Top 5 trends in health and wellness
One year after the inaugural Ad Age Next: Health & Wellness event, an in-person in New York at which the “novel coronavirus” was just a brief talking point, a consortium of health care and marketing pros gathered once again to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended, accelerated and altered all aspects of the wellness industry.
At this year’s event, held remotely on Feb. 11, Ad Age assembled more than 20 veteran industry leaders representing all aspects of the health care marketing field to shed some light on the importance of at-home medicine, define the consumer’s perspective of holistic wellness, chat about effective strategies to market the COVID-19 vaccine and more.
Here are five of the most significant lessons from yesterday’s event:
Work toward a clearer picture of ‘wellness’
There’s a “wellness evolution” in the United States and it’s taking more forms than ever before, says Esi Eggleston Bracey, Unilever North America’s chief operating officer and executive VP of beauty and personal care. Whether it’s organic juice bars in major metropolises or an emphasis on all-natural ingredients in rural supermarkets, a surge in vitamin consumption or a widened discussion around mental health, many Americans are making an effort to live better—and marketers would do well to keep an eye on the ever-evolving term “wellness” if they want to meet consumers’ needs appropriately.
“We’ve really needed healthy habits over the past year,” says Claire Knebl, VP of brand at direct-to-consumer vitamin firm Ritual. To focus on wellness beyond its inventory, the company has created a transparent ingredients list for all of its products so buyers can have the full picture of what they’re ingesting, she says. “As a brand, really what’s most important to us is building trust.”
Approach vaccine marketing head-on
While the number of COVID-19 vaccine skeptics appears to have softened in recent months—almost two-thirds of Americans now say they will or probably will get the inoculation when it’s their turn, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll—vaccine marketers still have a long road ahead of them and should lead with a fine-line combination of empathy, respect and facts. “I think in terms of what the message should be, we have to build trust,” says Heidi Arthur, the Ad Council’s chief campaign development officer. “Vaccine hesitancy is incredibly complex.”
To overcome this skepticism, which might be disproportionately high in communities of color and low-income areas, marketers must recognize that some Americans have an inherent distrust of the medical industry and may feel that they don’t have all the pertinent facts to make an informed decision. “Messages that respect that this is a choice and not telling them what to do” have proven to be effective, Arthur says.
But standardizing messaging across a wide swath of demographics is another hurdle marketers must overcome, says Publicis Health Media’s president Andrea Palmer. “When you think about the messages for vaccinations, everyone’s trying to take the overall landscape and make it relevant to them,” she says, even though there’s no “single source of truth” that all Americans will accept.
Telehealth is here to stay
The health care industry has arguably shifted more dramatically in the past 12 months than in the previous two decades combined, and One Medical’s chief marketing officer Doug Sweeny can see why: “The healthcare industry has been pretty slow at adapting to consumer needs.” With the onset of COVID-19, hospitals and doctors’ officers became clogged, and suddenly the need to be able to connect to a medical professional from your couch at 2 a.m. became paramount, he says—and that shift in consumer expectations is something One Medical has been trying to confront directly. For the brand, gone are the days of “staid” and “conservative” health marketing that leans heavily on medical jargon. Instead, creative solutions to build trust with a growing base of new clients—while dialing back tech’s role for some consumers, such as those aged 65 and up—has proven to be a solid strategy, Sweeny adds.
Already a standard component of medical care in other countries, the rise of telehealth in the U.S. was a “silver lining” of the pandemic, says Bayer Consumer Health’s global chief marketing and digital officer Patricia Corsi. And to keep virtual doctors in business after the pandemic is brought under control, companies in the field must prioritize the kind of digestible science and clear medical advice that’s gained from a face-to-face interaction. “The role of the brands is as important as the role of the doctors,” she says.
The future of fitness isn’t just gyms
A steadily increasing percentage of Americans are embracing healthier, organic lifestyle products, and with that comes a renewed emphasis on exercise and physical well-being. But how are gyms and workout-focused companies, who’ve historically struggled to get more than 20% of the U.S. population physically active, adapting to the current wellness trend while navigating pandemic restrictions? “All this digital fitness will always be here,” says Jeremy “JT” Tucker, chief marketing officer at Planet Fitness. From Richard Simmons’ old school workout tapes to the P90X home bodybuilding system, people have long had the option to get fit without leaving their house. “But what’s really missing is that connection and experience,” Tucker says.
Early in the pandemic, Tucker worked to implement virtual fitness strategies that mimic the camaraderie gyms can foster. With lighthearted, relatable advertising that utilized “little winks and nods that brought the brand to life,” he says, the gym chain unveiled both a series of daily at-home workouts and tools to make reopening its in-person facilities easier. The result: a successful conversion rate of clients who first signed on with Planet Fitness from home eventually transitioning to full-time gym memberships.
But interactivity was key all along—something that’s been evident in the innovation of other home fitness products, such as those from Lululemon and Peloton. “The shift to at-home workouts was well underway before the pandemic,” says Dara Treseder, senior VP and head of global marketing and communications for Peloton. “This was something that people were already doing, but something that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption [of].”
Build trust with your consumers
Marketers in many fields, including the health and wellness sector, find themselves at a unique intersection: Consumers are demanding accountability and trust from the brands they use, while simultaneously registering dangerously low levels of trusts in brands, institutions and politicians alike. It might go without saying that maintaining a trustworthy foundation is key to any business’s success, but in the health care industry, trust is everything—from getting the public to take a vaccine to offering a helping hand from well-recognized brands during times of crisis, such as when Suave moved to remedy a hand sanitizer shortage by manufacturing it itself.
And if your brand invests in building trust with its customers, healthy product sales won’t be the only benefit you reap. “First-party data is a party you don’t want to miss,” says Peloton’s Treseder, adding that the repertoire her company has with its members has fostered a mutually beneficial relationship that includes detailed access to customer profiles. In fact, many of Peloton’s social features came from members’ insights, Treseder says.