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Looking Beyond Generations for Consumer Insights on Supplements

Supplements Supplements

Although you’ve probably heard otherwise in the media, let’s start with the obvious: not all Millennials are alike.

And yet, time and time again we are asked by dietary and herbal supplement companies, “What do Millennials want?” This question often comes from the mindset that Millennials act as a single group. It’s like asking, “How do men think and behave?” or “How do Americans think and behave?” as if we all think and behave the same way and want the same things.

So just to be clear: not all Millennials are alike, and the same applies to Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. As for Gen Z, well—of course, they are not all alike.

That said, there are commonalities within generations that have to do with a number of cultural and socioeconomic factors. For example, our latest research, which included more than 2,000 U.S. supplement users, indicated that Millennials buying supplements at a store were far more likely to use their smartphones to gather information than were Baby Boomers.

But their being more apt to use their smartphones only indicates how they gather their information, not what they look for or what motivates them to actually buy a supplement. Are they interested in the same things as the Gen Xer who is talking to the store staff or the Baby Boomer who is using his or her bifocals to read the label?

Our dietary supplement clients often share previous research with us, which is typically a type of cross tabulation analysis that looks only at the relation between two variables. This process yields a less dimensional understanding of consumer behavior. If we were to cross tabulate by age, we would see that Millennials use their smartphones. What we would not see is the correlation between high involvement with supplements and the use of smartphones or whether those who buy the most supplements conduct more smartphone research than those who are less engaged.

To address the weaknesses in these types of generational assumptions, at Pure Branding we are proponents of attitudinal and behavioral segmentation to identify motivations beyond age. We utilize a scientific process to determine those segments.

Supplement Attitudes and Behaviors Are Cross Generational

We recently conducted a rigorous, census-balanced study of more than 2,000 U.S. supplement consumers to inform our new Supplement Brand Accelerator, a predictive consumer research tool that our supplement brand clients utilize to fuel growth by identifying brand direction, consumer targets and new areas of innovation.

What we have seen over time and confirmed in this most recent study is that, of course, age impacts the sales of specific types of supplements. For example, younger people have increased interest in supplements that affect their energy levels, both physical and mental. They are also looking for products that help with anxiety and stress. This is not news to anyone in the supplement industry, nor is the fact that the older you get, the more you look for age-related solutions. These are needs that are being fulfilled by specific solutions, and purveyors of supplement brands have to know what age ranges are most receptive to specific types of products.

But needs-based solution marketing is not the same as brand marketing.

In the supplement world there are many products that consumers perceive to be commodities even though every brand will say their turmeric, omega, vitamin C or CBD is the best. What, then, motivates a consumer to desire one brand over another? Is it price alone or other factors?

What we know from our latest segmentation research is that consumers are fickle when it comes to brand loyalty. Switching brands is a common occurrence regardless of generation. What causes that switch differs greatly among people, and segmentation reveals these distinctions. Although pricing is always a high motivator for switching, those who are most involved with supplements are actually the least likely to be price sensitive. They are more likely to be influenced by recommendations from people they trust, through social media and in-person relationships with health care professionals, family and friends. Age has nothing to do with it.

Our research also investigated consumers’ attitudes toward both the food and medical systems. Participants were asked how they would describe those systems, their options ranging from excellent to extremely corrupt and harmful. Again, we saw that age is not the factor that influences their opinions. Of two of the most engaged segments, one has a high opinion of both systems while the other segment has the lowest opinion of both. In the three segments that have the oldest average ages, respondents’ opinions differed as well. These beliefs are clearly not generational.

Why does this matter? How a brand positions itself in relation to both of these systems is often key to connecting with those segments they most want to reach. Actively criticizing conventional methods of farming may appeal greatly to one segment but repel another. And although promoting organic without maligning conventional agriculture may appeal to another segment, it may lack resonance with the segment that wants a more activist approach toward conventional practices.

Your Grandmother’s Supplement Brand

We live in a world in which we all have access to the same information. However, the moment in time when people actually access this information will influence how they relate to it. For example, Baby Boomers were there when the Beatles first burst onto the scene. Millennials grew up with Beatles music. Both are aware of the Beatles, but their relationship with Beatles music is different.

The same can be said for dietary and herbal supplements. The legacy supplement brands that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s were exciting to those discovering herbs and supplements for the first time. However, Millennials might see them as the brands their parents bought for them when they were growing up. For those trying supplements for the first time, these brands may be seen as reliable and safe but not exciting.

It is understandable why legacy supplement brands are concerned about their relevance, especially as their core ages out and Millennials begin to grow older and look for condition-specific supplements. The immediate reaction from these mature brands is determining how to appeal to younger generations.

What our recent research told us is that Millennials are more prominent in certain segments than others. However, the segments in which they are most prominent are different from one another. One segment wants a brand that establishes the definition and standards for supplements. Another segment is most interested in a brand that uses only the purest ingredients while supporting the environment through its own practices. And another segment looks for a brand that is transparent in all it does to assure validation of quality, efficacy and trust.

A legacy brand might be tempted to change its messaging in an effort to appeal to these younger consumers. What the segmentation shows is that once you determine who your key target segments are, you know what will gain the greatest traction with people of all ages within that segment. If a brand wants to appeal to a target segment and its current messaging does not, then change is in order. But what if the core message is still the right one, and the brand feels it is not reaching younger people? This is where other aspects of branding come into play: brand voice and new product emphasis. The content can be consistent, but tone and visuals can change. We are not talking about pandering, but connecting.

Market Sizing

Our recent segmentation research was based on a census-balanced respondent pool that considered age, gender, location, income and ethnic diversity. Of the U.S. adult population, 72 percent use or purchase supplements, and those consumers can be categorized into six distinct segments. Our research determined the population size and dollar share of each of these six segments so that brandholders can determine which segment to focus their efforts on. This is important because a brand could appeal greatly to a segment that is large in population but actually smallest in terms of dollar share.

Segmentation is also helpful in terms of generations. For example, our segment with the youngest average age actually represents only 10 percent of the dollar share of supplement purchases. It would be a mistake to appeal primarily to this segment because of their youth when appealing to another segment would reach a broader market while also appealing to younger people.

Still Think All Millennials Are Alike?

Of course you don’t. The thing about supplements is that they are not a frivolous product category. They are a category that helps the health and wellness of millions. As people age, their needs change, and the way a brand is marketed today will influence whether people stay with the brand tomorrow. Finding what resonates across generations while connecting to each generation is how to build supplement brands that stay relevant and that consumers love. NIE

Yadim Medore, Founder & CEO of Pure Branding, has led business-transforming research and strategy for dozens of leading dietary supplement brands including Gaia Herbs, which led to 3x growth in four years; MegaFood, which helped double sales in two years and led to acquisition by Pharmavite; and the digitally-native personalized nutrition brand Persona which was acquired by Nestlé Health Science in August 2019. Pure Branding’s Supplement Brand Accelerator is a quick, cost-effective and predictive custom research tool designed to fuel growth for both legacy and emerging dietary supplement brands. More information at: www.purebranding.com/accelerator.

Albion Minerals®