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The online revolution: How social ‘influencers’ and digital technologies are driving changes in marketing

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

New digital technologies, the rise of bloggers and social influencers, and ever-evolving consumer demographics are driving huge changes in the way nutrition products are bought, sold and marketed, say experts.

Shifts to new technologies and ever-evolving consumer demographics have sparked a revolution in the way functional foods and dietary supplements are marketed and sold in recent years.

Exciting new concepts that did not exist or seemed a ‘pipe dream’ even a decade ago – including the ideas of personal nutrition, online selling, and influencing through social media – are all now woven into the fabric of marketing strategies and commerce in our industry.

Ahead of this year’s Vitafoods Europe, several experts who will be speaking and attending the show shared their thoughts on how the shifting consumer demands and new digital technologies are changing the way the industry works.

The digital world

Jeff Hilton, co-Founder and chief marketing officer at Brand Hive says the importance of web-centric and social media marketing to build awareness, educate consumers and provide an incentive for purchase, cannot be underestimated.

“Increasingly supplements are an online vendor purchase, particularly among millennials and generation X who prefer to use their smartphones for everyday purchases,” ​noted Hilton.

“It will become essential to have a marketing presence in all distribution channels as consumers shop more horizontally across channels rather than sticking to one vertical,”​ he said. “The watchword will be ‘meet your customers where they are’, and increasingly that means online and social media through web forums, blogs and influencers.”

“This vast and explosive digital landscape is the new marketplace opportunity for nutrition products.”

While generations Y and Z are seen as ‘digital natives’ their predecessors are also accessing information about nutrition differently, says Dr Steffi Dudek, senior scientific consultant at analyze & realize.

“It’s not just millennials who live in their own ‘filter bubbles’ and rely more on social media influencers than on traditional channels like TV,”​ she commented. “Boomers also actively use the internet and social media and have access to the necessary information and online sales channels.”

Social influencers

Nicoleta Pasenic, regulatory affairs associate at Pen & Tec consulting noted the considerable power of ‘influencers’ on social media – adding that the trend is perhaps due to lower trust in traditional sources of authority on health.

“Bloggers and social media will continue to be big influencers and drivers of healthy trends,”​ she said. “That’s because consumers relate to their stories more than they do to health experts, who have been known in the past to create confusion around healthy eating.”

Dudek said she believes the digital space gives companies greater freedom to educate consumers without referring to specific products.

“With the strict regulations on consumer information on foods, nutrition companies may have to use alternative information channels to bring their messages across,” ​she noted. “That might be social media, blogs, campaigns, events, and so on.”

However, it is important to note that EU health claims regulations do apply to any kind of commercial information to consumers - regardless of medium.

“Social media influencers are gaining importance, but nutraceutical companies have to educate themselves on how to use them appropriately. If not, they could jeopardise the trust of key audiences, or face legal issues,”​ Dudek added.

What now? Trust Building…

According to Monica Feldman, president of Consumer Health Strategy Inc, a vetting process to ensure consumers can trust what they see on social media could be one way forward.

“In recent years, social media, and the use of social media influencers, has been seen as the new means of marketing nutrition products, often with great results for manufacturers and marketers,”​ she said. “Yet, with most influencers nowadays seeking to make money, the process of vetting who is trustworthy and who isn’t has become a big problem.”

Feldman noted the ‘unbelievable amount of confusion’ and misinformation shared on social media about dietary supplements and nutrition products. 

“A lot of that information is contradictory,”​ she said. “What I envision is the industry getting together to work on some type of certification programme requiring influencers to fulfil certain requirements in their blogs and posts to build trust, enhance transparency and be endorsed by serious industry organisations.”
“You can imagine a consumer seeing a ‘seal of certification’ on a blogger and immediately getting a sense of trustworthiness.”

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