Many brands are trying to ride the wave of immunity-boosting. The brands that are even remotely associated with immunity have started claiming immunity-enhancing ability. While the food, health supplement and vitamins and mineral-based medicines were the first to make such claims, the sanitizers and detergents were not far behind. Everyone is in a hurry to make hay while the proverbial sun shines.
A major reality of the pandemic has been the adaptability of companies and brands to make the best of the newfound demand for immunity boosters. However, there are many questions that need answers. Will these brands last beyond pandemic? Will they stay immune to changing times after COVID? Is immunity brand marketing all about the gimmicks of the big spenders? If yes, are the smaller brands with smaller budgets stand to lose?
Thankfully the customer is wise, and marketing gimmicks cannot fool her. She has her own criteria for selection. These criteria are based on her rational and emotional needs and beliefs, and attitudes related to immunity. Based on these factors, she makes her own list of 'Genuine' brands. Once convinced about its benefits, she becomes a strong advocate of the brand and spreads the good word of mouth. Hence, big or small, the brands built to cater to her rational and emotional needs will stay strong in the market even after the pandemic.
Prioritise the Product
The right product that passes the customers' test is the first key to any immunity-enhancing brand. The customer easily sees through if a brand is a genuine immunity booster or is trying to be opportunist by making not-so-believable claims. Any product that was not initially formulated to boost immunity when trying to ride the immunity wave gets instantly rejected.
Ingredients of Interest
Indian consumers have strong beliefs regarding immunity-enhancing ingredients. A product must have one or more such ingredients; if not, the path to success is tough.
During the early pandemic, the sale of Chyawanprash grew by 283 per cent. The category gained traction as amla or gooseberry is known for its immunity-building properties. Consumers naturally gravitated to brands containing amla, turmeric, honey or tulsi due to the traditional belief systems.
Immunity is an intangible benefit. No one knows if the product has enhanced immunity or not. In such a situation, a consumer relies on traditional wisdom. After all, our forefathers have gone through the cycles of infectious diseases. If they have trusted certain ingredients, why not us?
So, the simple formula works. If you have an ingredient that is ayurvedic or natural and is well established in the traditional Indian psyche, the path is easy. If the ingredients are 'allopathic' sounding, the brand needs to put extra effort into building the immunity concept. So, if a brand has an ingredient like biotin or carnitine, it will need to build confidence in the ingredients.
The pharma companies are promoting several micronutrient-based immunity-enhancing brands to doctors. They often contemplate if the same brands can be taken OTC. What works with doctors does not work with consumers. Hence companies need to be extremely careful about Rx to OTC switches of immunity building vitamins and minerals brands.
Strengthen the senses
The brands that make health claims such as benefits in diabetes or hypertension can be tested by measuring blood glucose level or blood pressure. But immunity has no such measurement or biomarkers. Hence it is important for an immunity-enhancing brand to develop a product that is believable to the senses.
For example, a brand claiming benefits of amla must have an astringent taste to it. A brand claiming the presence of ginger must provide warmth. A brand claiming immunity of lemon must have flavor, color and taste that reminds the consumer of the basic ingredients. This way, a brand can reinforce immune-building claims. Yet, it might be easier said than done. A protein bar or a milk supplement must give up on the comforting tastes like chocolate or vanilla. The chocolate, vanilla, banana or mango flavors do not give a sense of immune-building properties.
So, if the marketer decides to call out the hero ingredients on the pack, she must see that the flavour profile matches the key ingredient.
What is true for flavours is true for colors, texture and mouthfeel. Even if the format of a product is a tablet, it must follow the sensory rule to succeed in the market. Limcee is a Vitamin C available in tablet form. The brand has a sour taste of citrus fruit and is available in a color that matches the citrus fruit spectrum. No wonder Limcee is the undisputed leader in the Vitamin C market, leaving white-colored, non flavoured tablet brands way behind.
Today consumers are ready to make a choice between taste vs. efficacy. They are tilting towards efficacy and are prepared for taste compromise. As long as the brand is based on a solid premise of efficacy and the user experience is aligned to senses, customers are ready to adopt the brand.
Having developed the right product in the right format, the next question is, what are the ways to promote it? Which claims matter, and how should they be made?
Credibility of claims
Being honest and credible is the key to promotion. When Lifebuoy sanitizer claimed immunity-boosting and insisted on having proof for it, consumers wondered if they were being taken for a ride.
Influencers play an undeniable role in the immunity market. Consumers often fact-check the claims made by the brand. If the influencers look unconvinced by the claims, consumers quickly drop brands from their consideration set.
To get the influencers on the marketers' side, the brand should either be aligned to traditional beliefs or should be based on scientific evidence.
Voice and Vocabulary
It is not enough to have the right claims. The claims must be communicated in the right voice with the right vocabulary. The words like immunity booster, Immunity enhancers or immunity supporter must be chosen carefully. While kadhas and juices are considered immunity boosters, the milk food additives like Horlicks are accepted more as Immunity supporters.
Place and Platform
Being available at the right place or digital platform is highly critical to a brand. The pandemic has only increased the importance of the right place.
E-commerce sites are the natural ally of immunity booster brands. An educated upper-middle-class consumer often carries out Google searches before deciding on a brand. Thus the 5 A's of the customer journey can be quickly achieved in the digital space. The digital platforms make customers Aware of the brands and enhance brand Appeal. When customers Ask questions, the digital spaces quickly provide answers. When the brands are available on the e-commerce platform, the next A of Action also gets completed in the same space. Thus, consumers get the required satisfaction, and Advocacy is the subsequent outcome.
Hence big or small each brand must embrace digital spaces to aid customer journeys to be successful.
India has a middle class of 99 million households. The pandemic has put pressure on the financial health of people. The pandemic has put additional pressure on marketers to price the brands with caution.
A smaller brand must consider segmentation pricing by positioning the brand for a sharply defined customer segment. The segments can be geographic, demographic or even psychography-based. Brands operating in the urban markets or promoted for the paediatric population often fetch a premium. But the brands that are developed and promoted for smaller markets or the geriatric population need to be economically priced.
Irrespective of their sizes, brands that will stay immune to changes in the market conditions will be the ones that are considered ‘Genuine’.
Gauri Chaudhari, Co-Founder, Brand Innerworld, Mumbai