Too often the wellness debate is focused on social media opinions, not those of health care professionals and science, especially as celebrities sign on to endorse wellness products. Case in point, rapper Snoop Dogg and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart have tied in with cannabis company Canopy Growth. Some wellness market efforts have left us scratching our heads: we’ve been worrying whether the Keto diet can lead to unsavory body odor, if digesting burned toast can give us cancer, and wondering if Moon milk can really help us sleep better?
Consumers are left not knowing what or who to believe. The professional health care industry needs to have its marketing voice heard amid such celebrity and social media noise – and fast. But the question remains, can science win the wellness marketing battle?
Before we dive into that, let's take a step back and figure out how we got here. The concept of “wellness” has spread beyond metropolitan centers to the middle-American mainstream. It is now part of a general evolution in thinking from volume- to value-based health care, a greater reliance on primary, not secondary care, and a focus on prevention, not cure.
From yoga and fitness to weight loss and nutrition, trends that emerged from alternative cultures are now part of the commercial mainstream. Today, wellness is a $4.2 trillion global industry – one that has grown nearly 13% over the past two years.
Health care’s challenge
Science, as represented by health care practitioners, faces a challenge familiar to professionals in other verticals: celebrity advocacy plus social media reach enables fame to compete unfairly with expertise – except, in this case, expertise really matters. Science is too often hijacked by forces that are as much a distraction as positive advocacy.
The distraction of the celebrity circus can be detrimental to our health. It results in greater confusion for the people that really need to be introduced to “wellness” the most: poorer, non-metropolitan communities across America where rates of obesity and obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are at all-time highs; and where lack of access to affordable health care is a major stress in daily lives.
It needs saying, but it’s not sexy: lasting, profound wellness solutions depend on the mundane: daily exercise; reduced portion sizes; balanced diets; and improving mental health. One of the greatest challenges is to get people who are most in need to throw off the embarrassment about their weight, size or even mental health and choose to seek help in the first place. These people need to trust in medical practitioners, not reality stars.
Brands turning to science
Some brands (mostly startup) are fighting the celebrity battle using contemporary marketing tools that help demystify wellness: notably intelligent design, social media peer group sharing, real-time monitoring, machine learning and digital personalization. The last of these characterizes some of the more interesting, science-based wellness brands like:
- Omada Health is using behavioral science to tackle chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Omada uses a mix of technology and professional expertise in the form of medical health coaches, connected health devices, online peer groups, interactive lessons and personalized goals. This year, Omada launched mental health programs for depression and anxiety too.
- Forward is aiming to be the “Apple store of doctor’s offices,” rethinking a visit to the physician, including DKNY and Lululemon gowns, and an emphasis on technology-assisted preventative advice. A pioneer of “concierge medicine” a totally personalized approach using automation for efficiency and real-time monitoring and data accumulation.
- CareOf offers personalized health plans with vitamins, proteins, adaptogens and botanicals all created as part of an individual pack with open access to the science and reviews behind the ingredients. CareOf’s Instagrammable packaging doesn’t hurt.
Government, providers and insurers need to be aligned in the concerted promotion of professional science-based wellness solutions. In the face of the golden opportunity that the growth of “wellness” presents, the nation’s terrifying health statistics mean not to act is tantamount to negligence, especially as personalization and other marketing tools are readily available.