there are so many authoritative statements out there about the benefits of chemotherapy in stopping cancer or the way the flu vaccine will protect you from the flu.

So how do we counteract this as marketers with products that really can help people, despite the prevailing media coverage.

Here are my suggestions:

1.  Provide thorough explanations about how your product works and the research that backs it.  In some cases you may want to include citations.  In general, you should provide some specifics about where the research was done or published.

2.  Discuss your manufacturing practices and ingredients criteria.  If you’re using proprietary processes or ingredients, highlight them.  Let people understand the quality that goes into your brand.

3.  Use testimonials.  Yes, the FTC has cramped our style a bit when it comes to testimonials, but we can still use them judiciously.  So provide these great witnesses to the fact that, yes indeed, your products do make a difference.

4.  Provide a generous guarantee and make it clear to the skeptics that you put your money where your mouth is.  If they are not satisfied from personal experience within a certain timeframe, they are welcome to send it back.  Now what kind of dishonest business, stuffing chalkdust in its capsules, would provide this kind of return policy? 

5.  Of course, many supplements don’t create dramatic effects that consumers can easily notice.  That’s partly why they are so good for your health – they don’t bludgeon your body, creating side effects, like pharmaceuticals do.  Explain this to your customers, explain how the often-gentler effects of supplements can take time to help your body get back in balance and for you to see the effects.  Give them some perspective on how supplements work.

And finally here’s the tough love one:

6.  Don’t use hype.  For your business and for the industry as a whole (upon whose health your business depends), don’t go overboard.  Don’t say things without evidence to prove what you’re saying.   With the internet and social media, news of false claims will catch like wildfire and burn you badly.  Solid claims provide the basis for a solid relationship with your customers.  

And the whole industry benefits from each drop of credibility we add to the mix – which, in turn, benefits you.

What tactics do you suggest?


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