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05 June 2024

Is your sports nutrition brand fit for purpose?

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You’ve got to set a clear goal, develop a detailed plan, be prepared to put the work in, and stick with it through all the sweat and suffering. That’s how you develop a sports nutrition brand.

But if those gains still aren’t coming easily, do you trust the process, or flex into a new regime?

It’s an increasingly relevant question, because the sports nutrition category is continually shifting underneath the brands. It’s broader than ever before, with lines blurring into health and wellness, and even food.

If your brand isn't moving with the programme, you’re going to get left behind.

The Problem

When sports nutrition and supplements first established themselves as standalone commodities, they were shopped as one. People bought in bulk, price weighed against nutritional value, and nuanced ideas such as taste or brand identity were irrelevant, because your hardcore gymgoer didn’t care.

The impact was that price became the only differentiator. The category got very copycat. Everyone followed the market leader, like bootcamp participants faithfully responding to every bark from their instructor.

Copying the best in the business is an easy way to launch a brand, but not a great way to compete. When the powdered greens category grew in the space next to powdered sports nutrition, it aped its approach.

The Challenge

While the brand players were matching each other and arguing over price, their category moved beneath them. The arrival of greens powders blurred the lines between sports nutrition and health and wellness. It brought old brands to the attention of totally new consumers.

Now, when it comes to customers’ attention, sports nutrition is competing with greens powders, which is competing with healthy nutrition from the traditional FMCG sector. And while core gymgoers are still chasing gains and looking for maximum returns, the broader, blurred consumer base has a different outlook. They’re not looking for perfection, they want realism and personal meaning. They also want, above all, taste.

Now these brands are being judged with a new lens, and copycats have nothing to say. If AG1 is the established market leader in greens powders, nobody’s interested in AG2.

With a new set of competitors and a new audience, it’s time for new ideas.

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The Solution

If your competition and consumer are drifting in from outside the category – look for inspiration outside the category. Look at how brands are communicating in FMCG. At lifestyle brands who are creating story and meaning beyond being a simple commodity.

Look at what matters to your customer, and find a point of difference in your brand that will resonate with them. Make sure you stand for something they’re willing to buy into.

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How it Works

Understand the new consumer

The new consumer is looking for more diverse benefits when it comes to health products; Tastewise found that 51% of Americans are now looking for functional benefits from their food. So as their eyes are drawn to functional snacks that traditionally occupy the beige sports and wellness nutrition space, they are bringing their priorities with them.

Research by The Grocer found that 58% of consumers who purchase protein products prioritise taste. They want not just to transform themselves, but have a truly transformative experience.

This was the insight that drove our work with More: building a brand that really appealed to this new customer profile. Their extensive product range included protein powders, low-calorie shakes and high-energy bakes, but the audience now wants flavour as well as facts and figures.

So we looked to the FMCG category and built a brand that was appetising. High-impact food photography, vibrant design and a joyful tone of voice put the more back in More. It’s now a food brand that sits proudly on any shelf.

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Connect with their journey

The traditional research-purchase funnel has been flipped on its head. Increasingly, customers are buying first, then evaluating a brand to establish loyalty. It’s made it more important than ever to make a connection beyond simply product.

In few brand categories is there a more obvious ‘customer journey’ than in sports and wellness nutrition. These products speak to a clear and tangible change people want to make in their lives, a journey they’re embarking on. Brands that succeed here are those that tap into the journey with honesty and empathy.

And that doesn’t have to mean creating new stories, either. It just means being authentic – and consistent. The brand identity we built for ESN didn’t need to speak to a new customer, it zoned in on a core gym-going performance chaser and made everything completely about them. From the design to the photography to the messaging there was consistency: built for winners.

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Find the right advocates

A great way to connect with the customer story is to find advocates on that same journey. It creates a link that feels genuine, and those advocates help you communicate the narrative.

Of course, that’s not exactly as simple as it sounds. Without trust, that bond is impossible to build. And with the explosion in the number of people becoming ‘content creators’, consumers are struggling to understand what's a genuine recommendation or a paid endorsement wrapped up in branded packaging. Research conducted by Grey and YouGov found that a staggering 96% of consumers don’t trust what influencers say on social media.

But the solution isn't to move away from social media, it’s to work harder to dig out the real, genuine connections. Many brands are finding success through authentic social creators (those that already had genuine love for their brand) or ‘advocate experts’ – individuals who eulogise the benefits of a particular brand or product, but whose credentials bring trust beyond reproach.

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Bulk was one of those brands that did want to speak to a new audience beyond gymgoers – without leaving them behind. And one key aspect to this switch from gym brand to inclusive lifestyle brand were the right partnerships. So while endorsements from top athletes Anthony Joshua and Katarina Johnson-Thompson continued to appeal to the fitness crowd, a link-up with coach and wellness influencer Sophie Aris immediately broadened the appeal, using an advocate already known and respected by the target audience.

Advocates don’t need to be paid partnerships, either – if your brand makes them a central component of the story. Taking inspiration from outside the category once again, that’s the ethos with tattoo care brand Stories & Ink, where tattoo artists and their work become the focus. By celebrating the community in an inclusive way, Stories & Ink make their customers advocates for the brand.

For any sports nutrition brand wanting to build a lasting, robust brand identity fit for the future, forging genuine, empathetic connections with your customers will beat a discount promotion every time.

Want your sports nutrition brand to be fit for the future? Get in touch.