Analysis of online reviews
Google Analytics, Hotjar, Ethnio, Askable
PrecisionBiotics is a global gut health brand that helps people live healthier and happier lives through a cultured and optimal gut environment. They were struggling to reach their sales targets and suspected that something was off with their marketing. We conducted customer research on the purchase drivers behind buying gut health products and mad suggestions for marketing improvements that would better address the needs of their target market.
Cassandra Cardiff (UX research), Alexis Couvreur (UX research) and Philipp Streicher (data scientist)
PrecisionBiotics suspected there was an issue with their marketing. They had identified their target market as people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for their Alflorex product and people struggling to focus day-to-day for their Zenflore product. Their approach to marketing was highly clinical: they boasted about on-staff doctors, specific bacteria strains and clinical studies, while aiming to recruit GPs and pharmacists as brand ambassadors. This scientific and clinical approach can be seen in the imagery they used in advertisements on their packaging:
We interviewed key stakeholders to determine:
Perceptions of the problem
A shared understanding of high level goals
An introduction to audience
Understanding of main competitors
Interestingly, all six stakeholders seemed to have differing understandings of who their customers are, what their target market + messaging should be, and who their competitors are. These were all points we knew we needed to clarify by the end of our research.
We read through numerous academic studies focused on beliefs and buying behaviours around probiotics. We found that:
Age, income and level of education all positively correlate with interest in and consumption of probiotics
The majority of probiotics consumers are women
The use of vitamins and other supplements strongly correlates with the taking of probiotics for women (but less so for men)
A minority of people take probiotics on an on-going basis
Those interested in probiotics tend to be interested in healthy living in general
While people distrust companies about product benefits, they trust them more than governments
Consumers are more worried about potential side-effects when taking probiotics than nutritionists are
There is an even gender split for mild IBS symptoms, but more women tend to experience strong IBS symptoms than men
We wanted to understand who the primary audience is for both the Alflorex and Zenflore products, so Philipp wrote a machine learning (ML) script to estimate the gender of the reviewers and analyse their overall sentiment for these products. We also analysed the review of each’s products main competitors (Symprove and Bio-Kult for Alflorex; Rescue Remedy for Zenflore).
In the case of Alflorex and the closest competitors, most prospective customers (83%) were estimated to be female. While reviews are mostly positive, with long-time users talking about how much it helped them, some users say that it did not provide them same-day instant relief and is expensive when compared to products seen as comparable, such as Buscopan (an over-the-counter medication for stomach cramps).
The ML algorithm likewise estimated that the most reviewers for Zenflore and comparable products were female (82%). Analysing the word frequency within reviews on Amazon, we found that people take Zenflore to deal with stress and anxiety and help with sleep. “Boosting focus” or concentration appeared to be less of a concern.
I analysed the Google Analytics data from https://www.precisionbiotics.co.uk/ and found that most visitors were aged between 45-65. I also found a gender split of 75% female and 25% male, which mirrored our estimated gender split based on Amazon reviews.
When adjusting user numbers for e-commerce conversion rates, however, I found that the core audience is actually 25-34 years old, with a second smaller peak at older customers from 55- 65+ years.
Philipp designed a structural equation modelling (SEM) survey and we used the website interstitial product Ethnio to ensure we were recruiting actual PrecisionBiotics website users to take part in the absence of a mailing list. We recruited 326 participants and analysed the data using SEM techniques that quantify a rank order of hidden factors predicting both current and future behaviours.
Our survey helped us firstly to narrow down who PrecisionBiotic’s competitors actually are and how these products perform with their website users.
Using a structural equation model, we analysed the following factors to understand buying behaviours (click arrow to show).
