Imagine Health Founder Karin Hermoni on Why Science is Your Marketing Superpower

Q&A with Karin Hermoni, Principal, Imagine Health Solutions

Q: Tell me about what your company does. 

Karin:  Imagine Health was “imagined” to help companies bridge the gap between scientific innovation and market success in the nutraceutical and dietary supplement industry.  

My journey in this industry, at the intersection of Science and Product leadership, led me to specialize in science commercialization and connecting the dots to harmonize the different activities throughout the science-driven “go-to-market"—GTM—plan. 

Today, I help companies find their “product-market-fit” and develop their unique, science-driven story. My industry experience informs my "top-down" approach, always starting with the market view, and the desired market outcomes and working backward to reverse-engineer what is needed and identifying the shortest, most accurate, and most effective route to get there.   

When it comes to scientific strategy, I help companies tailor their preclinical and clinical studies to our industry’s needs. I find myself translating what seem to be almost different languages: designing studies to maximize market-relevant claims and meet regulatory requirements in each territory; and, as relevant, also securing new IP, all within budget and while still being able to publish the data in scientific journals. When you take all these aspects into account, you end up with accurately tailored studies that are thinner in budget and with higher ROI.  

Translating complex scientific data into compelling messaging and storytelling that resonates with consumers, and is in compliance with regulatory requirements, is a key driver of GTM success.  

Partnering with Imagine Health, teams are empowered through newfound synergies among R&D, science and clinical, with product development, marketing or “bizdev” teams. Together, we unfold the unique value proposition and optimize a company’s product-market-fit to the segments where their offering will be most valued—today and in the future. I’ve learned that this is needed in companies of all sizes, and I meet each company where they are “at” and adapt to their resources and objectives. 

At the end of the day, it's not only about professionalism and about injecting know-how or accelerating commercial success, it's about people! Helping people thrive is my mission, and synergizing with people to help them achieve their goals—while having fun in the process—is my passion.  

Q: What were companies doing wrong that revealed to you there was a need to fill? 

Karin: First and foremost, after reflecting on my own journey, I began understanding how common these challenges are across our industry. My path began in the realm of basic science, and I learned the hard way that commercial success in our industry requires much more than “great science.” Coming from academia, it was all about the science and the biomarkers, and everything else seemed of less importance. I thought that better science basically meant more commercial success and more revenue. But as I started engaging in the commercial aspects, and “living” the market, it became clear that I wasn’t looking at the big picture. I was only scratching the surface. Yes, science is important, but science in industry is completely different from basic science. In reality, it is a tool in our industry just like marketing. 

We have amazing scientists that are doing amazing things, but many times, they are not the ones “living and breathing the market.” So, we often see a disconnect or a gap between “science/R&D people” and commercial people—or commercial processes. This is very natural and there isn’t necessarily something wrong, but there is huge potential in harmonizing the different activities and streamlining the different teams to work with clarity towards the same goals. When you break the silos, this is where the magic happens. 

And I say that not because I'm criticizing in any way, but because I've been there. I understand how hard it is to break silos, how natural it is to “stay in your lane,” and how to some extent this happens with almost any company, big or small. This is where I think I can help, because I felt this pain. I experienced this challenge, and I too benefited from external help. 

As I mentioned earlier, my approach and my mission are to empower my clients to do amazing things from within their company. Through the great talent they already have—amazing scientists, marketers, product developers, and others—I help them streamline their energies and be more intentional. I think that's a major part of why I chose to open a consultancy.  

Q: Tell me about a time when you have worked with a client, and you achieved success for them.

Karin: I can give one case study with a company that is developing a new delivery system. They are a startup, with amazing founders, each bringing different experience and know-how, but none of them has a background in the dietary supplement market. When I started working with them, there were many light bulb moments. Some of those moments were around better mapping and understanding segments where this technology fits based on the trends and market insights I provided. Or it centered on better defining the customer profiles. That’s always key. Other moments had to do with product formulas or with quality and scientific standards that need to be met. 

It is so rewarding for me, to know that I was able to help navigate and accelerate their success. Indeed, a few months in, after working with them on both the “product” and the “story;” when we sat in front of big brands, the founding team was delighted to fully grasp the leap that had been made in a relatively short time and low investment. The value shines through, and that has a lot to do with truly understanding the industry and the challenges that the brands and manufacturers are facing. It’s also about finding the sweet spot of when is the right time to approach. As a startup, by definition, you are “early,” and you want to play the card of being fresh and innovative, but you also need to come ready to pass the due diligence process and meet the standard checkpoints—with minimal investment. In other words, reaching for the sky with innovation and a compelling story that resonates with your customers' goals, while understanding what the minimum requirements are to successfully meet the brand’s technical checklist—without which, even if they love your product/technology, they will not move forward.  

