Unlocking the DSHEA Conundrum with Transparency

As many of you who follow us know, we have written a lot about the value of transparency for herbal and dietary supplement brands (including research reports and white papers). We have been invited to speak at many industry conferences on the topic, and we have guided clients with their transparency programs.

That transparency equals efficacy in the mind of the consumer is a powerful insight in an industry where few brands can afford to invest in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

So it may come as no surprise that we know that having a thoughtful approach to transparency is a given for any high-quality supplement brand. However, what we discovered in our Supplement Consumer PureSegmentation™ Research is that transparency can be the key to unlocking the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) conundrum: How can you tell consumers about the efficacy of your supplement without stating it explicitly?

In our Supplement Consumer PureSegmentation™ Research, we asked a number of transparency questions to our 2,129 census-balanced adult supplement users across the United States. We asked them about the importance of transparency in relation to brand consideration. We asked them which practices of an herbal and/or dietary supplement company should be the most transparent, and we asked whether they would pay more for a brand that they perceived as transparent.

But the question that offers critical insight to all dietary supplement companies is the one that equates transparency with efficacy.

We asked them to tell us how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “Generally, I believe that the more transparent an herbal and/or dietary supplement company is, the greater the efficacy of its products.”

We have known for a long time that transparency is tied strongly to trust and a belief in quality; however, our research showed there is also an overwhelming belief that transparency equates to efficacy—70 percent either strongly agreed or agreed with the idea that the more transparent a product is, the more efficacious it is.

This is a powerful insight in an industry where few brands can afford to invest in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials on their finished goods; even if they can, then they are limited in what they can communicate to consumers because of DSHEA regulations.

Equal Opportunity Data

When it comes to risk aversion in the area of FDA and FTC compliance, we have worked with clients that are extremely conservative as well as clients that are willing to push boundaries. Additionally, risk aversion is not an indication of a brand’s integrity; we have worked with companies that have pushed the boundaries of DSHEA structure/function claims, and they have just as much integrity, honesty, and rigor as the conservative ones.

That is why this discovery of transparency being equated to perceived efficacy is so powerful.

Whether you are a 1 or a 10 on the risk-aversion scale, the more transparent you are about your sourcing, your process, your environmental impact, your labor practices, your verification, and your willingness to admit errors, the more likely you are to elevate the perception of your products’ efficacy.

However, communicating transparency is not an exercise in list building or bullet points. Nothing makes people tune out faster than an endless litany of features or factoids. The key to transparency is in truthful storytelling because people want to engage in the transparency story. Saying your ingredient is sourced from an organic field in Costa Rica and having a certificate to prove it are good, but telling the story of how it is sourced, what it takes to make it sustainable, whom it benefits, and so on is what makes the story memorable and personable. Moreover, throughout this storytelling, a brand can be as conservatively DSHEA compliant as it wants.

In the competitive world of herbal and dietary supplements, the consumer is often faced with a choice between two brands offering the same product at the same price point with the same structure function claims—but one has a transparency story that connects with consumers. Which do you think they will believe works better?