Safety - perceived safety of probiotics
Endurance - endurance in sticking with probiotics
Hedonic motivation - emotional aspect of taking probiotics
Utilitarian motivation - rational aspects of taking probiotics
Social influence - social influence to take probiotics
Effort expectancy - how difficult it is to learn about and purchase probiotics
Willingness to spend - willingness to spend money on probiotics
Habits of purchase - measured via the constructs of past habit and future behavioural intentions
Facilitating conditions - such as income to purchase
Expected health benefits - measured with questions about perceived benefits, consequences as well as performance expectancy of probiotics for gut health
General health interest
Expected stress benefits - measured with questions about perceived benefits, consequences as well as performance expectancy of probiotics for stress
Mental health interest
Alflorex We found that the emotional experience of probiotics outweighs a rational assessment of its benefits. Interest in general health and wellness predicts 2.5x more of the variation in purchasing behaviour than existing stomach problems. This implies that probiotics might be used primarily as a preventative measure rather than a cure. Feelings of product safety matter more in motivating a purchase than an understanding of how the product works - although the reverse holds for existing customers. Purchases are driven by habit and willingness to stick with the product in the absence of positive effects. Social influence plays a minor role, explaining only 40% of the variation in purchasing behaviour. Only 35% of this number comes from pharmacists/nutritionists. These findings suggest that PrecisionBiotic’s clinical approach to marketing Alflorex is not optimal for their audience.
Zenflore Compared to Alflorex, Zenflore purchases are likely to be driven even more by habit. Safety concerns outweigh questions about causal mechanisms for both existing and prospective Zenflore customers. Social influence matters more for Zenflore, explaining 63% of the variation in purchasing behaviour. People are less willing to go out of their way to learn about Zenflore compared to Alflorex - the purchasing journey therefore needs to be more direct and accessible. Hedonic motivation predicts more the variance in purchasing behaviour than utilitarian motivation: the emotional journey of taking probiotics matters. Just like with Alflorex, it is crucial to communicate the importance of sticking with the product despite the absence of positive effects. Finally, a general interest in mental health practices (eg. therapy, meditation, etc.) predicts 3.8x more purchasing behaviour than existing stress or sleep problems do. Just like with probiotics for health, supplements bought for mental health must be part of a preventative lifestyle.
Finally, we were able to determine an ideal price point for each product.
Alflorex - around £30 💰
Income, life situation and perspective on probiotics play a key role.
Respondents say they would be willing to spend between 10-20 GBP per month. This only explains half of the variation in actual purchasing behaviour, making the ideal price point closer to 20-30 GBP. The distribution of responses hints towards a price at the higher end of this spectrum.
Zenflore - around £25 💰
Income, life situation and perspective on probiotics again are vital influences.
Respondents say they would be willing to spend between 10-20 GBP per month. As this explains only half of the variation in actual purchasing behaviour, the ideal price point is closer to 20-30 GBP. The distribution of responses hints towards a price point at the lower end of this spectrum.
Emotion > reason
Habit and endurance matter
Price around £30
New customers: safety > understanding
Social influence plays a minor role
General health interest drives purchases more than existing health problems
Emotion > reason
Habit and endurance matter
Price around £25
All customers: safety > understanding
Social influence plays important role
General mental health interest drives purchases more than existing problems
Alexis and I conducted interviews with 20 probiotics users via Askable to understand what informs their purchasing decisions, where they buy probiotics from and what makes them decide on one probiotic over another. I also probed into how probiotics fit into their broader lifestyles, what potential customers know about probiotics, and where they get their information from.
Much of the information we obtained from the qualitative interviews further supported evidence found we found in prior contextual analysis and SEM survey.
Key interview insights: Recommendations from a trusted source (friend, store employee, blog, etc.), noticing a product in store and noticing a product on offer seem to be the strongest first time buying motivators Discounts, offers and promotions play a large role in customer purchasing decisions There is a lot of brand promiscuity - even people who prefer one brand over another can be swayed easily by offers Probiotics play a role in broad health and wellbeing care - people who take them do so as part of a much larger wellness routine People generally think probiotics are natural safe with some exceptions, especially around the issue of dependency People get their information from a broad range of sources, including Google searches, blogs, vlogs, social media, books and TV Health care practitioners play a small role - people generally trust natural health practitioners and shop staff more Messages need to come from trusted sources to be impactful - these include unpaid reviews, friends/family and natural health shop staff recommendations
(or that their marketing strategy needs to be completely revamped)
Our findings were both exciting and slightly worrisome for the same reason: we invalidated many of PrecisionBiotics’ assumptions about their audience, product and their approach to marketing.
