Becoming a Channel Agnostic Brand to the Omnichannel Natural Shopper

Years ago, when we were engaged for brand consulting with Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, the brand decided to sell beyond its traditional channels of natural food stores and salons and offer its products in specialty beauty stores like Sephora. The strategy was clear: sell to where people look for skin care, and trust that these consumers will become new customers. Fast forward ten years to when another of our clients, Nutiva, was aggressively expanding beyond the natural food channel. Coconut oil was gaining in awareness and consumption, and they wanted their organic coconut oil to be accessible to people no matter where they shopped. It simultaneously achieved distribution through Costco and became the top-selling coconut oil on Amazon.

In both cases, decisions had to be made in how to position these brands. Because they were being sold in new channels, did the positioning and messaging need to change? Was the Costco shopper considering different product and brand attributes than the Whole Foods shopper? Was the Sephora shopper interested in the ingredients in the skin care, or more influenced by the brand image? Did the brands need to have multiple personalities, dependent on the shelves they stood on?

Now fast forward to today. We live in a world of omnichannel shoppers. Mobile device in hand, they search for products and deals, no longer committed to any particular retailer. They can buy their Dr. Hauschka at Whole Foods or at CVS. Gone are the days when natural brands had to make excuses to natural retailers for making their products available online or in Target.

So, what does that mean for dietary supplement, functional food, and natural personal care brands? For us the answer is clear: stay true to your core customers.

Shoppers defined by which channel?

We are currently wrapping up a consumer research study about transparency, and how transparency impacts brand sentiment and purchasing decisions. I’m not going to share the insights until the report is published, but what I will do is discuss something else that emerged from the research.
We asked respondents to identify where they shop for specific kinds of products, like dietary supplements, food and beverage, personal care, and clothing. Not surprisingly, those who shop for supplements in natural channels have a different profile than those who don’t. What is interesting is the natural shoppers’ behavior with regard to clothing differs from non-natural channel shoppers, even though they are not buying clothing in a natural channel.

What that indicates is that the perspective a consumer brings to shopping is the same regardless of the channel they are in. Whether in Walmart or Whole Foods, the individual does not change. They may go to Whole Foods to look for options and they then may go to Walmart to find the best price on that brand, but how they see the brand is the same. That attitude or perspective on the world does not dramatically change when they switch to purchasing different categories of products. Sure, they aren’t looking for nutritional facts on clothing purchases, but many common criteria enter the buying process.

When brands ask us about the Whole Foods shopper or the Target shopper, there is only a small sliver that fit that definition. Most are channel-agnostic, or live in multiple channels.

And that’s a great advantage to natural brands.

You can’t win them all

Even though it’s good for everyone, your dietary supplement, functional food, or natural personal care brand is not for everyone.

So, when you are expanding to different channels, don’t think in terms of changing your brand positioning to appeal to more people. You only risk losing a relationship with the customers you’ve worked so hard to get.

Find those consumers who believe in, behave like, and want the same things as your existing customers, but who don’t shop in your original channels. Like our friends at Dr. Hauschka and Nutiva, making your products accessible to more people in more channels is a good thing. If you stay true to your brand, trust that more of your customers will find you.

But if you don’t know intimately the profiles of your core customers, you are operating at a huge disadvantage in this new omnichannel world.