In mid-2012, Procter & Gamble’s Align brand, a daily probiotic supplement, won a Nielsen Breakthrough Silver Innovation award by generating sustained, two-year cumulative sales between $50-$100 million. This award followed the Gold Medal that Align won in 2010 for the Edison Best New Product in the Consumer Packaged Goods, Consumer Drug Segment Category. As with other disruptive innovation success stories, Align demonstrates well-executed business and marketing strategies.
Align’s success began with a clear understanding of the needs of the target consumer, in this case, adults with irritable bowel symptom. IBS drives approximately 2 to 3 million physician visits annually, and IBS is the most common diagnosis made by gastroenterologists. Women are a critical group to understand, as they are over twice as likely to have IBS than men, accounting for 70% of all IBS sufferers.
Align’s “Balance” marketing campaign depicts active women who are tilted and out of alignment who ‘need a little help.’
Align also understood the critical role of the gastroenterologist, as decision influencers and recommenders, and secured the #1 gastroenterologist recommended claim.
How P&G Built the Align Brand
Align built its business by stair steps, in an approach called ‘diffusion marketing,’ as explained in this AdAge article written early in the brand’s history. Given Align’s targeted appeal, the brand was first marketed to early adopters. Product branding was optimized through this process, with Metamucil endorsement removed. The product’s packaging is designed to remind daily use- with four weekly blister packs of seven pills each.
As is typical with healthcare products, Align’s early product rollout focused on online communities of specific digestive disorder sufferers as well as gastrointestinal physicians. In the early years, the product was initially sold only via a website and toll free number. Selling direct had multiple benefits, allowing pricing to be established at around $1 a pill per day and also helping to ensure that the product was fresh and that the Bifantis bacteria were kept alive.
In 2008, Align expanded to retail distribution in three markets, Cincinnati, Dallas and St. Louis, with specific retail partners, including Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart and Meijer.
Finally, in 2009, Align was launched nationally. Sales increased steadily in 2010, and 2011.
Align’s supposed “overnight success” with awards for breakthrough innovation and best new product was actually a carefully planned process refined over many years. Align’s marketing team conducted thorough research to understand the target consumer group and influencers, and selectively launched the product to test their approaches. By the time Align was launched nationally, trial-and-error efforts had already been conducted, so the product was ready to successfully appeal to both women and their gastroenterologists.