This paper explores the evolving dynamics between our healthcare industry and the health & wellness economy.

Questions of exploration include: What kind of crossover exists between  healthcare and health & wellness marketing and offerings? What challenges and opportunities can agencies expect with healthcare clients?

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We have a global health crisis on our hands–proving to be the ultimate pressure test for our healthcare system.1 But this article is not about healthcare providers’ response to the crisis. 

It’s about Americans’ perception of the healthcare industry long before the pressure test. 

Health & wellness verses healthcare 

Our country has a love affair with all things health and wellness and “as consumer demand for wellness rises, businesses across the board are buying into the trend.” 2 The health & wellness economy is so pervasive it can no longer be thought of as a single sector but is more accurately described as a cultural force associated with an aspirational lifestyle and consumer control. 

Healthcare, an industry that logically should be more deeply interconnected to the health and wellness boom than say eco-tourism or Lululemon sales, is oddly often seen as a separate industry. 

If healthcare is included as a subsector of the health and wellness economy at all, it’s often a sub-sector that has until recently felt isolated from other positive perceptions associated with the H&W space. 

Why has healthcare gotten such a bad wrap? 

Part of the what’s contributing to healthcare’s perception problem stems from Americans’ fears for what’s coming: “55% of Americans say they worry a great deal about the availability and affordability of healthcare looking ahead – making healthcare the top concern among a list of 15 big-picture problems in a 2019 Gallup study.” When given the choice between “a freeze in US healthcare costs for the next five years or a 10% increase in household income, 61% of Americans report that their preference is a freeze in costs.” Case in point, consider the fact that already “15 million Americans have deferred purchasing prescription drugs in the past year due to cost.” All up, the healthcare industry is unfortunately often associated with heightened concerns over two “C”s – rising costs and diminished consumer control. 

To be fair, most health and wellness companies have an obvious leg up. Their target audience is different from healthcare companies in at least one important way.

Health and wellness consumers “self-select to enter and shop the category, often evaluating brands based on the best fit for their self-image or their emotional needs in that category.” But healthcare is often associated with illness over prevention, and thus unlike health & wellness shoppers, “‘patients’ do not actively decide to enter an illness category. Instead, they are diagnosed into a ‘market’ they have no desire to be in.” 5

Where’s the silver lining you ask?

 It’s in the sirens and alarms.  

Healthcare clients are waking up to the realization that if they want to be relevant in the next ten years they have to make drastic changes. They’re seeing the writing written on the walls as healthcare upstarts find success positioning themselves as the solution to hard-hitting health challenges while simultaneously leaning into aspirational H&W branding cues. Meanwhile, advertising agencies are meeting new demand for healthcare marketing. 

Over the past decade healthcare has swiftly become one of the most popular underdog industries – Why? Well… nothing says “disruption potential” quite like an industry with consumer dissatisfaction, inefficient cost structures, poor user experiences, bad branding standards and a big market cap. At least that seems to be the logic that’s led tech giants, venture capitalists and today’s top creative agencies to heavily invest in breathing new life into our healthcare industry. 

Is there still plenty of potential for improvement? No doubt. 

But look carefully and there are a number of breakthrough healthcare companies and campaigns winning favor and driving positive results for their patients.

Inside Parsley Health, a new kind of primary care clinic focusing on wholistic health. Image source: Architectural Digest, 2019

Savlon Healthy Chalk Sticks, an innovative solution to encourage more school children in India to properly wash their hands before lunch
Laugh It Up, a playful yet hardworking campaign urging patients with Cystic Fibrosis to incorporate laughter into treatment plan

Sources: 

  1. The coronavirus is set to push the US healthcare system to its limits, Business Insider, 03/2020
  2. Position Your Brand To Win In The Wellness Economy, Forbes, 12/2019
  3. Americans’ Mixed Views of Healthcare and Healthcare Reform, Gallup, 05/2019
  4. The Great Disconnect Between Perceptions and Realities of the U.S. Healthcare System, Gallup x West Health, 04/2019
  5. Effectively Positioning Pharmaceutical Brands, Evoke Group, 05/2019

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