Like Abraham Maslow’s famous quip about every problem looking like a nail if your only tool were a hammer, healthcare marketers have traditionally had an understandably narrow focus on the specifics of a disease state and how consumers engaged in related care. While this focus has repeatedly proven to be effective, one wonders if an approach that is grounded in a fuller appreciation of how consumers now make health-related decisions would lead to better interaction and engagement.
The consumer decision-making process is evolving and is inextricably linked to changes in our healthcare system, either as a cause or an effect. The “new” American healthcare consumer is more in control, takes a more holistic view, is redefining aging to be ageless, and is shifting perspective from health to wellness and beyond. This empowerment of the consumer has the potential to result in significant gains in health outcomes and satisfaction. Paradoxically, today’s consumer is better equipped than ever before – but simultaneously often disadvantaged in making optimal choices affecting the wellbeing of themselves and their families. Comprehending this paradox through a common understanding of what the pursuit of wellness entails is crucial to building consumer-driven healthcare brands.
Several underlying trends that have taken hold in healthcare consumer marketing together create significant opportunities for brands to connect with consumers in more meaningful, beneficial, and sustainable ways:
1. From health to wellness to wellbeing: The new American healthcare consumer has increasingly recognized that a healthy lifestyle encompass far more than the traditional definition of health. Health is now often viewed within the broader context of wellness, which is an overall balance of the physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, environmental, and occupational aspects of a person’s life. While many marketers have fully embraced this shift, most have fallen short in successfully engaging consumers in that they have treated wellness as a destination or state of being. This does not ring true to consumers who are challenged daily with working toward a greater degree of wellness and recognize it as a worthwhile but elusive goal. We at Ogilvy believe that this distinction is critical and that the pursuit of wellness is in fact the central need that today’s consumer most requires help with. We refer to this pursuit as wellbeing, which we define as the active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence. This view of wellbeing as a progression rather than an end unto itself makes it far easier to recognize achievable benefits to the individual – regardless of current health status.
2. Increased self-reliance (ready or not): Unfortunately, consumers’ desire to pursue greater wellbeing is being confounded by the evolving dynamics of the American healthcare system. Accountability, now shared by both the consumer and healthcare providers and systems, has significantly increased and all stakeholders are incented to focus on wellness and prevention. Consumers have willingly or unwillingly taken on this increased accountability, but are often unprepared for their new role and the self-reliance it requires. The unresolved challenge for consumers in successfully managing their own wellbeing lies primarily in making informed decisions.
3. Better informed, but challenged by decision making: As consumers have become more responsible for driving their own wellbeing there has been a coincidental explosion in the amount of relevant information available to them. While consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they acquire and utilize information, the wellbeing decisions they are faced with are becoming more complex and, as a result, health-related decision making does not appear to have improved (as evidenced by ever-increasing rates of diseases with behavioral components, such as type 2 diabetes). This may be due in part to their traditional sources of authority, such as their healthcare provider or informed third parties, becoming less available. Rather than being externally directed as in the past, consumers are now increasingly looking personally for validation through data, experience, and social interaction – creating both a tension among consumers and an opportunity for brands to credibly partner with them.
There is a great opportunity for brands to increase their relevance and value to consumers by recognizing their evolving needs and offering solutions that align with the pursuit of wellbeing. Forming a closer and more advisory relationship with consumers around wellbeing requires deeper insight into the motivators and challenges they are continually exposed to. Importantly, responsible marketing that recognizes wellbeing allows brands to play a positive role in helping guide health and wellness choices and behaviors. When seen as part of a progressive journey, these choices and behaviors become easier to identify and positively influence – and can form the basis of a stronger and more durable relationship between consumers and brands.
Communications planning is critical in partnering with consumers in this area. Rather than force messaging, create experiences and relationships that will lead to behavioral change in the pursuit of wellbeing. Several key considerations in creating these experiences and relationships include:
- Make wellbeing a series of small, realistic steps, as behavior change rarely happens in leaps and bounds
- Design for positive engagement and influence in every interaction
- Employ storytelling to increase interest and the recall of important information needed to make better behavioral choices
- Provide choice autonomy, allowing consumers to control their path
- Create a connected community
Today’s consumer is more engaged and in control than ever before – but they often feel this to be both a blessing and a curse. Recognizing that wellbeing happens one choice at a time and designing communications to support this creates common ground for both consumers and brands to embrace with a shared objective.