The PowerBar Model
PowerBar, Berkeley, CA, was one of the original pioneers of the "energy bar" category. The bar was created by an elite athlete out of a need for a dense energy source for competing in endurance events, such as the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.
PowerBar's first big break came when the American cycling team ordered 1200 bars for their first ride in the Tour de France. Tearing off a bite-sized piece of a bar wrapped around the cyclist's handle bar with out missing a beat of competition was a huge hit. From that point forward, it was easily understood why professional cyclists were big fans of this innovative product, however, most less serious athletes found the taste and format less appealing.
The "wrap and tear" product format caught on as product giveaways continued at high powered events of competitive runners, tri-athletes and cyclists with sponsorships of over 5000 events and endorsements. The unique 2.3-ounce bar was hailed as an innovative portable delivery of sustainable energy for athletic competition, reaching $10 million in sales over a five-year period. Now nutrition bars have evolved to incorporate convenience, taste and health for all consumers running their own personal endurance events.
Creating an Innovative Marketing Strategy
On the innovation front, several companies are looking to duplicate the bar success story by creating the next "porta-fuel" health format, but the majority are unable to wait five to 10 years before its appeal to a niche consumer target can cross over to the mainstream consumer. Although "small" ideas offer promise, the "impatience factor" forces companies to cast a wider consumer net in an effort to maximize sales that are in line with the economics of a traditional product portfolio. This cycle continues despite continued evidence that new products and new categories such as nutrition bars, yogurt or sport beverages are not created overnight.
Furthermore, adding health features creates complexity for developing new products as most market researchers agree that consumers depend upon a broad array of health products and services based on age, marital status, income, residence, current health status and a long list of other lifestyle factors.
The intricacy of selling health can be overcome when the design toolbox is adjusted or overhauled with the necessary expertise including, but not limited to, being aware of public health initiatives, regulatory design, viewpoints of health professionals and competitive frameworks that reflect the overall product benefit. Otherwise, products are designed so broadly that they become lost on the retail shelf losing momentum for any chance of becoming a market leader. In fact, nutrition marketing leaders have recognized that selling health requires pinpointing benefits to a specific target audience, and in many cases, giving the product away at venues where the benefit is immediately recognized. As in the case of PowerBar, if the core proposition is widely relevant, it eventually can evolve with a more mainstream flair.
New product innovation such as introducing new tastes, textures or healthy ingredients, is often offered up as the way to overcome the "patience factor" for delivering a successful new product that leverages health. Although focusing on product components is important, development team leaders are taking a closer look beyond product features to testing opportunities that identify how the product can thrive in a consumer world filled with endless choices.
Incubating ideas in alternative channels has been one avenue to test new product ideas, but that is not always a clear path forward for some organizations. The medical marketing arena, however, has started to expand upon innovative approaches to test, sample and expose consumers to new health-based products and services, paving the road to a venue that all health leveraged products can utilize.
A New Channel
In 1995, a new concept was launched as a consumer health entertainment event to strategically reach individuals interested in healthy lifestyles. Cynthia Ekberg Tsai, CEO, sums up the Health Expo concept as a persuasive "high touch" marketing channel that educates and entertains consumers about many aspects of health.
In the early 1990's, Ms. Tsai recognized that health marketing leaders fight increasingly hard to break through advertising clutter to get consumers' attention. Now, in 2002, Health Expo has created an extraordinary environment where 10 million consumers are exposed to health-based concepts through interactive displays, celebrity appearances and product samplings. As a result, consumers are more willing to share valuable insights versus the typical market research survey in their own hectic environment.
At Health Expo consumers are relaxed and engaged in a venue where health and fitness trends come to life. This atmosphere prompts consumers to share personal health information with medical doctors and personal trainers, and learn more about healthy eating from professional chefs. In return, the event allows corporations to build brand awareness and directly communicate with end users of their products and services. The venue is designed to give sponsoring corporations a hands-on site to test, measure and develop product lines and marketing approaches for all ages.
This opportunity prompted pharmaceutical companies to jump on board immediately given the benefit of getting their product information directly into the hands of a large number of consumers through samples, screenings and recruitment for clinical trials.
AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb and other pharmaceutical companies have stumbled upon a way to influence consumer prescription and OTC drug choice in a highly efficient manner difficult to duplicate through any other marketing medium-it is not a venue for passing out hundreds of slick product brochures that are discarded in the garbage can.
Through diagnostics, individuals are given a valuable piece of personal information about their own health-bone density, migraine sensitivity or eye health-that pushes them to find out about solutions that support their situation.
Bone density screening can easily illustrate the persuasiveness of this innovative marketing concept. One of the most prominent public health threats being addressed is the prevalence of osteoporosis and low bone mass. In February 2002, the National Osteoporosis Foundation released new figures that showed over 44 million Americans aged 50 and older are estimated to be at risk for osteoporosis and low bone mass while 68% of that segment represents women.
According to public health economic experts, direct medical costs for treating fractures resulting from osteoporosis is $17 billion annually. As a result of this, pharmaceutical companies have learned that if individuals can actually find out their personal bone density number, they will become more serious about taking appropriate steps for improving their bone health status. As an example, at the Texas State Fair last year over 6000 consumers were screened for bone density in 20 days.
In the Health Expo setting, sponsors learned the impact on the follow through for buying calcium supplements, calcium fortified products, and where appropriate, drug prescriptions.
Consumers spend an average of 90 minutes at Health Expo, providing multiple opportunities for 40+ sponsors including the American Cancer Society, Genetech, Schering-Plough, Walking Magazine, ADM, AmeriFit and Heinz. A broad range of organizational sponsors are experiencing first hand the value of making direct connections with consumers communicating either health or product messages in an informal but high impact setting.NW
About the author: Dondeena Bradley is the founder of Conceptual Ventures, a Manhattan, NY-based consulting services firm focused on aligning client strategic initiatives around health with relevant external market influencers. She has broad experience in shaping health-based ideas into relevant business propositions and can be reached at 212 873-5685 or firstname.lastname@example.org.