Startup advice: Keep brand purpose consistent, even during a pandemic

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Joe Welstead
Joe Welstead

Related tags Startup company Innovation Entrepreneurship

“April was our biggest month ever for online sales and we didn’t change our marketing at all throughout the pandemic. I feel brands are sometimes way too quick to react.”

These are the words of Joe Welstead, a former professional swimmer and founder of the successful UK-based startup named 'Motion Nutrition'​, specialising in nootropics and sports nutrition supplements.

His five-year-young company, which NutraIngredients first wrote​ about early last year, has enjoyed increasing sales over the last year thanks to new listings in Holland and Barrett and Boots but sales jumped significantly after COVID-19 hit Europe as customers went on the search for natural products that would help ease anxiety and aid sleep.

One of the products in the nootropics supplements range in named 'Unplug' - this product offers a 'soothing blend' of herbal extracts and minerals including Iodine to support the nervous system, Zinc Picolinate, which contributes to the


protection of cells from oxidative stress, plus Magnesium, Zinc and Iodine for cognitive and psychological support.

But the entrepreneur says he made a conscious effort not to exploit the health pandemic.

“Here’s what we didn’t do:  We didn't scrap together any bogus immunity products, we didn't advertise made up immunity claims, we didn't really talk about covid at all, we didn't send a 'we're here for you' heartfelt email from the CEO, we didn't send any unsolicited working from home advice, and we didn't really mention our ‘purpose’.

“Instead of all of that, we focused on what we actually do: Help you stress less, sleep deeper and feel better. Our reviews are up, customer satisfaction is great, social proof is building.”

Welstead explains how he and his marketing team chose their path through this period.

“We didn’t want to suddenly start selling an immunity focused product because A, no-one was sure what ingredients would actually have a positive effect in terms of this virus and B, it didn’t make sense to our long-term roadmap.

“Our focus is on energy level, hormonal balance, sleep, stress, and eventually, longevity. We want to stick to those areas and be experts in those areas."

The biggest issue the company faced during the height of lockdown, was Holland and Barrett and Boots both ran out of stock and had to stop selling the product online while they concentrated on essentials.

Thankfully, Motion Nutrition's own website and Amazon's sales increased, which more than made up the numbers.

Mind-food Marketing

Welstead points out that one of the keys to his brand’s success from the off has been their ability to concentrate marketing messages on the benefits of products, as opposed to the ingredients, many of which are still poorly understood by the everyday consumer.

“The word ‘nootropic’ is very small on our packaging. We are more trying to convey the feeling you get from the product rather than talking about the nootropics.

“99% of consumers still have no idea what a nootropic is. Even if you were to ask 100 of our customers, many may not have even registered that it is a nootropic. They just want something that will help with their stress, anxiety an sleep and they know that it’s natural, rather than drug.

“Customers buy our products because of the effect they get from it.

Our focus is not on niche biohacking, but on wide audience applications: how can we help you feel less anxious, focus easier, enjoy a sense of flow in your work, and sleep like a baby at night.”

And this marketing has hit the right note with shoppers, especially women aged 30-50. Because the product has hit a chord with this market, the team has taken inspiration from this audience for future innovations.

Welstead explains: “A lot of customers have asked if they can give these products to their children and that’s not something we recommend at the moment because the mineral dosage is a bit high but the plant extracts are perfect for them and, in India, are given to children from a very young age. So we'd like to create product especially suited to younger consumers.

Nootropics supplements range

“We’ve also had a lot of customers inform us that they’ve given these products to their parents and that they’ve benefited from them so this is another demographic that we would like to create specific products for.”


In order to provide more of a personalised service that goes beyond the products, the entrepreneur has also created an online sleep quality quiz for those who purchase the Unplug product in an aim to create solid data of his products' efficacy and to provide personalised sleep aid advice.

So far, the product seems to be working well and, eventually, Welstead hopes to be able to use the data in future marketing efforts.

"For now, we're in the first phase of data collection and we have more than 12,000 respondents. We've also tracked users for the first month of taking Unplug and had fantastic results: by week four, users were falling asleep 52% faster and rating their sleep quality as increased by a third."

He explains why this two-way engagement is important for ensuring his products can work their magic.

"If done well, extra engagement and personalisation can be really valuable for the consumer as well as for the brand. For instance: we provide a fantastic supplement to help with relaxation and sleep - but that's only one facet of the problem: if you drink coffee till 6pm, your sleep will be terrible either way.

"So we also provide guidance on sleep hygiene and sometimes even recommend other products, such as the Lumie bodyclock, to use alongside Unplug. As a company, it can be easy to focus too much on data collection and forget what the customer gets out of it.

"We try to flip this and ask ourselves: how can we help our customers get more out of our product? The result is we can collect data in a way that truly serves our customers and grow from fantastic brand partnerships."


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