Prescribing DR?1 Jun, 2013 By: Kirsten Saladow Response
Pharmaceutical and supplement marketers say knowing your product and your consumer are the leading indicators on whether response marketing will boost your campaign.
Walking down the medical or first-aid aisle of a drug store, grocery chain or big box retailer can be overwhelming. You’re surrounded by what seems to be millions of bottles all offering wisdom on what can cure ailments from not sleeping through the night to weight loss to acne to allergies.
Consumers often have to weed through all the claims themselves and figure out which bottle of fish oil is best or what drug will really help them sleep through the night — it’s confusing and many people compare the supplement industry to the Wild West.
But Charles Mooney, vice president of marketing at Vitaquest, wants to clear up that misconception. “Let me be clear: dietary supplements are highly regulated. When people say that they aren’t, they are wrong,” says Mooney.
Before You Head to Market, Let’s Talk About the Law
While they aren’t monitored like traditional drugs on the marketplace, supplements still have to live up to their claims. In 1994, congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Under this law, supplements must be: a vitamin, mineral, herb or botanical (excluding tobacco), amino acid, concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, a substance historically used by humans to supplement the diet, or a combination of any of the above. Furthermore, it must also be intended for ingestion in pill, capsule, tablet, powder or liquid form, not represented for use as a conventional food or sole item of a meal or diet, and labeled as a dietary supplement.
Basically, because of the DSHEA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements — but as a category of foods, not drugs. While pharmaceutical companies are required to obtain FDA approval, including an assessment of risks and benefits of putting drugs and products into the marketplace, dietary supplements do not need pre-approval from the FDA before being sold.
“Basically, marketers of supplements have a huge responsibility to make good on their claims. If you are marketing a product, you need to make sure you substantiate these claims before putting it on the market,” says Mooney.
Vitaquest is one of the largest custom manufacturers of supplements in the country (see Response cover story, May 2013). They develop and manufacture cost-effective, market-leading products in every distribution channel, including retail, direct selling, branded, direct-to-consumer (Internet and catalog), professional lines, television shopping, and direct response TV and radio.
Vitaquest and Mooney take product claims very seriously — Mooney warns that if you are developing a product and looking for a manufacturer to be sure that the company you choose is a Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) lab that has an FDA license.
A cGMP lab refers to regulations enforced by the FDA. cGMPs provide for systems that assure proper design, monitoring and control of manufacturing processes and facilities. Adherence to cGMP regulations assures the identity, strength, quality and purity of drug products by requiring that manufacturers of medications adequately control manufacturing operations.
This includes establishing strong quality management systems, obtaining appropriate quality raw materials, establishing robust operating procedures, detecting and investigating product quality deviations, and maintaining reliable testing laboratories. This formal system of controls at a pharmaceutical or supplement company, if adequately put into practice, helps to prevent instances of contamination, mix-ups, deviations, failures and errors. This assures that drug and supplement products meet their quality standards.
Jack Saladow, president of Jack Saladow and Associates, is the lead marketer for several pharmaceutical products, both nationally and internationally.
“There are several differences between working with a supplement and a medical product. For example, if you are working with a statin drug, you cannot legally sell it until it has FDA approval. Approval could take months or years — it really just depends on the product and what you are claiming. Legally, when discussing or marketing these drugs without FDA approval, you have to say that your product is not currently available and is awaiting FDA clearance. When working with a supplement, you don’t have to do that — while the FDA does regulate the supplement industry, the standards and practices are totally different — which is what tends to confuse consumers,” says Saladow.
Essentially, if you claim your product — drug or supplement — cures cancer or causes weight loss or clears up skin, you need to be able to prove it. The way you market your product is different due to regulations and safety standards, but as long as you can substantiate your claims and follow the law, you will likely be free to continue with your campaign.
Now That We Know These Products Are Regulated, Now What?
Considering all the products that grace shelves are regulated in some way and it’s not really the wild west of products, consumers are still faced with an overwhelming amount of choices in the marketplace. They still have to differentiate one brand over another somehow, which is where direct response marketing can really make or break your product. It’s a crowded and overwhelming space, but the right message seems to help drive sales.
In Response’s April issue cover interview with Peter Boutros, founder and CEO of Quten Research Institute in Fairfield, N.J., maker and marketer of Qunol, a CoQ10 supplement, he explains that once he started marketing his product via a DRTV drive-to-retail campaign, it caused differentiation on the retail shelves of Wal-Mart, Costco, BJ’s Wholesale and Walgreens. This direct response marketing strategy has landed Qunol as one of the top five sellers in the vitamin and supplement category at Wal-Mart.
