Does this sound familiar? A new product experiences year over year dramatic growth relative to overall supplement market growth. The product is dominated by those who pioneered it at first, but then every supplement company wants in. So is supplement personalization the new CBD?
Brands that want to enter supplement personalization should look at it as an opportunity to engage with their customers and create long-lasting loyalty.
Let’s hope not because, if managed well, the promise that personalized nutrition offers consumers is a more customized path to wellness. And for supplement brands, personalized nutrition offers entry into long-term relationships with their customers. But if used as a transactional tool simply to sell existing products, it will become as ubiquitous and non-differentiating as CBD has become.
A Little History
Recent industry data projects that the personalized nutrition supplement market will grow at a rate six to nine times higher than the supplement industry as a whole. That’s not the same numbers as when CBD burst on the market, but it’s still impressive. Personalization is not a gold rush, and that’s a good thing. Instead, it’s a long-term product play. In fact, if we were to compare the lifetime customer value and ROI of CBD and personalized supplements, supplements would win easily.
Conceptually, supplement personalization is not new. The original personalization of supplements can be traced to integrative health-care practitioners (HCPs) assessing and recommending supplements to their patients. Those HCPs listen to their patients, diagnose the issue, and recommend a nutrition protocol. Patients almost always use the brand their HCPs recommend. The loyalty in this model is to the HCPs, not the brand, because the focus is relational more than transactional. It’s not a one-and-done proposition like many subscription services; there is always reevaluation followed by revised recommendations.
The first internet supplement personalization in which consumers directly communicated with the brand through online, quiz-based interactions and received subscription supplement protocols occurred in 2001. Entrepreneur Jason Brown worked with Dr. Andrew Weil to develop the Weil Health Advisor. That was the first online service that included a health and lifestyle assessment, which was followed by a customized recommendation of supplements to be delivered in individual packs to consumers. It was an idea that was ahead of the curve.
Fast forward more than a decade, and you arrive at the advent of the new subscription economy through digitally native vertical brands (DNVB) like Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, and Blue Apron. Those brands helped lead the disruption of established markets. Supplement consumers were then ready for direct to consumer (DTC) personalization. Brown and his team introduced Persona Nutrition shortly after Care/of, another personalization pioneer. Both offered online assessment surveys followed by recommended supplements that came in individual daily packs. Persona even went further by offering access to one-on-one live consultations with professional nutritionists.
Of course, they were not alone for long. Big brands immediately saw the value of personalization and how it would support their innovation. Nestlé Health Science bought Persona. Care/of was acquired by Bayer. Nature Made introduced Nurish. GNC and similar retailers have developed their own personalization. Nonsupplement brands that are in adjacent health and wellness categories have started looking at supplement personalization as a way to further engage and monetize their customer base.
While the vast majority of current supplement personalization is survey based, a growing trend involves diagnostic tools. Consumers send samples for genetic, microbiome, or blood biomarker testing and receive results within weeks, complete with supplement recommendations.
Pure Branding and Personalization
Pure Branding has been deeply involved in this personalization trend since leading the brand development of Persona Nutrition. (Full disclosure: we were early investors also.) Since then, we have taken countless online health assessment quizzes, consulted with numerous consumer and HCP supplement brands as they enter the DTC world, and conducted census-balanced consumer research to determine what drives consumer engagement with personalized nutrition.
What is striking about supplement personalization is that it succeeds despite itself. It’s not a huge investment to create an online survey that serves up product recommendations. But the mistake we see brands making too often is the race to the checkout. Rarely do we see brands wanting to engage. They just want to sell. If you drive enough traffic to your website, you will make sales. But what about customer retention and lifetime value? What do those numbers look like? And while you’re doing that math, keep in mind the cost of acquisition is going up and up across all DTC categories.
Brands that want to enter supplement personalization should look at it as an opportunity to engage with their customers and create long-lasting loyalty. This strategy applies to legacy brands as well as new-to-market, emerging brands. This strategy offers a chance for brands to shift their narrative, to be relevant, and to innovate.
With these loftier goals in mind, the following is a list of our top ten best practices for brands entering or competing in the personalized nutrition market.
1. Develop a Cohesive Brand Story
Just adding a survey to your website or a diagnostic test kit that results in recommended products is not doing anything for your brand. The questions you ask and the information on the results page provide opportunities to demonstrate to your customers how personalization aligns with your brand’s broader mission and values. Personalization should be well-integrated into your brand’s narrative, allowing you to transfer established brand equity and trust to the new offering. Ask yourself: How does personalization contribute to my brand’s promise?
