by J.M. Emmert
Headquarters: Sandy, Utah
Founders: David and Bianca Lisonbee
Products: Health and Wellness
|4Life founders David and Bianca Lisonbee with President and CEO Steve Tew.|
In a highly competitive marketplace, the key to a company’s sustainability lies in its customer acquisition and retention programs. This is especially true in the direct selling channel, where numerous companies offer similar products and services. So how does a company differentiate itself to ensure success for its independent business owners?
When David and Bianca Lisonbee founded 4Life Research in 1998, they believed the differentiating factor for their company would be an ongoing commitment to research—research not only to develop high-quality products that would enable customers to transform their lives, but, just as important, research that would empower distributors with credibility in a competitive marketplace.
That commitment has been the reason for ongoing success at the Sandy, Utah-based company, which now has hundreds of thousands of distributors and customers with offices in 25 countries across five continents. It ranked as No. 54 on the 2015 Direct Selling News Global 100 list of the world’s largest direct selling companies, with 2015 net sales of $321 million. Today, led by President and CEO Steve Tew, 4Life Research is a global leader in protein sciences.
A Message of Science
When a company brings a message of science to the marketplace, fact-based research is absolutely essential for creating layers of credibility that will resonate with distributors and customers. At 4Life, those layers include partnerships and associations with academic and research institutions as well as leading scientists and experts in a variety of specialized fields.
“Among our unique value propositions is the investment 4Life makes in research and development, quality control protocols, and every step of the manufacturing process,” says Dr. David Vollmer, Ph.D., who is 4Life’s Chief Scientific Officer. “Our science is a differentiating factor in the marketplace.”
Vollmer chairs 4Life’s Health Sciences Advisory Board, an independent council of doctors, scientists and researchers across the United States who work to inform 4Life’s in-house R&D team of the latest and most innovative work being done in the area of protein sciences.
Once a new product has been identified, Vollmer and his team contact universities and independent firms to determine their area of focus and level of interest in doing the research. Such was the case with 4Life’s newest product, 4LifeTransform Burn™, a patent-pending and proprietary thermogenic blend that supports an accelerated approach to body transformation that was introduced at the company’s annual convention in October.
Burn’s hoped-for effects were substantiated through 4Life’s research in thermogenesis, the biological process in which the body breaks down fat and generates heat. “For the first time ever, we’ve used thermogenesis to show how 4LifeTransform Burn ignites the fat-burning process in the body,” says Vollmer.
4Life’s thermogenic research included an independent, preclinical laboratory study conducted at The Jackson Laboratory—a genetic testing laboratory—and an in-house 12-week pilot study. Vollmer and his team used a process called thermal imaging, the same technology used by the military to track the movement of people in the dark. In this study it was used to measure thermogenesis in the body, which shows how healthy a person is and how efficiently the body burns fat.
Supportive Pilot Studies
In addition to the thermogenic research, 4Life conducted two in-house pilot studies on the Burn product during the 18 months leading up to the product release, collecting over a million points of data. Vollmer and his staff found several compelling data points to support the product’s ability to burn fat that will be of valuable assistance to distributors in sharing the product with customers.
The first was that Burn was shown to accelerate metabolism and double a body’s ability to burn fat. The second was that it triggered body fat loss without altering lean muscle. “That’s a really important point, because what you find a lot of times when you have these weight loss or weight management programs is you will see weight loss but a lot of that weight loss will be lean mass,” explains Vollmer.
Burn also decreased hunger cravings and increased feelings of fullness. “One of the things that we often see when we do these types of studies is that as you’re starting to lose weight you have these issues with hunger,” says Vollmer. “If you go on these caloric-restrictive diets, people complain that they’re always hungry. So we wanted to make sure as we were going through this process that we would mitigate that issue as much as we could. What we found, statistically, is the hunger cravings decreased over time and feelings of fullness increased.” A fourth data point showed that Burn, when combined with 4Life PRO-TF®, increased the molecular fat-burning marker, UCP1, by more than 50 percent. PRO-TF is a protein infusion that supports weight management, muscle performance and the immune system.
