In the world of dietary supplements lurks a sinister economic truth: science does not matter.
Do I have your attention?
Of course science matters. It’s what elevates the alternative and integrative healthcare movement. Scientific rigor is what makes it possible to have advances in product innovation, manufacturing capabilities and clinical discoveries. It’s what ensures good clinical outcomes. To the integrative healthcare practitioner, it’s also the cost of entry — not, as so many supplement companies think, what defines their brand.
To the integrative healthcare practitioner, it’s the cost of entry — not, as so many supplement companies think, what defines their brand.
The fact that this scientific rigor isn’t what defines their brand is a hard pill for many companies to swallow. These companies have invested an immense amount of energy into understanding and developing new products. They’ve done studies to show greater bioavailability, efficacy, mechanism of action and safety than their competitors. Despite these efforts, other brands can make similar claims. To customers who are untrained in a particular scientific or research discipline, these comparable claims from brands may make it difficult to distinguish between products.
Science as the cost of entry does not just apply to dietary supplement brands that sell through retail outlets. It is also the case for those companies who sell directly to practitioners.
What Trumps Science?
If the science behind a product line is just the cost of entry, what does a supplement brand need to do in order to get the attention of their practitioner customers? Our experience working with leading dietary supplement brands across the integrative healthcare space has taught us that the best way to cut through the noise is by developing a communications strategy that focuses on philosophical alignment.
We’ve conducted market research for our client, Standard Process, and highlights from two of the studies (one on 950 U.S. chiropractors and the other on over 1000 U.S. acupuncturists) have been made public through MPA Media webinars. One of the findings is that successful chiropractors were significantly more likely to report that their practice is informed by philosophical or spiritual beliefs.
What this indicates is that beliefs matter to these practitioners, and companies that connect or align with these beliefs have a point of difference from those that don’t. What’s important to note is that these are successful practices, and successful practices are good customers for supplement companies.
Time and again, we’ve heard stories from practitioners about the impact that philosophical alignment has on purchasing.
Focusing more on philosophical alignment than scientific superiority is also a good strategy for generating a more loyal customer base, because although philosophical positions can evolve, they are generally far less fickle than the whims of the most recent scientific study.
In the end, it’s human nature to listen to people who you have an affinity with — and doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, naturopaths, herbalists, and nutritionists are people first. They may be trained in their profession, but they react to communication and emotionally connect with brands in much the same way we all do.
Tough Pill to Swallow
It can be difficult for organizations to move the focus of their communications away from just their “science-backed” products. When it comes to promoting a brand in the ever-growing direct-to-practitioner market — a market that is becoming more and more competitive each year, a market where everyone has a new “groundbreaking” study to support their product — the way to differentiate and create a loyal customer isn’t with more studies or more complex science, but by understanding a simple principle: philosophical alignment trumps science.