Research finding ✅
Consumers take probiotics to treat symptoms
Consumers take probiotics as a preventative and part of a much broader health regime
Consumer trust can be gained through scientific rigour, clinical studies and promotion by healthcare practitioners
Probiotic consumers tend to trust reviews from natural practitioners, health store staff and friends/family more than those from GPs or pharmacists
Customers want to buy products from recognisable pharmacies and medical stores
Probiotics consumers tend to buy their products from natural health and grocery stores
Consumers want to understand the science behind why a product works
Probiotics consumers care much more about the emotional experience of probiotics than the rational explanation behind why they work
So how do you tell someone that the marketing strategy they’ve worked on for years needs a complete overhaul? We started the conversation by reviewing our agreed upon goals: to better understand the customers, to know what drives their purchasing behaviours, and ultimately to increase sales. We then demonstrated how and why our findings differed from those of previous research agencies which focused on an IBS segment, and why we felt this approach was too narrow. After demonstrating how small our research found the IBS segment actually is compared to the much broader probiotics consumer landscape, we then introduced PrecisionBiotics to all the customers we believed they were missing and how we felt they could best be addressed.
Keep communication simple and focus on making it emotional rather than cerebral. It’s about communicating the feeling of safety and efficacy more so than about explaining causal mechanisms or making precise claims.
Communicate product benefits and safety first. Communicating feelings of safety and benefits upfront will attract new customers. Deeper explanation of causal mechanisms can be used for customer retention (eg. explanatory booklets included with trial packs).
Focus on building an emotional connection between product and customer. The emotional journey of taking probiotics starts with initial messaging, is continuous throughout the shopping journey with the experience of the packaging and accompanying leaflet, and culminates in the feel of the probiotic. Optimise these for the biggest impact.
£25-£30 is the ideal price point for these products. Alflorex is likely close to its ideal price point at £30. Zenflore might have to be priced slightly lower, at roughly £25.
Social influence plays a minor role for Alflorex, but a bigger one for Zenflore. Tailor your outreach accordingly
Position both products as a preventative part of a holistic healthy lifestyle. This holistic preventative angle is more aligned with what actually drives consumption behaviour and also allows you to speak to customers through related topics, including messaging on diet, meditation, mental and physical exercises, and general wellbeing/wellness. Framing the taking of probiotics as part of a “lifestyle” also highlights the need to take them continuously, which could instil needed endurance.
Stock Alflorex and Zenflore in Holland and Barrett. This retailer was the most referred to across interviews. Many participants emphasised that they find new products by browsing this shop and trust the advice of Holland and Barrett staff when deciding on new products to try.
Educate natural health practitioners and health store staff about the benefits of Alflorex and Zenflore. Participants often emphasised that they trust natural health practitioners and health shop staff more than GPs or pharmacists. The people who prefer to buy in-store spoke about asking for advice from these staff members, who they believed to be informed and knowledgable about the products they stock.
Educate consumers about the safety of taking a probiotic long-term. Consumers are both afraid of dependency and promiscuous when it comes to purchasing products. An educational campaign promoting the safety of taking a probiotic long-term could help with both because many participants expressed distrust for information disseminated by brands directly, education can be done through the use of magazine articles, news articles and unpaid blog, vlog and social media reviews.
PrecisionBiotics took our recommendations on board and underwent a complete rebrand that resulted in increased customer acquisition, increased customer retention and increased overall sales for both Alflorex and Zenflore. 🥳
From a clinical and problem-focused brand…
… to colourful, holistic lifestyle brand!