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Holland & Barrett CMO on bringing transparency to wellness: 'we don’t make up stories'

‘The Wonder of Manuka’, is focused on bees

Armed with a new global chief marketing officer in the form of ex-Bacardi and Unilever exec Caroline Hipperson, Holland & Barrett is putting transparency at the heart of its branding as it looks to cut through the noise in a world where wellness is facing a backlash.

Last week, writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner took on Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness platform Goop in a scathing New York Times piece, raising fresh questions about the meaning of the movement and the legitimacy of its gurus.

Holland & Barrett is now facing the challenge of aligning itself with the more positive aspects of trends like clean eating and wellness, while dodging the negative impact.

“For us it’s about being genuine, ethical and true. There’s equal parts wonder and science to what we do, so we’re very inquisitive about nature but equally obsessed with the science behind it," Hipperson told The Drum.

"Our approach is that we will only bring the facts, in an engaging way. We don’t make up stories or attach to fads – that’s our way of cutting through the noise of this 'fake news'.”

Hipperson has now launched her first campaign at the marketing helm of the health retailer, a £1.5m push to encourage transparency within the Manuka honey industry. It's using a mix of TV, social and in-store activations to promote the fact that all Manuka honey stock sold within its walls will meet the same standard set by the New Zealand government.

After realising that the home of Manuka honey produces 1,700 tonnes per-year, yet 10,000 tonnes are sold, Holland and Barrett Hipperson's team reviewed its suppliers and introduced ‘certified’ packaging for each jar.

Capitalising on the David Attenborough-effect the campaign’s co-inciting creative, ‘The Wonder of Manuka’, is focused on bees and was developed by Pablo – which took over Holland and Barrett’s creative account a few months ago.

An influencer campaign will also run across social under the hashtag #MyManuka, but Hipperson admitted the brand is - like many others - still trying to figure out how best to extract value from influencers.

"It’s not a one measurement approach," she noted, saying Holland and Barrett's influencer campaigns were usually scored across a multitude of KPIs including sales and engagement.

Her old boss, Unilever's top marketer Keith Weed, recently issued a call to arms to the industry to clean up the influencer marketing space and tackle the issue of fake followers.

“Everyone is talking about it and the truth is, no one has the right answers. What’s very apparent is that all the media providers are aware of the fake follower stories and are doing their best to turn things around," Hipperson told The Drum.

“It’s important [brands] have the right criteria when you select your networks. If you’re a genuine brand with good values, you need to find genuine people with equally good values that match your own," she says.

The retailer's 'Wonder of Honey' drive follows on from the its ‘No Compromise’ beauty initiative at the start of the year which aimed to start a “clean living” movement by encouraging customers to buy sustainable and ethical beauty products in-store – be it microbead free shower gel or vegan nail polish.

Beauty will be a big focus for Hipperson's team of 45, as Holland and Barrett looks to drive $100m in sales this year.

In a fragmented market, where health shops are moving online, Hipperson also wants to increase the share direct e-commerce accounts for Holland & Barrett's sales, just now it's "less than we want it to be, but still big".

Holland & Barrett's biggest market is the UK and it's global revenues for the most recent year clocked in at £656m - a jump of 7% on 2017.

Although sales noted an upward trajectory, Holland & Barrett reported a pre-tax profit drop of 37% to £72.5m from £115m, which the group put down to subsidiaries and higher financial expenses.

Due to increasing competition from national supermarkets and online traders, the company said it was continuing to invest in its in-store and online capabilities.

While coy, Hipperson said it isn't adverse to teaming up with the likes of Amazon: "That is something we are thinking about," she asserted.

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