Why the best supplement businesses lead with their brand

Andy Lewis is the Commercial Director of USN. The brand was founded by Mountain Biking enthusiast Albé Geldenhuys in South Africa in 1999 and has since become one of the world’s most prominent supplement brands, with a strong and increasing presence here in the UK.

We spoke to Andy about how USN has become one of the world’s leading supplement brands, their highly successful Body Makeover Challenge, and what the future holds for the supplements industry.


What are some of the biggest factors behind USN’s success?

Probably the single biggest secret has been lots activity. Particularly in the early days we attended small events, handed out lots of samples, and always focused on getting product in people’s hands (rather than worrying about selling them). We have always spoken about the brand and product range, rather than any specific product. We’ve led with the brand, and the brand has carried the product with it.

The USN Brand means something, is consistent, and stands for quality. It has a look and a place in the market. The other thing we’ve really been good at is going to talk to people and sharing product with them at the triathlon events and cycling events, and through media outlets. As a brand we’ve sponsored things like NABBA and BodyPower Classic.

The business grew up in specialist trade – nutrition stores and gyms. We’ve been able to move into mass-market accounts without it damaging our specialist trade because we’re leading with brand, which stops it becoming a commodity product. This has led to the likes of Tesco selling a range of our products rather than just one.

My dream for USN is to be able to put any product into the USN stable, and it looked like it would belong there. If for example, USN did a gym, we know what it would look like – it would be classy, modern, and blue. If you lead with your brand you have a point of difference, if you lead with a product, you don’t.


What does a good marketing campaign for a supplement brand look like?

The number one thing is that it has got to be consistent. Put out a message that is the same everywhere. For example, if you’re putting out a campaign about a pre-workout product in online/print/trade, you can’t have three different messages, but many companies do! I’ve grown up in marketing, and this is most inconsistent industry I’ve worked in. Most young guys spend lots of time online, middle-aged men tend to do it in person and ladies do it peer-to-peer. They all need to be hearing and seeing the same message.

Also, it’s all about benefits not features. So it’s not about the ingredients, it’s about what that product can do for you: “Take our new pre-workout because it will help you to train for longer; or because it will intensify your workout.”

If you ask one of us what’s the best protein to take, we don’t ask what training you’re doing, we ask what benefits you’re trying to get, and why you’re training. My favourite saying in marketing is: “It’s not about what we can do, it’s about what we can do for you.”


Can you talk about the Body Makeover Challenge and what success you’ve seen from that?

It’s been a bit of a sleeping giant for us. It’s a 12-week programme where we provide support knowledge, information to people who have 12 weeks to transform their lifestyles and bodies.

The results are staggering. We offer a cash prize to the winner, and after about 6 weeks people forget all about prize and just want to see how far they can take themselves. The main thing that has come out of the challenge is community. We have the Body Makeover Challenge Group on Facebook, and the response rate to posts on there is over 50%! It’s a relatively small group but the people there are talking to each other all the time.

People are delighted to buy product off us when they start the challenge, but within half an hour they have completely forgotten about the product and are completely engaged with support – the exercise plans, the nutrition plans and the mentoring. The Body Makeover Challenge is not about product, it’s about the people. We do a big awards ceremony in South Africa, and have a lady there who lost 85kg! It doesn’t stop after 12 weeks, many of the people are still in contact 2 or 3 years later.

We can have guys who are 23 and ripped who want to look better, and ladies in their 50’s who also want to look better, and they can be together in the same community because they’re both looking for the same thing.

Kerrie Donaghy is our Body Makeover Manager and has been fantastic and has helped create a number of success stories. A guy at a Council Gym in Bolton did a Body Makeover Challenge course. 52 members signed up, 49 finished, with a net weight loss of 200 stone. Kerrie went to the gym half way through the 12-week course and trained them.

Ours is not the cheapest product, so we have to do things that justify our price point and reinforce the brand. If price is your only weapon, you don’t have a weapon.


What is the biggest threat to the supplements market in the next five years?

The biggest challenge is building and keeping your customer base. The people who are nipping at our heels are not the big brands. The biggest threat to the market is the people who can form a business – it’s the 3 PTs who can put a few grand in, get 250 tubs made, slap a label on it and and do some damage. Without exception, a new supplement company comes into the market every single day. Most of them don’t invest in research or quality ingredients. That’s a very significant threat.

There are too many people in the market, and too many people doing a bad job. We need more competition from people who are doing a good job – more businesses like Optimum and PHD. The other thing is that the first decision any consumer makes is where they go to buy the product. If they go somewhere and are used to paying £70, they probably realise that they’re not going to get the same quality elsewhere for £30.


Where do you see the supplement market going in the next five years?

Supplements will become much more accepted, recognised and more widely available. From a trade point of view there will be some consolidation, meaning fewer bigger brands. There will be more vertical stuff – brands will open their owns shops and gyms. It won’t be that long before some even open their own chains of bars and cafes. It’s about being front of mind for cash rich, time poor clients.

If you’ve already acquired someone, how can you help them to save time in other areas of their life? That’s the huge advantage of leading with brand. You can lift a good brand up and put it on almost anything. If our specialisation is the provision of products that make people feel better about themselves, and our differentiation is our brand, what’s stopping us selling any product that makes people feel better about themselves in the future?


Posted in Interviews, Nutrition & Supplements, The Fitness Network.