Sustainable, biodegradable, low voc, eco-friendly. Complex terms, all now household words thanks to both the modern environmental movement and brand marketers. Climate change has given rise to more than our thermostats. It has also created a conversation, one in which brands have played a key role, driving as much awareness about the impact of our everyday choices on the environment as advocacy groups and government.
Early in the last decade smart marketers recognized an opportunity to support and leverage our growing interest in making “good-for-the-environment” purchase decisions. While some marketers got it right, we also experienced a wave of “green washing,” where everything from shampoo to floor wax was touted as environmentally friendly. Thanks to social media, fakers were swiftly outed and products that could prove they offered legitimate environmental benefits were duly rewarded.
Now marketers are both chasing and driving another major social trend. On a quest for better health and well-being, consumers are expressing an increased desire for healthy products, and marketers are listening. Today’s consumers are living with unprecedented access to information, unprecedented transparency and unprecedented cost of healthcare. This alignment of incentives has provided brand marketers an important opportunity: to grow business by helping people take better care of themselves. For some brands, healthy comes naturally. But even brands you wouldn’t expect are getting into the fray, with mainstream brands in numerous sectors scrambling to adapt and get on the right side of the ever-more health conscious consumer.
“Healthy choice” marketing is in the process of transforming the food industry where products, brands and whole companies are being reengineered and, in the process, are playing a significant role in raising consumer consciousness and understanding of everything from empty calories and trans fats to GMOs and high fructose corn syrup to organic and sustainable farming.
We are seeing fast food chains add “healthy” menu choices in the face of threats by fast casual restaurants, such as Panera and Chipotle, where growth has surpassed that of every other restaurant segment since 2008. CVS stunned the retail world by banning the sale of tobacco products and positioning themselves as a healthcare company, offering vaccinations and other health services. Pharmaceutical companies and brands are also scrambling to broaden their offerings beyond medications to include behavior modification, patient support services and, in some cases, becoming healthcare providers themselves.
When it comes to catering to health conscious consumers almost no category will go untouched. Beauty brands are dialing up science and boosting well-being benefits to appeal to both the rational and emotional sides of healthy choice seeking customers. The hospitality industry continues to invest in fitness and well-being amenities galore.
No longer testing the waters, big tech has jumped in with massive investments at Apple and Google. Strange bedfellows are the new norm. Ford, Microsoft Corp. and Healthrageous have partnered to research how connected devices can help people monitor and maintain health and wellness as they drive. Retail medicine is popping up everywhere, so you can get a checkup and get your prescription filled at Walmart or sign up for health insurance at Walmart and even at IKEA.
Why is health and wellness attracting all the big players?
There are three factors aligning business consciousness with social consciousness:
1) People Are Getting Smarter. Consumers have more access to more information and are becoming more capable of sussing out the good information from the bad. For brand marketers, this has created an imperative for a new level of transparency. Brands can’t just make promises—they must now keep promises. Brands are now frequently outed and punished for making unsupportable claims. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were both successfully sued for promoting health benefits—for Coke, in the case of Vitamin Water, and for Pepsi Co for the use of “all natural” with Naked Juice.
The advent of social media has empowered consumers to review all things “healthy”—from products and services to doctors and hospitals—and share experiences 24/7, the real killer testimonial.
2) Costs of “Unhealthy Are Hitting Home.” The incentives for making healthy choices are aligning with the cost of making unhealthy choices. America spends a greater percentage of its wealth on healthcare than any other industrialized nation; the total of $2.8 trillion means an average cost of $8,915 per person with about 17% of middle-class wages going to health coverage (both insurance and out-of-pocket). Lifestyle choices, such as the obesity epidemic, have a direct cost on health insurance or what our governments and insurers are willing to pay for healthcare, which is creating pressure on the system. Many consumer brands are being blamed as contributing to the problem and now see an opportunity to get on the right side of this conversation, while others see new customers on the horizon.
3) Demographics Incite a New Social Movement. Baby Boomers and Millennials are massive generational cohorts with the power to make and break markets, and have more in common than meets the eye. Boomers are becoming more health conscious as they age and make increasing demands on the system to serve both their needs and desire to live longer, healthier lives. Millennials raised on a diet of organic veggies and social transparency are more health conscious as well. In fact, they are by far the most health conscious generation of consumers with a more holistic view of what it means to be healthy.
Another potentially huge new driver is the role a new generation of men will play as the gender gap closes on the home front and dads take more responsibility for childcare, shopping, meals and even pediatrician visits. Healthy is the new green, as Millennials are committed to taking better care of themselves and the environment.
Brands are discovering that harnessing the power of the health conscious consumer requires some heavy lifting which does not stop with messaging and packaging. Companies and brands willing and able to help people make meaningful, measurable improvements in their health need to make meaningful and measurable improvements in their products, as well as their marketing. People want to make healthy, more confident choices and the brands that respond to that desire will not only be building healthy businesses, they will be helping people live healthier lives.