How exactly do distributors use data points such as these without sounding like mini scientists, especially in light of the fact that other health and wellness companies—both inside and outside the direct selling channel—can espouse the scientific values of their products?
While 4Life places a strong emphasis on the science behind its products, the success in acquiring and retaining customers harkens back to the very reason the Lisonbees put research in the company name: differentiation. While the company fully supports distributors with product profile sheets and other marketing materials detailing the scientific research behind the products—even adding a university study on the PRO-TF label so that a distributor would not require a brochure—the dissemination of that scientific information is secondary to the brand experience.
Brand experience is the “show” and the supportive, fact-based data is the “tell.” There is no need for distributors to recite different combinations and compositions of ingredients. They have their experiences and their testimonies to share, including the ways in which the products have changed their lives as well as how the company has changed their lives. To successfully differentiate the brand, they focus on those questions customers most want to know: What does this company do? Who are they? How is customer service? What tools do they empower their people with to succeed? How is their messaging?
Creating the Brand Experience
The hope is that Burn and the thermogenic research behind it will reach the level of success of the company’s previous offering, 4Life PRO-TF.
The April 2015 launch of protein infusion PRO-TF was the company’s most successful product introduction to date, not only for the $18 million in worldwide sales to date, but also for accolades received for its marketing.
‘“We’re as passionate about marketing as our scientists are about substantiation because both are tools that distributors use to share our products with new customers,” says Kelly Bellerose, 4Life’s Vice President of Product Marketing.
For the PRO-TF campaign, 4Life combined athletic endorsements, customer trials and testimonials, a research partnership with Auburn University, and a series of marketing collateral that included digital product profile sheets, the website 4LifeTransform.com and a 4LifeTransform app. The app and website were designed to support the field with their customer acquisition and retention efforts. The app, which has had over 32,000 downloads since it was introduced, allows users to build groups and access information about working out, healthy dieting, and the need for water and sleep. The website, which has had over 265,000 views from 165 countries, includes customer success stories and testimonials from renowned athletes—such as 2016 USA OPEN National Bench Press Champion Brady Stewart and Mixed Martial Arts fighter Pearl Gonzalez—who use the product as part of their training regimens.
“We wanted to empower distributors with a multiplicity of tools on many platforms, both digital and hard copy, and then the voices: academic, athletic and personal experience from customers,” says Bellerose.
The marketing efforts by 4Life have not gone unnoticed.
In June, the company was presented with the Direct Selling Association’s award for excellence in Marketing & Sales Campaigns for the launch of PRO-TF® and the 4LifeTranform® brand. This award came just a month after American Business Awards honored the company with two Stevie Awards—Campaign of the Year and Lifestyle Award for its app. Finally 4Life was one of five finalists for the recent 2016 SupplySide CPG Editor’s Choice Awards in the sports nutrition category for achievement in innovation and market impact.
An Emphasis on Innovation and Validation
4Life’s commitment to progressive science does not stop with research and development. The company also has invested in patent acquisition and manufacturing. The company now holds four U.S. patents and 32 international patents, with dozens more pending. In December 2014, it broke ground on a 46,000-square-foot plant in Vineyard, Utah, just 20 minutes from its corporate headquarters in Sandy. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in December 2015, and the plant became fully operational in the first quarter of 2016.
The Vineyard facility gives 4Life start-to-finish control over every step of the manufacturing process, including the batching, blending, encapsulating and packaging of the majority of the top-selling protein 4Life Transfer Factor® products. It is currently generating 500,000 bottles, which equates to 40 million capsules, per month.
“The manufacturing facility allows us to validate our processes to ensure superior blending, encapsulation and packaging,” says Vollmer. “One of the first things we did was undertake a validation campaign that was essentially pulled out of the same type of validations done in pharmaceutical companies and applied that to the processes in the new facility.”
The company believes the new facility, which currently employs 50 production and warehousing workers, will guarantee the delivery of quality products for years to come.
“2016 has been a stellar year for our products and the 4LifeTransform® brand,” says Chief Operating Officer Danny Lee. “Burn will, I think, give us the momentum we need to make 2017 another record-breaking year.”