Powders, promises and patients: why digital communities are key to health brand marketing

Powders, promises and patients: why digital communities are key to health brand marketing

Food used to be such a simple pleasure. But today, we live in incredibly complex and interesting times when it comes to eating. Not only is the world facing an increase in obesity and the diseases which go hand in hand with it, but there is growing concern about where our food comes from, food waste, the environmental impact of our food choices, and how each of these choices affects our health.

It’s little wonder therefore that the last 5 years saw the launch of a rash of ‘clean’ eating bloggers turned food and diet gurus such as Ella Mills, AKA Deliciously Ella, who introduced and pushed the growth of new thinking on healthier ‘clean’ eating and cooking. The key to their success is – or possibly was – their ‘back to basics’ natural approach. With a focus on using alternative ingredients to cook in a ‘healthier’ way, these influencers encouraged a move away from consuming processed foods and increased awareness of what is in the food we eat.

Powders, promises and patients: why digital communities are key to health brand marketing

But today, the backlash against clean eating and wellness diets is in full swing and a curious new food trend is taking over with a science-based approach.

Touting health innovation as the solution, total meal replacement products such as Huel, Saturo and Soylent are the new big thing. But don’t confuse these new players with diet milkshakes; these products are marketed as a scientific solution to modern life and touting sleek creative credentials to match.

In a relatively short space of time, a number of competitors have appeared in this area. With their focus on health, lifestyle and wellness, they target health conscious, time poor individuals, who are aware of their personal impact on the world. These hi-tech, science-based products are the very opposite of the food blogger’s holistic natural approach – and they are fuelling a new multi-million pound industry.

Goodbye wellness, hello science

All lifestyle brands have one thing in common: creativity. The spark, the idea, the thing that separates them from the pack and makes them come alive. The top lifestyle brands know that succeeding isn’t just about creating the ideal product, but delivering the lifestyle that people crave too.

Where wellness bloggers engaged followers with their glowing skin, tales of banished illnesses, enviable physiques and piles of shiny fruit and veg, the hi-tech food companies have a tougher sell on their hands. There is very little that is natural about these products – micronutrient blend anyone? – and selling beige pea protein powder as your customer’s route to health is an unenviable task.

With such a task on their hands, how are the total meal replacement leaders managing to convince their audiences that all you need is nutrients?

Powders, promises and patients: why digital communities are key to health brand marketing

Stop selling products, start creatively marketing a lifestyle

While health and wellness products used to be niche, hidden in local health food stores and specialist retailers, they are now entirely mainstream. You can even pick up a bag of protein powder alongside your weekly shop in most UK supermarkets.

And with the normalisation of health foods, comes the idea of positive nutrition as a lifestyle choice. This makes meal replacement products like Huel ripe for a lifestyle marketing approach. It takes a nutritional powder all the way from the lab to the desks of overstretched workers dealing with a long commute, few breaks, and a desire to stay in control of their health and environmental impact.

Promoting a lifestyle – and an unshakable belief in the power of the self – is therefore the driving force behind ‘positive nutrition’ brands success. Deciding to not eat food, rather swapping it out for replacement shakes is a serious dietary commitment after all!

Soylent was the first company which came up with this type of meal replacement innovation in 2013. Rob Rhinehart, one of Soylent’s founders, wanted to develop a way to drastically change the way he ate in order to maximise his efficiency. Working on the hypothesis that food can be simplified for the better, Rob devised a formula for optimum chemical nutrition. Sounds delicious!

What’s really interesting is his approach – not only did Rob come up with the experimental idea, he also decided to blog about his month-long liquid-only diet. It seems so obvious now, in the world of always-on marketing and the posting of almost daily branded content, but the blog – and by extension the product – was a groundbreaking success. So much so, that a subsequent crowdfunding campaign raised $3 million in pre-orders in a matter of weeks, smashing its initial target in hours. That’s funding from over 6000 people who also wanted to ditch food in favour of the ‘future of nutrition’.

With the creation of Soylent, Rob Rhinehart – an overextended tech worker in Silicon Valley – demonstrated a new way of dealing with the problems of modern living. He also kickstarted a new, lifestyle-based approach to marketing health and wellness products.

