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?