Selling Wellness to Consumers

March 1, 2006
Multi-dimensional marketing provides the healthiest fit.

As consumer markets continue to change in the health and nutrition business, St. Petersburg, Fla.-based HealthFocus International is advising marketing and advertising professionals to rethink the way they are currently marketing their products.

President Linda Gilbert predicts the marketing trend for the future is "multi-dimensional marketing," and emphasizes that "benefit-based" communications are more compelling for shoppers than "need state" or "condition-based" communications.

"When companies go out and start defining their target based on ‘need state,' it can put their thinking in a box," says Gilbert. "It isn't consumer friendly. Consumers don't want to be defined as, ‘I'm diabetic,' or, ‘I have high cholesterol.' In fact, consumers tend to make healthy choices because they want to do so, not because they need to do so."

To assist marketing/advertising professionals stretch their thinking about health and nutrition product positioning and communications, HealthFocus identified seven benefit platforms - prevention, performance, wellness, nurturing, cosmetic, pleasure and natural. They are universal for shoppers, so any health or nutrition product could be positioned against one or a combination of them. "We find a combination of two or more is the most compelling to the consumer," says Gilbert emphatically.

Prevention concerns health management and reducing the risk or impact of a health problem. Performance, on the other hand, is about health enhancement. "That translates to achievement, accomplishment and getting the most out of life," she says. "Fitness fanatics fit here, but they are a tiny piece of it. When we talk to moms, they tell us performance for them means, ‘When I read my daughter a bedtime story, I'm not the first to fall asleep.'"

Wellness is the most holistic - nourishing the mind, body and spirit. "It's a combination of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health," she explains. "People can have a serious health problem, and still tell us they have a high level of wellness."

Nurturing includes care giving (for a spouse, parent or children) and about the sense of gratification for the caregiver. "Look at the General Mills Cheerios campaign, where they've nicely spun this platform around from kids to their parents - it's perfect," says Gilbert.

Cosmetic is about looking good to feel good, and it's a hot category right now. "It's not about matching up to some icon of what I'm supposed to look like," explains Gilbert. "It's about being my own personal best and one's sense of self-esteem. We find seriously obese people relate to this platform, and it is equally important to men and women. For women, it's internally driven, intrinsically, how I feel about myself. For men, it's externally-driven, how others perceive me."

Pleasure is about making healthy choices you enjoy. "That's for consumers who eat whole grain bread because they like it better than white," says Gilbert. "This platform, which appeals to consumers of cheese, wine and chocolate, is about finding the intersection of healthy and indulgent."

Natural is about purity and simplicity and connectedness to your world. "An example is Wheaties, one of the original performance foods, and the breakfast of champions," says Gilbert. "When they qualified for the whole grain and cancer claim, they layered it into their communication to consumers, combining both nurturing and prevention benefits."

Gilbert says these platforms can be looked at as a toolbox, and she cautions marketers to watch out for "one size fits all" nutritional advice. She stresses there is no such thing as an average shopper when it comes to the health and nutrition market. Each shopper has unique needs based on her age, physical condition, lifestyle and other social and cultural factors. Companies need to develop marketing, communication and product strategies that meet these individual needs.

"When Tropicana introduced its calcium-fortified juice, they qualified for an osteoporosis health claim," says Gilbert. "The easy answer was to position the product against prevention. But they had a much bigger market if they combined both wellness and performance and talked about flexibility and strength that comes from having strong bones. Playfulness and quality of life is a much better message to associate with your brand," she adds.

"When we first started working on this more than 10 years ago, most products were positioned against prevention or performance," says Gilbert. "They were missing this whole other universe. It's not just about fitness and disease prevention. What about looking good and feeling good? That's what led us to develop these other platforms that seem the most universal." HealthFocus helps food companies target by recruiting consumers that respond specifically to one or more platforms, for example Nurturing.

How do you reach the most unmotivated wellness consumers? Gilbert calls them Strugglers, who yoyo into and out of healthy eating. "We typically find that pleasure or nurturing benefits are the most compelling to them, but they compromise on taste, enjoyment and satisfaction," she points out. "They also want to give their kids or the other people they take care of a healthier start. Unmotivated shoppers, who don't think about health at all, often make weight-loss choices driven by vanity. That cosmetic platform can be a compelling one for some of those folks."

"When thinking about their consumer target, it is helpful for marketers to consider which benefit platforms will create the largest volume opportunity and which benefits will be most compelling to their target," says Gilbert.

It's becoming more and more important to find ways to connect with consumers on more of an emotional or lifestyle level. "Too often, we let science and the nutritional dimensions define a products' positioning," she says." I think that's a big mistake. If your products or communications aren't making people happy in some way, you are going to lose them."

For more information, contact Julie Johnson, marketing manager, at 727-821-7499, [email protected], or visit

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