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The Naturals Consumer: 12 Truths

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured
Posted: October 3, 2008, from the June 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

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As naturals break into mass-market channels, a split reveals itself between natural newbies and old-school enthusiasts. The latter are label scrutinizers who cannot be fooled by greenwashing—the process of simply slapping the word natural on a jar. They know what to look for, and they know when they are being lied to. Old-school naturals consumers also could be called cultural creatives.

CulturalCreatives.org describes this group as “50 million Americans who care deeply about ecology and saving the planet; about relationships, peace and social justice; and about authenticity, self-actualization, spirituality and self-expression.” In short, they are the most loyal and demanding naturals consumers.

Truth 9: Seeing Results

Natural must mean effective. The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) has stated that 28% of the general population desire natural personal care products fortified with functional ingredients. Merely calling something natural isn’t enough. There must be results. Seeing is believing.

Truth 10: DIY Culture

The rise of the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture is good news for the naturals segment. Young women are knitting again. They’re making their own cosmetics. They can go online and design a personalized fragrance. The prevalence of this culture reflects consumers’ desire to connect with the things they use and to take charge of their lives.

This trend has reached every kind of woman, from homemakers to punk rockers. Whether they’re seeking independence or comfort, DIY consumers want to know where things come from and how they affect them. If we are what we buy, it goes double for what we make.

Truth 11: Media Mix

The media can be a tastemaker. Most of us saw the report a few months ago in which the Chicago-based Smell and Taste Institute’s study results revealed that the scent of grapefruit can lead men to perceive women as being an average of five years younger.

Never mind the particulars or the reproducibility of the results. The public now believes that grapefruit scent makes women look younger. I haven’t seen any studies, but I imagine there’s been a run on all things grapefruit scented.

For better or worse, CNN, Time magazine and other media representatives are our primary sources for medical, scientific and consumer information. Once a study makes headlines, it quickly becomes part of the public consciousness. This can work for and against the personal care and spa industries. You should constantly ask yourself: “Is the media working with me or against me, and how can I harness that power?”

Truth 12: Stories Sell

Tell consumers a story. The Keebler Elves in their hollow tree, Cap’n Crunch defending the SS Guppy from Crunch Berry pirates, Juan Valdez questing for the perfect coffee bean—everyone loves a product with a back story. Spa and personal care offerings are no different. Are you selling a story? Do you know the stories behind your products? A story, among other things, is crucial to creating an emotional connection between consumers and your offerings.

Recapping the truths

So, what do the 12 truths tell us? In order to reach today’s sophisticated naturals consumers, you must address the whole person—spiritually and emotionally—while delivering functionality. In doing so, you must reach all consumers—from shortsighted teens to fussier cultural creatives. Give them guilt-free indulgence and a sense of self-determination. Educate them directly and through the media. Tell them a story about the origins of your products or services. This is the path to success in naturals.