It’s also critical to understand how to craft your message for different personas within the organization. In this case, we mapped how this new technology can make the lives of each part of the organization easier. Product development, marketing, quality, regulation, operations; each division needs to be communicated with in a different way that really speaks to their challenges and what they want to achieve. When you take the same thing, but tailor your communication in a more compelling and accurate way to each internal target audience, then the message comes across. 

Q: What are some of the shared challenges you see clients in the supplement space facing?  

Karin: I think we are all experiencing many of the same challenges, while each company also has its own unique path and challenges, too. All companies, whether they’re start-ups, or large corporations, need to understand their target audience, the market, and their product, to improve the alignment between them and accurately find their “product-market-fit.” If this is done, value is ultimately delivered in the form of a product or technology the customer wants and needs and the industry is able to deliver. It may look a little bit different from B2B or B2C, whether you're in ingredients or in finished products or delivering a new technology or service, but that alignment is the winning formula. And you need all your internal superpowers to understand this formula, so they are working in the same direction, rather than pulling to different sides. 

Q:  What's a classic mistake that you see some clients make that is avoidable? 

Karin: The first thing that comes to mind is doing things bottom-up without gaining enough clarity as to what the true drivers for success or the true blockers are. This is true when you design scientific studies, and this is true also when you zoom out to other components in the go-to-market strategy. 

The key is to always incorporate top-down thinking. Starting from the market, mapping and defining the segment that is most relevant for your product or offering today—and in a few years—and really map the MVP—the minimal viable product—that will allow you to penetrate that segment. The problem I often see is overshooting on expensive and lengthy scientific studies without gaining enough clarity on how this data aligns with market trends or regulatory environment; and whether it has the potential to truly drive success in the territory and the segment we are approaching. 

For example, the academic mindset often prioritizes parameters and biomarkers that may be great in basic science, but in the regulatory environment we wish to commercialize the product—whether that’s the U.S. market or EFSA or EU/TGA in Australia or ANVISA in Brazil, etc.—these messages cannot be communicated, or they are too complicated or not aligned with what consumers are looking for. So, we may think we have a great product, but if we can’t communicate to the customer why it is so great, then it’s not a fit for our industry. At least not today. 

A second mistake I often see is not considering the different layers of value when designing the scientific strategy. For example, designing a study with the goal of achieving IP—patents—is a different language to designing studies for achieving market-relevant claims and you need to be fluent in both to maximize the return on your investment.  

Most importantly, if you are not thinking in advance how to also “extract” marketing assets from your clinical study, you are missing a huge opportunity! In fact, in some health indications the “softer” and less costly endpoints of the study are often the ones bringing the most value when you sit in front of customers in B2B, or when you want to sell a finished product. It’s the difference between before and after photos, or a consumer perception questionnaire about beauty-from-within products, versus complicated skin biopsies. 

Lastly, many times, it's not even about the science. As an example, let’s say an ingredient provider has a great ingredient for beauty-from-within, with impressive substantiation, but they can only serve traditional applications like soft gels or tablets. While in this segment, we see a strong market demand for other delivery forms like powders, gummies, and other fun delivery systems, I may offer that instead of another biomarker or clinical study, they might be better off investing in some application work and design a short bridging study that will deliver much more impact to the entire go-to-market strategy. 

Q: What’s the takeaway? 

Karin: I think the important takeaway is that it’s critical to start with the market, with a top-down approach and reverse engineer from there what is needed. 

Gain clarity on who you should be targeting today and what are their needs. It’s critical to gain a deep understanding of that segment, the growing trends, the challenges, the market standards, the landscape, etc. With this clarity, it’s easier to calculate the shortest and most cost-effective paths to achieve that. This is true for designing clinical studies and this is also true in any aspect of the business. 

In parallel, think about who your target customers or your winning products may be a few years from now, and lay the foundation today for your future success. 

Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out for external help. A fresh set of eyes is always helpful and injecting some know-how and expertise can help empower your team and accelerate your success. When you come with an open heart, great things unfold.