2. Dimensionalize Your Brand’s Personality
It is a given that your customers need to see your new, personalized nutrition program as intertwined with your existing digital ecosystem. What’s different is that you’re asking them questions for the first time. While your brand is not a health-care practitioner, the relationship has shifted: you’re asking consumers personal questions related to their health and wellness. We have conducted consumer research about what makes people stay with their health-care practitioners and what makes them leave. We’ve learned that what patients want most is someone who listens to them and communicates well. Sounds simple enough, but what we see time and again in the questionnaire results is a brand that is selling but not listening—even those that are leading with personalization. There is often little to no attempt at demonstrating how the brand has listened to its customers or attempted to understand the “why” behind the recommendations. Ask yourself: Am I allowing my brand to be further explored and expressed throughout the customer experience? Will our customers want to further their relationship with our brand through this experience?
3. Deepen Your Customer Insight
If you’re a brand that has been in the market for many years, you may have a rich understanding of your customers’ purchasing behaviors and shopping preferences. Or as a new brand, you may have conducted some preliminary market research. Personalization is a way to deepen your understanding of your customers, but it’s important that you don’t abuse the trust that comes with sharing personal, health-based information. Ask yourself: What are the gaps in customer intelligence that may be impeding our ability to understand and effectively personalize our program?
4. Maximize Questionnaire Design
The questionnaire is an opportunity for your brand to show thoughtfulness, comprehensiveness, and understanding of the many factors that were considered while populating a customized recommendation. Remember what we wrote in “Dimensionalize Your Brand’s Personality”? People want to be heard when they fill out a questionnaire; your brand will stand out if it’s clear that you’ve listened. Ask yourself: Does my questionnaire demonstrate my brand’s core values and expertise? Are we transparent about how recommendations are derived? Are my recommendations so valuable that people will want to print them?
5. Ensure Email Capture
Some brands offer a free evaluation and recommendation to the prospective customer without expecting a value exchange. Capturing an email at the onset of the evaluation enables re-engagement with the interested, nonconverting shopper. Ask yourself: Am I capturing a customer contact before sharing custom recommendations? Do I have a strategy for further engagement?
6. Focus on Need States
Recommendations should be positioned around shoppers’ need states (e.g., sleep, energy) and their anticipated benefits rather than the functional ingredients. Remember, when a HCPs provide recommendations, they don’t lead with all of the ingredients; they lead with how it’s going to help. But they don’t just say it’s going to help with sleep or anxiety. Instead, patients are reminded that, because they have an issue with sleep or anxiety, the recommendation is based on those specific issues. Ask yourself: Do our recommendations include the “why” behind the “what”? Are the results clearly connected to the questionnaire responses our shoppers provided?
7. Build In Navigation for the Nonconverters
Customers should see the shopping process as collaborative, one that empowers them to make changes to your recommendations to best fit their needs or to buy standalone SKUs if they’re not yet ready to commit. Otherwise, they’ll abandon their cart. Ask yourself: Is there clear navigation for nonconverters to customize or override the recommendations, further engage with the brand, or return to their recommendations later?
8. Diversify Your Marketing Mix
An integrated marketing strategy should be designed around the customer’s journey to purchase, and it should be deployed at key points where the brand can intersect that journey. Ask yourself: Are we relying solely on Facebook, Instagram, and email to launch the new program, or do we have a multichannel strategy to surround our target consumers with this offering?
9. Set Realistic Objectives
The broad supplement category is competitive. For brands that have been in the market for a while, it may be more realistic to aim your program at expanding value with your existing customer base versus launching personalization as a means to attract new shoppers to the brand. In contrast, new brands start by being laser focused on key target segments identified through market research, so concentrate your marketing dollars on assessing how your messaging speaks to that segment first. Ask yourself: If my team has decided to invest in customer acquisition within the broader supplement landscape, do we have a strategic marketing plan and fair KPIs to measure success?
10. Don’t Forget Retention
Subscription sales are great—until they end. The biggest challenge with personalization and subscription is adherence. Are your customers taking their supplements daily, or are they stacking them in their medicine cabinets by the third month? If your supplements are efficacious, there is a good chance the issues that were prevalent a few months ago are no longer there, so it’s time to reengage—but that does not mean simply selling other products. Ask yourself: Is my retention communication relevant? Does it go beyond product and into education and information? Do I have a communication infrastructure in place that is open to listening?
These ten recommendations will greatly enhance a personalized nutrition program, but they require a great deal more effort and investment than a simple survey. Right now, personalization is growing so much faster than the overall supplement market. You can offer a me-too personalization program and win some sales. Or you can stand out in the growing crowd with a program designed to create loyalty. If you’re a brand that is focused primarily on personalization, you have no option but to stand out. If you’re a brand that is using personalization as one of your many offerings, keep in mind that the impact of this program on the rest of your products will be long lasting and could be transformative.