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If there’s one industry that many would expect to do well during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be health and wellness. Some — like at-home fitness companies — are finding innovative ways to win with new and existing customers. Vitamin, supplement, and other alternative health and wellness companies are also having to get creative to overcome the challenges unique to their industry. Some of these challenges are similar to what other retailers are facing, like the general reduction in consumer spending on non-essential goods. Other challenges are unique to the industry, like the difficulty in securing raw materials for supplements and the closure of gyms leading to less sales of workout-related products.
Still, not everything is doom and gloom. Some supplement companies are finding ways to do good and win new business, and totally crushing the competition. The playbook they’re using is one that combines more and smarter marketing to take advantage of lower ad rates, community engagement, and giving, and refocusing their messaging on the positive rather than obsessing over the negative.
So while the news may be full of apocalyptic stories about plummeting consumer spending and demand, here is how four supplement and alternative wellness companies are crushing their marketing goals in the age of COVID-19.
Energy shots are often used by people who are out all night partying and want to keep going into the early hours of the morning. Or workers trying to cram 28 hours into a 24 hour day as they put the finishing touches on a big project. Or students cramming for that last exam that’ll let them keep their perfect GPA through graduation. With all of these activities largely on hold for an indefinite period of time, energy shot brands have to look for opportunities.
GoBig Energy, makers of an all-natural energy shot, did just that. Rather than completely reinventing the wheel, they looked at where their market has shifted and found an opportunity to do some good and reach out to a new market. In March, the company announced that they would be donating over 10,000 units of their energy drink to hospital staff and other front-line medical personnel.
Doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff consistently pull 14-hour days providing care and risking their health to help their communities. GoBig saw a way to help these heroes out with an all-natural pick-me-up while also increasing their brand awareness in a fantastic market. Because they provide a product that is useful, the gesture comes across as goodwill rather than a jaded marketing stunt, while still helping the brand expand their reach.
Lesson #1: Marketing a brand around COVID-19 doesn’t have to feel cynical or self-serving so long as there is a good product-market fit around your campaign. Brands that provide real value to consumers that genuinely find their products useful will find that they have a lot more latitude in the kinds of campaigns they can run without turning off customers.
For more on how to keep customers engaged:
Quarantines, shelter-in-place orders, curfews, and other restrictions have been challenging for everyone. In some ways, this restriction on movement and being, and the destruction of daily routines and expectations, is more stressful and worrying to many than the actual virus itself.
Personal vitamin startup Care/Of has been helping people put together unique vitamin sets for their customers for years. These personalized packs were built individually to help every customer take care of their body, and their innovative packaging made a point of trying to help customers care for their minds and their souls with fun little activities, challenges, and to-dos to bring adventure and wellness into each day.
As the COVID-19 crisis took off, the company quickly ramped up their personal wellness messaging to encompass not just physical well-being but mental well-being, too. The message went out across their social platforms in a coordinated campaign: “We can help you physically, but we can also help you cope. Here’s how!” Instagram posts like this one might not be hugely original, but with great design and consistent messaging day after day, the brand saw their Insta followers increase even as other supplement companies were struggling.
Lesson #2: Great marketing doesn’t have to be completely original or incredibly insightful. Sometimes, just being reassuring is enough. Brands need to pay attention to their audience and adjust their tone to fit the mood, and then to maintain that tone and campaign consistently and on a regular cadence. Authenticity doesn’t require breaking new ground, but it does require doing the same thing equally well day in and day out.
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Whenever crises hit, there is an almost instinctual reaction from brands: pull back, button up, and wait to weather the storm. This approach almost always leads to companies adopting a more formal, less personal tone — the fear of being insensitive is so great that the default option is to play it as safe and defensive as possible.
The question, of course, is: Do customers want buttoned up? There hasn’t been a study done, but a new breed of brands are finding success by ignoring this traditional knee-jerk reaction and keeping things less formal and more lighthearted. Take direct-to-consumer (D2C) women’s supplement company Ritual. Like many brands, the company decided to give back to medical personnel, offering them three months of free supplements. Unlike many companies, Ritual started their announcement for the offer with “Hi fam.”
In a world where advertising is pulling back to familiarly conservative tropes about spending time with family and hunkering down for the apocalypse, it’s refreshing to see a brand that is willing to be a little bit cheeky and a little lighthearted.
Lesson #3: If every other brand goes left, the brand that goes right stands out. During crises, many companies become more conservative in their messaging, and taking risks is anathema. But companies that do take those risks — that break from the pack and trounce convention, perhaps by adding some levity when others are going somber — have an opportunity to stand out and make a name for themselves.
On how health and wellness brands can stand out:
Ro started to help men with prescriptions for very personal male problems like erectile dysfunction and hair loss. Since their start, they’ve branched out to also cover women’s health, as well as adding more treatments and daily health supplements to their portfolio.
The big differentiator for Ro from the beginning was their use of impersonal telemedicine that allowed them to take the embarrassment out of a medical assessment, as well as giving them the scale to reach more consumers quicker. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, gave them an opportunity to really test out their system and show the world the power of telemedicine.
Within days of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic, Ro rolled out an innovative telehealth platform for informal, at-home COVID-19 assessments. Retooling their existing infrastructure, Ro was able to very quickly build something that provided immense value to consumers, but that also showed off their ability to function as a platform. The COVID-19 at-home assessment tool showed consumers, and more importantly investors, that Ro wasn’t just a place to buy generic Viagra — they could seamlessly spin-off assessment and treatment options for practically any common medical condition.
For additional reading on Ro:
Lesson #4: Customers aren’t a brand’s only stakeholder. Sometimes, it’s equally important for companies to show off their capabilities to investors, employees, and the world at large. For Ro, it was showing that they could quickly retool their platform to meet a pressing social need. Taking advantage of these opportunities not only brings value and attention to brands, but it can also help them achieve their internal goals, like a larger valuation or an earlier close on their next round of funding.
The novel coronavirus sometimes feels like it’s brought the world to a standstill. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Global crises can be a catalyst, and present brands willing to take a chance with tremendous opportunity. That’s the story of these four brands and the final lesson of this article:
Lesson #5: Supplement and alternative wellness brands that take risks and make big plays now will end up crushing it during, and especially after the COVID-19 crisis.
Last updated on August 16th, 2022.