DNA holds information about a living organism. It carries genetic data and all the instructions that a living organism needs to grow, reproduce and function. While the uses of DNA have been widely applied by biological, healthcare and forensic institutions, in recent years new ways of using DNA have started to emerge.
An example of this is using DNA as a potential storage medium. In an era of content explosion, where digital data continues to expand exponentially, Microsoft is investing in research to explore how DNA can be used to store data and content. The benefits are attractive; firstly, DNA data storage techniques can store 2 million gigabytes of data in just one string of DNA, equivalent to twice the storage available in a single human brain. Secondly, DNA data lasts over a thousand years, and unlike other content storage solutions there is no risk it will become obsolete. Other innovative uses of DNA include genetic IQ tests and virtual drug trials.
For consumer product brands, DNA testing presents a powerful personalisation and data tool. By sending a saliva sample to a lab for analysis, consumers can learn how their DNA influences their health, wellness and traits. They can then share these insights with consumer product brands in exchange for personalised nutrition diets, tailored skincare recommendations, bespoke fitness plans and customised wellness content.
Industry research estimates that 26 million DTC (Direct-To-Consumer) DNA tests have been purchased so far in 2019, with some predicting that within the next 2 years the number could increase to 100 million. This growth has been fuelled by the success of two companies; AncestryDNA and 23andme. It may also be a direct result of their advertising investment to increase public awareness and acceptance of DTC-DNA testing. In 2016, AncestryDNA spent $109 million on TV and other ads and 23andMe invested $21 million in media ads in the US.
Whether used alone or in combination with other digital technologies, DTC DNA-testing has the potential to create value in the consumer products sector across three key areas:
- Creating hyper-personalised experiences
DTC DNA-testing enables more engaging experiences that cannot be matched using traditional means because it reveals something new about consumers. Learning about genetic composition is one of the key reasons people take DTC DNA tests and this curiosity has contributed to a rise in hyper-personalised experiences across many sectors. Suntory, a Japanese brewing and distilling company, designed a DNA beer glass that reflects consumer’s alcohol tolerance, sensitivity to malt aroma and other genetic codes. For example, a glass with a reduced capacity for consumers with lower alcohol tolerance, or a glass with a larger diameter for those with higher sensitivity to the malt aroma. The glasses are then 3D printed to make a unique personalised glass. As young adults are reducing their alcohol consumption and shifting to healthier options, DTC DNA presents an innovative possibility to respond to consumers’ attitudes around responsible consumption whilst delivering a hyper-personalised experience.
- Empowering health and wellness
As the wellness industry continues to expand, DTC DNA-testing can increase consumers awareness of their health and well-being by identifying predispositions to certain conditions, such as coeliac disease or lactose intolerance. It can also encourage consumers to be more proactive about their lifestyle choices, without relying on a healthcare provider. Take, for example, Nestle’s Wellness Ambassador initiative. Launched in Japan in 2018, Nestle provides DNA-personalised products and wellness recommendations to help consumers live a better life. The programme offers personalised supplement capsules such as nutrient-rich teas, smoothies and vitamin-fortified snacks to improve longevity. Combining this solution with wearables technology such as Fitbit or Strava, presents new possibilities to redesign consumers’ ongoing healthcare.
- Simplifying the purchase-decision journey
Like traditional personalisation techniques, DTC DNA testing can make the purchase-decision journey more seamless and informed by offering a narrowed down list of suitable products. In this case, however, it delivers a stronger sense of reliability and compatibility, as personalised recommendations are determined by the consumer’s unique DNA information and goes beyond sometimes circumstantial digital data such as contextual and purchase history. L’Oréalannounced a partnership with biotech company uBiome to provide personalised skincare product recommendations after assessing users’ skin health based on the ecosystem of microbes, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms. When it comes to skincare, consumers typically spend from 45 minutes to 1.5h selecting a skincare product, and they often trial product after product to determine what works for their skin. Here, DTC DNA-testing helps consumers not only move away from a one-size-fits-all approach but also simplify the consideration and conversion stages in the traditional purchase-decision journey.
Consumer product companies that embrace DNA-based products and services have the opportunity to identify and create new consumer segments based on 125+ genetic data traits that cannot be matched using traditional means, such as ethnicity composition, hair texture/thickness, taste sensitivity (e.g. salt, sweet and bitter), face shape and skin condition. The question is who will master in this next wave of hyper-personalisation? Offering personalisation through DTC DNA-testing may require adapting cultural norms, business operations, including strategy and operating models, and changing core processes such as marketing, manufacturing, and R&D. Capabilities in DNA-testing in combination with product development, and advanced analytics will be needed, but it is likely no one player will have the expertise in all of these areas.
Broadly, we know that people like personalisation – and they are often willing to pay more for a personalised product or service – but delivering bio-personalised products will not be without its challenges. Consumers can change passwords, cancel credit cards and delete online browsing behaviour, but it is near-on impossible to change their DNA because this type of data is encoded in a human’s biology. Once collected, the DNA points to an individual and their relatives, whose privacy
By Rita Batalha