One of the biggest challenges facing natural products companies, according to the Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011, is the perceived confusion in the market – confusion between organic and natural, misunderstanding of what is organic, misinformation about the products and confusion around the value proposition.
With all of the confusion in the market it should not be surprising that 50% of respondents said that price sensitivity is one of their greatest external marketing challenges, and by that they meant justifying their price.
There is not much a single company can do about the confusion between organic and natural or about the misunderstanding of organic. As a marketing consultant for the natural products industry, I have observed that this confusion comes from the self-interest of multiple companies promoting definitions which happen to support their products.
What you can do is control your company’s value proposition.
What is a Value Proposition
At its most basic, a value proposition is where you prove the value of your product in relation to its cost and benefits. It tells you why someone should buy your product or service. It helps differentiate your offerings from the competition, and it makes a compelling argument for why consumers should care.
You can find many examples of value propositions on the web. Just go to the paid ads on the right hand column of Google and click on them. Many of these will go to a specific landing page which will attempt to give you their value proposition as quickly as possible. “Vitamin C on steroids.” “Guaranteed lowest price on Echinacea” “Most Potent Goji.”
These are short term value propositions designed to convert the consumer into a paying customer.
For long term results, however, natural products companies need to define their primary and secondary value propositions, and then make sure that all marketing supports them.
Outline for Creating a Value Proposition
Before you create your value proposition you need to conduct some preliminary research.
1. Competitive Analysis
This entails first determining who your competition is. That should not be limited to companies that make the same products as you but rather it should be broadened to include those companies that provide the same wellness benefits as you do. If your super fruit is an excellent resource for Vitamin C, then you compete not only with other super fruit companies, but also with every other company that offers a Vitamin C alternative.
Once you have your list then go on their websites and try to determine what their value propositions are and whether they succeed in differentiating themselves from other companies. You need to know what others are saying about themselves so when it comes time to craft your value proposition, you can see how it’s different and better than your competition’s.
2. Keyword Analysis
Let’s face it, most people do their research on the web. So what is it that gets them to your website? What are the words that get the best results? Determining and analyzing the top keywords will tell you more about how people are finding you and what words they use. If you aren’t familiar with how to do this, there are many reputable SEO companies that can help. This will have a double benefit for you. It will help you with your value proposition and with your organic search.
3. Customer Analysis
Try to categorize your customers through segmentation and also try to find out why they use your product. If you can interview a cross section of your current customers and ask them why they chose your products, what their main reasons were for doing so and what advantages they perceive about your product compared to your competition.
4. Prospect Analysis
This is similar to the customer analysis except that you are dealing with those who have visited your website but have not purchased or those who buy your competition’s products.
Once you have conducted this preliminary research you are ready to start developing your value proposition.
5. Key Messaging
Based on the information gathered in your research develop a list of key messaging bullets. At first come up with the benefits as you perceive them. It could be how you grow your ingredients or what groups your products support or the efficacy of your product.
Then take this list and see how these bullets match up with what your competition is saying, what your customers and prospects expect, and what people look for when searching for your product’s solution.
6. Value Propositions
From the key messaging bullets and your analysis of how they match up with your research, start crafting 3-5 primary value propositions. Once these are done, compare them once again with the research. Choose 1-3 primary ones and 1-3 secondary ones.
7. Test your Value Propositions
There are many ways you can test your value propositions – focus groups, interviews, alternate landing pages from pay per click ads, internal conversations. But in the end, it is how comfortable you are in promoting your value propositions, because once you commit to them, they will become the essential support for the branding of your products and your company.
Everyone in natural products is enamored by social media marketing. According to the Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Guide 2011, Facebook is the 2nd most used marketing tactic, almost even with websites, and Twitter is #7. Natural marketers use social media for a bunch of reasons – to increase their brand awareness, to improve customer loyalty and drive web traffic, and for research (yup, the #1 type of market research conducted in the past 24 months by natural products companies).
