Let’s take a trip down memory lane, all the way back to 1990. Step into the office of Marcus Welby, MD, the quintessential American health care practitioner.
Note that Dr. Welby is an MD, expert in disease management. Confident in his knowledge of surgery and pharmaceuticals, he disparages the use of most vitamins and supplements. Ask about holistic therapies or botanicals or integrative medicine, and he quickly dismisses them as quackery or witchcraft.
Fast-forward to the present. Today, more than 13% of American health care practitioners dispense supplements. Nearly 90% take supplements themselves. Almost eight in ten recommend them to their patients.
Of course, all of this activity generates a lot of money. The health care practitioner channel is one of the fastest growing in the industry, racking up more than $2.5 billion in annual sales, according to National Business Journal estimates. For the last two decades, sales growth has been averaging a steady 8-10% annually. Across all market segments, practitioner sales comprise more than 10 percent of all supplement sales.
Why all the change? How did such a quirky, fringe industry quickly become so mainstream? There are several key factors:
- Growth of consumer desire for natural options
- Growing concerns around pharmaceuticals and surgery
- Increased professionalism within the supplement industry, including greater reliance on science and clinical data
- Practitioner need for increased revenue, due to declining insurance reimbursements
Perhaps most important of all, today practitioners realize that their patients are going to take supplements no matter what, so they might as well recommend professional-level products that offer the highest quality, efficacy and safety.
To be sure, the channel’s growth has generated loads of capital and excitement. But caveat emptor: This is not a dabbler’s market. While it holds tremendous potential, it is fraught with complex economic and political dynamics.
So what should industry players know before delving into the murky world of health care practitioner marketing?
- Speak to practitioners in their own language. As Erik Goldman, the editor of Holistic Primary Care, likes to say, “A massage therapist, a doctor of oriental medicine and a cardiologist are very different breeds, with very different needs.” In order to communicate effectively, take time to understand the unique cultures, preferences, educations and sensibilities of your audiences.
- Ensure your products are proven by science and supported by data. This is important for all healthcare practitioners, not just allopaths. Unlike decades past, today all types of healthcare practitioners, including naturopaths and homeopaths, are routinely demanding randomized, placebo-controlled human clinical trials and other quality data. It’s not an option – invest in it.
- Convey complex data simply. Successful supplement brands are proven by science and supported by data – sometimes tons of it. It’s essential to have professionals on your team who are adept at understanding clinical trials, reviewing market trends, and boiling down consumer research.
- Ensure your messages convey the safety and efficacy of your products, while staying within the boundaries of the law. That requires expertise in structure-function claims, regulations such as DSHEA, and understanding of the complex and ever-changing issues that comprise the alphabet soup of the FDA, FTC, cGMPs, etc. Not everyone has this expertise. Get someone on your team who does.
- Provide tools for time-pressed physicians. Abstracts, executive summaries, links, webinars, slideshows, blogs, and in-person training can help health care practitioners quickly grasp your technical messages, and effectively pass them along them to their patients.
- When promoting your products, target carefully. Large media list aggregators like to boast of their ability to “attract thousands of eyeballs.” But a careful look at their lists may uncover mismatched and outdated information. Rather than taking a gamble on purchased lists, rely on experts who have long-standing relationships and real, live contacts in the industry.
To generate healthy buzz (and protect your bottom line while you’re doing it), you need a marketing partner who understands the issues, values, challenges and concerns of health care practitioners, natural businesses and health-minded consumers. At BrandHive, we have 15-plus years doing just that. BrandHive clients benefit from our long-standing relationships and experience crafting engaging messages that hit targets. Contact us if we can help you: www.brandhive.com.