The health and wellness industry is in the midst of a sea change. Unprecedented access to information, enabled by the digital world, is altering the rules of engagement in significant ways for both consumers and marketers.
As brands gain an increasing breadth and depth of information about people and their behaviors, consumers, in turn, become savvier and more discerning about the brands with which they engage, while raising their expectations around products and services.
The primary disrupters of today’s health world pertain to the "push" and "pull" of forces surrounding the health-care journey—and, therefore, the direction in which both consumerism and marketing is headed.
Content with a conscience
Modern consumers feel empowered to voice their expectations and, as a result, expect brands to anticipate those expectations and deliver personalized content in alignment with them. In fact, according to a recent Salesforce report, 76 percent of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.
Unfortunately, the problem of misinformation in the new content landscape becomes a stumbling block on the road to establishing trust between marketers and consumers. When seemingly authoritative sources lead to different conclusions, people feel unsure of who or what to trust. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Americans view misinformation as a more pressing issue than terrorism, immigration, climate change, and racism.
Repairing the widespread mistrust spurred by misinformation requires that media outlets and content creators commit to adopting clear criteria and assessment methodologies for credibility and transparency.
At the same time, the rise of inclusive marketing evidences a growing focus on trust in marketing-consumer relationships. And while some brands are jumping on the inclusivity bandwagon in order to meet consumer demands—consider that 70 percent of millennials are more likely to choose a brand that demonstrates diversity and inclusion—the brands poised to succeed in the long run are those making a true commitment to telling stories responsibly.
Inclusive marketing bears even more weight in health-care, since illness doesn’t discriminate based on gender expression, age, race, ethnicity or religion. Health-care practitioners (HCPs) and health-related brands can play critical roles in the lives of consumers and patients by helping them feel understood for the individuals they are.
In fact, doing so can yield tangible results: research reveals that empathy and compassion have been linked to improved adherence to medications, decreased malpractice cases, fewer mistakes and increased patient satisfaction.
When brands embrace content with a conscience, delivering inclusive representations of the patient populations they are trying to reach, they speak to patients’ needs in a way that promotes better health outcomes—especially when paired with appropriate evidence-based medical treatments.
Self-care before health care
Increasingly disenfranchised by traditional medicine and its one-size-fits-all approach to care, modern consumers are interested in a more holistic understanding of their health, seeking solutions that address their physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. The field of homeopathy is expected to grow 12.5 percent by 2023, putting the pharmaceutical industry under more pressure than ever to innovate its health-care offerings.
While there exists an inherent tension between the interests of pharmaceutical companies and those of consumers engaging homeopathic alternatives, it’s possible to improve patient outcomes while embracing alternative health approaches. The rise of "wellness lifestyle" marketing need not act as a preventative disrupter for more traditional health brands and pharmaceutical companies—they simply need to evolve toward a new understanding of the consumer as a multifaceted person with a complex set of demands.
Health-care companies must consider how to tap into this growing market share, whether by simply acknowledging its benefits or advocating for its inclusion in treatment regimens. Surveys reveal that a number of leading hospitals in the U.S. have already begun to integrate alternative medicine into traditional treatment models—there is no reason that pharmaceutical companies cannot effectively position themselves in a similar way.
The Doctor is not in: Technology as the problem and the solution
A broken connection is hard to imagine in today’s world. We send 15.2 million text messages per minute and there’s no answer we can’t summon from a quick Google search on our phones. In the health-care sector, the rise of d-to-c health-care brands has removed logistical, geographical, and financial barriers to access for consumers.
However, one can’t help but wonder if the rise of consumer-focused tech has been at the expense of the patient-patient relationship—a critical concern considering research shows a positive correlation between patient-practitioner communication and patient adherence and satisfaction.
The consumerization of health care inherently removes the primary care provider from direct involvement, disrupting the established balance in health decision-making. Already, nearly half of 18-to-29 year-olds do not have a primary care provider. Furthermore, research largely suggests that millennials prefer telehealth platforms and walk-in clinics to traditional care options, further disintegrating the institution of enduring patient-practitioner relationships.
No matter how helpful point-of-care technologies are in improving diagnostic approaches, they may just as often substitute meaningful human connection—a lost value, considering HCPs’ holistic understanding of the lived health experience. The future of health care requires breaking down the silos that divide patients and HCPs today and building platforms that support their symbiosis at every juncture of the care journey.
Drowning in data
Data is among the most valuable currencies of the digital world. While unlocking data insights can position brands to better understand their audiences, drive engagement, and even promote better health outcomes, data is mishandled perhaps as often as it is harnessed intelligently.
Much of the misunderstanding surrounding data stems from the fact that certain data points are used to make arguments—but these data points are inherently limited in their ability to create a full picture. Take, for example, the marketing industry obsession with click-through rates. Brands expend countless resources attempting to discern that changes in click-through rates rose from, say, 5 percent to 7 percent, when it’s possible to gather empirical evidence that a piece of advertising works well beyond the 7 percent who clicked on a given ad.
Instead of relying on a few data points in the hopes of gleaning a comprehensive picture, brands would do well to leverage data sets that are scientifically rigorous and to share that rigor with publishers. This is where data becomes truly valuable as a currency, reaching audiences at the outcome level and transforming both audience behavior and brands’ business results.
Innovation in isolation
By nature, startups operate in isolation. Even if they are responding to a real-world challenge or recognizable market need, they have only themselves—and perhaps some amount of venture capital—to catalyze and protect their solution. Business becomes a defensive game, shielding intellectual property from the curious eyes of others while trying to innovate and scale. It’s no wonder that fewer than 30 million of the estimated 100 million startups launched every year make if off the ground.
While these numbers may not be representative of health startups alone, they raise important considerations about the number of potentially disruptive, even groundbreaking, health-care solutions that go unnoticed each year.
What is needed is a way to take startups out of their silos and transform them into viable business solutions, so that startups can align themselves with established organizations that share similar lines of work, values, and purposes, in order to illuminate new opportunities, leverage existing resources and create greater value in the world together.
Change on the horizon
The coming year will undoubtedly create new opportunities for health-care organizations and health and wellness brands to capitalize on the evolving landscape of the market at large.
As brands recognize the need to develop authentic, inclusive content with a conscience, they will innovate ways to engage audiences with personalized, value-driven experiences. In tandem with this shift is consumers’ interest in health-focused digital solutions. While the internet has revolutionized access to information, it has also erected new boundaries that diminish meaningful patient-practitioner relationships—giving brands and HCPs new opportunities to fuse technology and the human touch in health care.
Health technology and the health and wellness sector more broadly will benefit from the intelligent application of data through thorough vetting, analysis and a commitment to evaluating the full potential of data sets. As health and wellness startups leverage this data in their design and engineering processes, they have opportunities to build meaningful partnerships with established health organizations, meeting market needs with innovation, while achieving the stability they need to survive. As a result, consumers will gain greater access to health solutions that work for them.
At the same time, consumers have taken to a more holistic vision of health, creating a space in the market for HCPs and traditional health brands to develop integrated approaches to care that balance evidence-based treatments with nontraditional therapies.
The future of health care is still unfolding. It’s up to health brands and marketers to build effective bridges by expanding their view of what will most benefit patients, businesses and practitioners. If they do this effectively, they will create more robust systems and drive better long-term health outcomes.
Learn about more health-care trends at Ad Age Next: Health & Wellness on Feb. 6. Tickets are selling fast!