But one of the things that came out from the report was the paucity of Facebook followers for each of the respondent’s Facebook pages. On average there were only 1,898 people who “like” their pages. (This is not all natural products companies, just from those companies that participated in the survey.)
So why so few followers?
Maybe it’s because these companies have Facebook pages like everyone else’s. There is no branding on these pages – just the standard wall. Don’t get me wrong – as a marketing consultant I love Facebook walls. They are the heart of any Facebook company page. But as far as visual branding goes – they only perpetuate the Facebook brand.
I went to some natural companies that have special branded pages and that are using their Facebook more and more like another website.
Tom’s of Maine
Over 260,000 people “like” Tom’s Facebook. When you go to their Facebook page, it’s all Tom’s.
The beauty of this page is that it emphasizes natural beauty and, more importantly, Tom’s brand in relation to that message. It ties in the Sheryl Crow tour and implies that people who “like” Tom’s will have access to the tour and free tickets, if they so choose.
You can also buy their toothpaste. Click on the link and you go to an online store.
So what’s the takeaway from this? Tom’s does not assume you understand their brand or who they support or that you know their messaging. They are still marketing to you. So if people take the trouble to find you on Facebook, give them a big and bold reason to join in your conversation.
Not boasting the same numbers as Tom’s, Stonyfield Farm has over 84,000 people who “like” them. And do they have a branded front page? Why of course.
Let’s break this page down for interaction. First there is a video embedded at the top and it’s about the organic movement. Not about yogurt. It features a short video of someone on the street who tells us how he got involved with the organic movement.
Underneath is a button that allows you to share your story. To do so you go to the www.yourorganicmoment.com site.
Scroll down and guess what. You get rewarded with coupons, free yogurt and groceries – provided that you share your story.
Now for a quick question: Name me some companies that support the organic movement. Or, name me some companies whose brand is associated with organic. I think you get the idea.
Do you think that Stonyfield would have gotten that across as quickly if their main page was their wall?
So the takeaway here is you can use your Facebook main page to build a community while getting across your key brand attributes.
Silk has over 79,000 people who like their Facebook page. Unlike Stonyfield which does not overtly promote its products, Silk is all about Silk (and not milk).
But what it’s really about is making Silk as accessible to the average person. You get a chance to see a series of videos that seem to be made by true users of Silk – kind of like a mash between a video testimonial and ad.
The takeaway is that you can use your Facebook entry page for whatever singular purpose you want. In this case it’s about getting people to feel OK about drinking Silk instead of milk.
Facebook Home Pages
There are not that many natural products companies that have unique Facebook home pages – so the opportunity to stand out early is still here. There are those companies that are doing well without these pages, but they are a minority. Burt’s Bees has a whopping 427,000+ people who “like” them, so you can still build up your Facebook followers without a unique home page.
For most of you out there who are trying to establish your brand, why wouldn’t you have a unique page that can reinforce your brand. It costs you the design of that page and nothing more and it’s pretty simple to do.
One of the perks of marketing in the natural products industry is that you get to feature photos of beautiful plants, succulent foods, happy harvests and healthy looking people. The whole idea is to present and position products that are created by nature, support sustainable practices and provide wellness. And photos are a great way to back up these claims.
Websites for natural products feature countless photos of their natural ingredients. It’s an essential way to show their customers their natural origins.
But here’s the rub: if you’re searching for those photos on the web, you can’t find them unless they have alt tags assigned to them. Google, Yahoo! and Bing are not yet able to identify images by themselves. There needs to be writing attached to them so they can find them: Thus the alt tag.
Web designers and SEO experts know this, but go on many natural products sites and you’ll be surprised how many of their pictures don’t have alt tags or have alt tags that have limited search value.
If you don’t think that’s important, then you’re not optimizing your website for the search engines.
Some key points to consider:
The Alt Tag is NOT a caption. The sole purpose of an alt tag is to help the search engines find you. Think about your keywords and think about how you’d like your photo to attract people. A caption that reads, “Joe and Cindy at the Echinacea harvest” makes sense on the website, but are those critical keywords that your prospects search for? An alt tag for the same photo could be “organically grown Echinacea harvest – Name of company” since more people are likely to search for those keywords than the words “Joe and Cindy.”