Keep it simple

Today, Soylent, Huel and Saturo all have the same simple ethos. They’ve created products which include all these selling points; vegan/ vegetarian friendly, sustainable, minimal wastage, nutritional complete, cost effective, storage space and time saving. These products are solving all the the problems that the young modern consumer worries about; health, nutrition, time, climate, food waste, housing. Just check out the launch of Soylent’s Innovation Lab in New York where they talk about building a global community and ask how we will nutritiously and sustainably feed 9.7 billion people by 2050.

These companies demonstrate the ease of using their products, making this lifestyle achievable to anyone. A drink only takes one minute to make, there’s barely any waste or washing up, they are easy to store and delivered right to your door on a subscription basis. There is no fuss. You don’t even need to think about food, just gulp it down whilst completing another daily task. If I was a 25 year house sharer in central London working 60 hours a week, commuting and trying to fit in the time and expense of a social life, I could definitely see the appeal.

These products are not off limits to anyone. This positive nutrition lifestyle is inclusive and anyone can be part of it – it’s the ultimate egalitarian product.

Community as consumer

This strong sense of community is naturally important for health and wellbeing. We all want to be part of something positive and inspiring, a community that helps us to overcome our problems.

The happy, healthy trusted community is promoted through these brands’ social media feeds, fully immersing customers in the lifestyle and inspiring a high level of retention and loyalty.

Powders, promises and patients: why digital communities are key to health brand marketing

Their customers know the company which fuels their lifestyle in an intimate way. These brands have made it possible for their consumers’ to be the best they can be, not just for themselves, but for the greater good. It’s the whole package.

Simple, stylish science

UK based company Huel – a portmanteau of the words human and fuel – simplifies the science behind nutritional replacement in a clever brand name and creative design which shout no fuss. Food is fuel, no more. But it’s also the doorway to a glamorous lifestyle if Huel’s social feeds are anything to go by. And it’s convincing; at least I’m convinced. I can see how you can be drawn into this luxury – and stylish – club. You can be just like these exciting, health conscious individuals, living their life to the full whilst knowing they are making a difference in a wider sense.

You only need to watch a ‘Huel Tube’ video, or look at their Instagram account to get to see how easily Huel shakes fit into your life, whilst including plain shots of text (such as ‘100% complete nutrition’, ‘save time’, ‘save money’ etc.) popping up, changing between black and white text and background; complemented with punchy, energetic music.

In October 2018, Huel launched their first TV ad. It’s simple, yet striking and energetic, focusing on high energy sports backed by high-energy beats. These ads are less about the product itself, and more about the product in your life; the imagery even flashes by you from inside the Huel bag.

In fact, Soylent, Huel and Saturo have all gone down the route of sleek, simple, no fuss branding which reflects how easy it is to use their product/ follow their lifestyle, especially for time-poor consumers. Their simplicity keeps their market wide and open to many to try, for those who wish to enter the science-led modern way of living.

From consumer-centric to patient-centric

Creativity is what creates the story and deliver brand appeal. It’s the foundation of that all important community, which sells the brand and brings it to life.

The key to successfully turning a product into a lifestyle is to focus on the problem which is being solved by the creation of that product. The product should be able to be fully immersed into the lives of individuals and highlight how it can positively affect every aspect – or a major aspect – of their life. And if this approach works in the wellness sector, can it be applied in an area where wellness is an all but impossible dream?

Looked at from the healthcare brand communications perspective, this approach has obvious applications in the area of chronic diseases. Patient communities have naturally grown up around chronic diseases, providing support, understanding, and making sufferers feel less alone by delivering that sense of togetherness. Although not a desired lifestyle, it’s theirs and within this community, they share with others on an emotional level.

Powders, promises and patients: why digital communities are key to health brand marketing

Becoming patient-centric means putting the patient first – the very essence of the lifestyle marketing approach. In order to put the patient first, healthcare brands must connect with the right communities and avoid thinking about product, instead considering the lifestyle. Share relatable content that demonstrates a true understanding of the physical, mental and social impacts of living with a chronic disease.

By combining the notion of consumer marketing and lifestyle marketing, you can engage, empathise and demonstrate expertise within a community to help its participants – your patients or consumers – live their best live.