The Six Participants You’re Not Thinking About

For a dietary supplement, functional food or natural personal care brand to go big, it needs to go beyond transactional relationships. That is, stop thinking and talking about “consumers.”

It’s not about consumption, it’s about participation. It’s about creating relationships through invitation and collaboration — not generating droves of nameless, faceless numbers.

It’s about creating a real, person-to-person dialogue that says, “Come on in and join the movement.” Think about it. A consumer is “one who consumes.” A participant? “One who participates.” Who would you rather have on your side?

So when we move beyond the transactional concept of the “consumer” and talk instead about the participant, we open up the lens we use to measure brand loyalists. I would bet that every natural products brand thinks about its consumers. But, I’m also willing to bet there are other “participants” you may not be thinking about when crafting your messaging and promoting your brand. Here are six you should be thinking about right now:

1 & 2: The Practitioner & The Patient

For those dietary supplement brands in the Direct-to-Practitioner space, there are two major participants — key to brand success is separating the two and speaking to each participant in their language.


The real customer is the Practitioner. He or she is the participant your marketing needs to be focused on. Talk to them like a patient and they won’t hear you. Marketing to the patient to influence the practitioner to buy your brand just won’t work when it comes to supplements. As we’ve discussed in previous blog entries, your brand isn’t what matters to the end user.


And then there’s the patient, otherwise known as the End User, an entirely different category of participant. They’re participating through their practitioner, who they trust to make the right recommendations. You may provide patient-facing materials to help support their recommendations, but ultimately, your relationship to your end user is through your primary participant — the practitioner who purchases your products.

3 & 4: The Retailers


For those natural products brands who rely on retail as a major distribution channel, the Retail Buyer is a key participant. Whether you’re talking about a corporate buyer from a chain, a major distributor, or an owner of an individual storefront, you must meet this participant where he or she lives: justifying your existence on their shelf.  That means communicating the differentiators and your value proposition. Do your homework to discover what keeps them up at night, and show them how your brand understands and can help solve those pressing problems.


For many dietary supplement or natural personal care purchasers, their participation with your brand will start through a recommendation from Floor Staff. While (as we’ve noted) the Floor Staff is not the be-all-end-all gatekeeper they were back in the seventies and eighties, they still have an important role in pretty much every natural products retailer, from large chains like Whole Foods to independents and co-ops. By providing training, education, and resources to inspire the Floor Staff, you’re nurturing a critical participant to influence buying decisions.

The influence of the floor staff cannot be overstated. From our extensive research in the dietary supplement and personal care aisles, we know that the store staff is responsible for 70% of first-time purchases. More than that, they are typically overeducated and underpaid for their positions, and are there because they truly care about helping people and changing the world. Be the brand that can capture their passion, and your opportunities are unlimited.

5: The Sales Rep

Critical to many of the above participants (the Practitioner, the Buyer, and the Floor Staff) is the relationship with the Sales Rep, whether they are an independent sales rep, a broker, or an in-house sales representative. The health of relationships between the natural products brand and the store or practitioner directly correlates to the heath of the relationship between the Sales Rep and the corporate office. Supporting their role through the right materials, the right technology, and the right messaging will have an incredible trickle-down effect on the relationships they hold on behalf of your brand.

6: The Influencer

For a few of you, the Influencer could be a big celebrity endorsement, whether through a contractual relationship or just a lucky win, but is more likely to be a blogger or social media maven with hundreds of thousands of digital followers. It could also be “the media,” a foundation, a group of advisers, or a community of like-minded people. Are you effectively leveraging these potential partnerships — and making sure you are tracking their participation?

By taking the burden off the word “consumer” and putting the emphasis on the more productive “participant,” you’re opening up the landscape of brand participation, and ultimately, finding opportunities to strengthen your brand across many key categories of advocates. You’re creating something that goes beyond the exchange of dollars and cents and gives people a reason to participate. Let them carry the torch, and the passion spreads like wildfire. They will become advocates, enthusiasts, and evangelists for your brand.