Don’t abuse keywords. There is a temptation to stuff as many keywords into an alt tag as possible. After all, you don’t read the alt tags – only the search engines do. Wrong. Too many keywords – otherwise known as high keyword density – can trigger spam filters and that might result in a penalty for your sites ranking.
Alt Tags are more important than ever. Everyone talks about the importance of title tags and H1 tags for search value, but recent research from SEOMoz shows that keywords in the alt attribute (alt tag) are given more weight than title tags and H1 tags, and almost equal with keywords in the body of text. Bing even gives alt tags more juice than keywords in the URL.
Natural Products consumers like photos of natural things. I don’t have stats for this, but with almost 20 years of marketing natural products I’ve noticed that people interested in organics, sustainability and the environment love beautiful photographs of all things natural. A beautiful shot will create an emotional attachment to a food, product or ingredient. When searching, these same people not only look at Google Search – Web but also at Google Search –Images. Having trouble getting on the first pages of the search engines? If you alt tag correctly, you have a much better shot of getting into the first pages of Images (and, if you go onto Images, you’ll note that 10 pages fit on one).
Want more convincing? I suggest you go into your back end analytics and try to figure out how visitors are being directed to your site. See how many come from an image search. If there aren't any or very few, check your alt tags to see if they are keyword optimized. If there are a lot, then chances are you’re doing a great job with your alt tags.
Have any of you out there had organic search success with your alt tags?
I spent two days at this year’s Natural Products Expo East, asking marketers of all different size companies to participate in a benchmark study. The study will hopefully reveal marketing practices for the natural products industry, how marketers divide their budgets, and what works for them and what doesn’t in the world of marketing communications.
Almost all of them agreed to participate (we’ll see how many actually do when they get the email link). Many of them saw the benefit of having such a report, while others shrugged. Even though the information gathered will be completely anonymous (those taking the survey will not be asked for their company’s name), several sited their privacy as the reason for not participating. All of this was to be expected.
There were several marketers who volunteered information – none of which was particularly promising: Information like “We only advertise with the distributors,” or “We don’t do hardly any marketing.” Only a select few mentioned social media (tended to be the bigger companies) and hardly anyone mentioned SEO.
The natural products industry, which has more feel good stories to tell than almost any industry I know, which has the potential to create devoted online communities, still is stuck in point-of-sale and trade-oriented marketing. For so many of the small companies I visited, they still believe that the power of their product will be enough to break through the clutter and find its loyal following.
While that was the case 15 or even 10 years ago, just having a good product that’s new to the market is not going to cut it. There are a few companies that have burst onto the market in the last couple years, and they did it with the combo of new and a concerted marketing effort.
But those little guys in the single booths, I worry about them. Many of them have this mindset that they can’t afford marketing. That’s because they think of it in terms of spending ad dollars. And if they don’t get an immediate bang for their dollars, they stop – and all that precious money they spent is wasted.
If only they put the ingenuity that helped make their products into some creative marketing, they might have a chance. I’m talking about creating an organic web presence, one that combines best practices SEO and social media. I’m talking about using the internet cleverly to get to those all important store buyers. They are right about the fact that they need to get onto the shelves. But it takes marketing to bring their products to the attention of those buyers, and it takes marketing to keep their attention as well. Yes, it will cost money, but unlike advertising it will have a lasting effect. It’s the difference between owning and renting: Advertising is like renting and SEO plus social is like owning. One is a place holder and the other is an investment.
What these small companies have that really differentiates them is their unique story and their honest desire to do good things for people and their health. If their product is all they say it is and if they start building a small community, then they will see steady growth in awareness and loyalty, and that will translate into increased sales.
I can’t wait to see the results for the 2011 Marketing in the Natural Product Industry Benchmark Study when it comes out in January. I’m hoping that it will encourage the smaller companies to commit to smarter and creative marketing. What do you think?