Marketing advice: Promote long-term gut health goals to improve results and retention

By Olivia Brown

- Last updated on GMT

© Rockaa | Getty
© Rockaa | Getty

Related tags Gut health microbiome

Gut health brands should invest in educating consumers about the influence of diet and lifestyle on microbiome health and emphasize the importance of long-term supplement use to help them achieve results, thereby ensuring customer retention.

Experts in the field of the microbiome discussed the rising spread of miscommunication on the topic during a panel at Probiota hosted by NutraIngredients in Milan (7-9th​ February).

Consumer confusion

Sophie Medlin, consultant dietician and head of nutritional research at Heights, noted the prevalence of patients suffering from gut issues such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, and IBS, with many questioning the array of contradictory advice they have seen online.

“People mostly come to me just for general gut health advice. They’re always asking, how do I know what’s right for me, how do I cut through the noise I hear online,” Medlin said. “They don’t know what to do…

“The work that I’m doing in clinic is very much tailoring the wider public messaging on gut health to individuals to what suits their body and doesn’t affect their digestion and cause symptoms for those suffering from conditions such as IBD,” she added.

Medlin emphasised that it was critical for messaging not to contribute to rising ‘health anxiety’ resultant from fearmongering spread by social media. She said wording should be positive with advice focussing on what people can do and how they can feel as a result.

“The information that’s available is so vast which is what makes it really difficult for people to navigate. They are getting it from so many different places, they just don’t know where to go for trusted information.

“And the information that they’re getting is incredibly conflicting. I think we all have a responsibility to find some centre that we’re giving to people in our marketing communications.”

She added that she often sees patients who have spent large amounts of money on supplements unsuitable for their unique situation, which were purchased as a result of misleading online information.

Federica Amati, head nutritionist at Zoe, drew attention to recent calls for health professionals to produce social media content to help reduce the confusion and spread real science on the topic.

She has therefore joined the TikTok platform in an aim to help spread science backed nutrition advice and dispel some of the nonsense.

"Health care professionals now are very open to working with brands to help amplify the messaging, and to help company's understand the science behind what you're doing to help move the whole field forward," Amati stressed. "So it's a nice bidirectional relationship."

Layering products with lifestyle

Panellists agreed that messaging should also focus on the lifestyle factors that are important for gut health.

“You can’t just take a probiotic within a very restricted diet, with high amounts of stress, with no exercise,” Medlin pointed out.

“Even if lifestyle advice isn’t appealing to marketing and budget targets, we need to go into this with an open heart offering education, in order for people to find our products actually useful and improve long-term gut health,” she added.

She said consumers are often not aware that supplements take a long time to work and will stop taking them after a few weeks. She said further brand engagement would encourage the use of the product over a longer period and increase the likelihood that customer will feel the benefits.

“We also need to be differentiating between general gut health and people that have problems with gut function. So, prebiotics have a great place for people who don’t have a gut function problem, as we know they cause adverse symptoms in these people.

“We know there’s a problem here, as people are promoting such products into the IBS market for example. And then product reviews will be bad. These products should be promoted for people wanting to generally improve their gut health.

Amati added that supplement brands often promote unrealistic health outcomes and products should be layered with health and lifestyle advice.

“We need to market products responsibly and be clear about what they do and not hyperinflate the benefits,” she said. “For example, when products falsely claim they can help people struggling with mental health issues, this is really unfair without addressing other contextual issues and causes more distress to the people that need our help the most.”

Regulatory challenges

Dr. Luis Gasalbez, managing director of Sandwalk, noted the rising prevalence of unauthorised health claims and references to disease across online platforms promoting biotics.

“We need to harmonise the use of claims and the terminology we use, including pre-, pro-, and post-biotics,” he asserted. “And we need to find a way to enforce regulations, as it’s not currently working.”

Alana Kempner, founder and CEO of The Gut Stuff, said that consumers are also unaware of the marketing and claim limitations for biotics, which added to the continued confusion.

“It’s crazy that consumers are looking for probiotic products but aren’t allowed to be sold a probiotic by name,” Medlin added. “But you can add nutrients like vitamins and minerals which you can legally make claims for, and terms like ‘biotic’ for consumers to understand what you’re alluding to.”

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