Mooney agrees that direct response marketing can play a huge role in helping consumers reach for your product in retail stores.
“Product positioning is huge, across the board. It really depends on your brand and your customer — sometimes if a product has ‘As Seen On TV’ stamped on it, well, that can hurt your brand. Other times, that’s something that really works for you. You really just need to know your product and your audience before jumping into a particular DR campaign,” says Mooney.
Saladow agrees that knowing your audience well before diving into a particular campaign is crucial.
“I work with a company that created and sells a very effective pain management device. For years, it was only sold to doctors, chiropractors and sports medicine professionals. We decided that we wanted to try to sell them at home for personal use — so we looked into long-form DRTV and found that — for us — it didn’t make sense. A $1,500 device is much different than $12 bottle of fish oil. It was all about knowing who was really going to buy our product and what type of advertising they would need to see in order to purchase our product,” says Saladow.
Mooney says retail placement is another huge factor in any direct-to-retail campaign push. “In the retail world, cost and product placement are important. Just like any product, those two things make a huge difference on selling. The section your product is in is really a big deal — pay attention to whether you are putting your product on an end cap, as a stand alone display, whether it’s pharmacist-recommended, etc. All of these things really come into play when you are trying to make sales,” says Mooney.
When you are standing in a supplement aisle, you are surrounded by what seems like an endless supply of little white pill bottles, herbs in thick brown glass bottles, and boxes upon boxes of products all making different claims.
“This is where you need to make sure you are asking your manufacturer the right questions. You come to a manufacturer for everything from advice on manufacturing needs to innovative formulas to cool packaging that fits your demographic,” Mooney says. “Your product needs to look and feel appropriate to whoever your target audience is. Do your research and find out what point of differentiations are.”
He continues, “For example, if you’re selling an energy product, how many more products like this are there? The question that I always ask my customers is ‘Who are you selling to and how?’ If you know who the customer is, then you can ask more important questions like, ‘Do we advertise on radio, television or print? Does this customer have a moderate income? Is this a men’s product or a high-end cosmetic buyer?’ Then you can add on the layers, the products they see in that space already, and how to make our product different so it stands out in front of the crowd.”
All of the marketers believe that if you believe in your product, can substantiate your claims, and really know who your customer is, then your product has a good shot of doing well — even among many other similar products in the marketplace.
Social Media in the Pharma World
A quick glance at the very popular Proactiv Solution’s Twitter page doesn’t provide a clear answer. While the acne-fighting brand has nearly 35,000 followers, it’s not that huge of a number considering the cult-like following they’ve created.
The truth of the matter seems to be, if you are taking a supplement to clear up your skin, lose weight, sleep better, or help with depression, even if you are a brand loyalist, you might not want to broadcast your ailment to all of your friends on social media.
“While I don’t tend to market consumer facing products, I haven’t found a good use of social media for clients yet,” Saladow says. “Many are eager to jump on board since it’s apparent that social media isn’t going away and is a free way to target your consumer. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you need to know your audience. Just like anything else, social media only works if your audience wants to engage with you through that medium — otherwise, you are talking to yourself.”
While he doesn’t do much social media with Vitaquest, Mooney sees its value. “Social media is a player in this field — it’s grown more and more in the past five years and it doubles in importance every year,” he contends. “I’m particularly interested in celebrity endorsements on social media — or top blogger endorsements. I mean, if Dr. Oz says anything positive about a product anywhere — on his show, on his blog, via Twitter or Facebook — sales just skyrocket. It’s unbelievable.”
By taking a quick look around the social media landscape, from Dr. Oz’s website to Twitter to other “expert” medical bloggers to popular lifestyle bloggers, the potential return on investment is vast. For example, one lifestyle blogger wrote a post about her favorite fish oil and then sponsored a giveaway to readers — her post reached an audience of more than 15,000. She wasn’t paid or technically a spokesperson for the company or a household name, but she runs a blog with a fairly loyal following.
“It’s really incredible. There are ways to target some of these bloggers or celebrities, but some of it is just luck and creating a good product,” Mooney says. “The space is massive and there is potential to make a lot of money without spending much — something that could cost you thousands of dollars in traditional DR advertising could potentially cost less if you find the right people in social media to endorse you. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out within the next couple of years.” ■