What are the traits of successful feed additives, and what makes others fail?
Trying to identify the difference between success and failure requires, in my opinion, three traits: knowledge, experience and effort. So, let me set the scene before I offer my thinking on why some feed additives are more successful than others, whereas some fail miserably.
As a Ph.D. nutritionist, now an international consultant, I have been following the feed additive industry since 1990. Back then, as a student, I ran my first trial with broilers, testing a novel additive: a phytase. Since then, I have worked for and with many feed additive manufacturers; I am following most research conducted with additives, and I keep an eye on new products. I have dealt with or used most commercial products either in my own feeds or in my consulting service, and I am in constant contact with the majority of big international players.
You're providing add-on value, but quite often this is not clear enough.
From all these, I have identified three common features among feed additives that fail to make an impact on the market and another three traits that characterize those that succeed. Note that animal performance and marketing success is not exactly the same, even though it should be.
Failure is easier than success
It is true for every business, so it should be no different when it comes to the animal nutrition industry, but let us focus on the products instead of the enterprise. So, what is it in these products that makes them disappear or languish?
1. They just don’t make sense
Most nutrition professionals have a good level of understanding when it comes to basic nutrition principles. So, a nutritional supplement without a sound biological basis that resonates with the educational background of the potential customer base cannot be marketed and sold with success. Sometimes sellers make the mistake of overloading their customers with information, which brings about the same result as it exceeds their level of understanding.
2. They just don’t make cents
In other words, feed additives must be profitable. Not only for the selling party, but also, and most importantly, for the purchasing party. And, they must be very profitable for someone to try something new, especially if it is against their beliefs and knowledge. Testimonials and common sense are great tools, but it is really difficult to set them within the right framework for field application.
3. Nobody knows or cares about them
The best product or service will not succeed if potential customers don't know about it. Sometimes, the message is lost despite or because of the noise. And some bigger entities tend to ignore some of their own best products in favor of their new release. So, outside advertising and marketing are as important as having an in-house champion for each product pushing sales.
Success does not have to be impossible
It is given that it is not enough for a product not to fail for it to be successful. We all know of additives that linger at the fringes of the market only to appear when suddenly they become the new trend. For example, cereal enzymes were an outsider until cereal prices skyrocketed. So, what does it take for additives to be successful?
1. They must solve a chronic, serious problem
The best example I can think of is that of zinc oxide. Problem: diarrhea in newly weaned pigs. Solution: zinc oxide in their feed added at 3,000 ppm Zn. Problem solved without any question marks or unclear research results. Then, the use of zinc oxide became a worldwide must, until some countries banned it — but that’s another story. Today, improving profitability is less trendy than a decade ago, but problem solving is indeed a really strong argument.
2. They are supported by heavy marketing
Failing a strong and undisputable performance record, successful feed additives are those that have created a need in our minds through heavy marketing. Marketing is not just advertisement, but this is a must to be followed by many other activities. Marketing is finding a real need, a product that can meet this need, and then making sure everyone knows about it. Here, it suffices to say one word: yeast. This product has become a common ingredient worldwide, but it now suffers from marketing overexposure.
3. They are at the hands of exceptional people
It goes without saying that people sell to people, as my first boss told me the day he hired me. You need people to develop, produce, market and give technical support to sales staff. Those who can employ the best people for the right job — and lead them accordingly — have the greatest rate of success. Quite often, a great additive fails despite great marketing, if only because some link in the above chain is confused about its role. I will not bring up any examples; we all know them!
So, here you have it. Have a great product, make sure everybody knows about it and get the best people you can find (or afford) to work on the project — and let them do their job. Yes, easier said than done, and this is why only a handful of additives succeed. But, if you want to sell added value, then you better be prepared to add that extra value.
Marketing versus selling
Marketing and selling a feed additive requires a different approach than that employed in the business of commodities. You're providing add-on value, but quite often this is not clear enough. Bottom line, work on your message: make it short, simple, easy to understand, and you will see a change in customer perception. But, nothing will help you if you don’t have an additive that really works.