Alison Dunlop Head of Health Engagement Edelman

Alison Dunlop
Head of Health Engagement
Edelman

Health brands must tap into culture if they want to stay relevant
       

As communicators, we’re now operating in the most health-engaged era there has ever been. And this trend will only continue.

But the definition of health has changed – it’s now more complex.

People are taking a more holistic approach to health – focusing on smarter ways to manage their overall mental and emotional health, as well as their physical wellbeing. They’re better informed, better educated and more empowered, which has resulted in a significant shift in the way they engage with health brands and companies.

This new, shrewd consumer mind-set is driving health behaviours.

As the consumer’s health journey continues to evolve, there are no clear indicators for brands navigating this environment. Pushing out messages at key moments hoping to engage an audience is no longer effective. Brands need to invite consumers to engage in meaningful and consistent dialogue that reflects their values, and this is leading to a demand for a much higher level of transparency.

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Invite discussion

Trust continues to be the vital factor driving decisions in this space. But, consumers’ sphere of trust has changed significantly over the past few years. Healthy living is an increasingly social experience. Social media and the model of connectivity have disrupted traditional communications models by creating empowered consumers who drive shared online discussions that shape perceptions around a brand.

Although consumers still respect the opinions of healthcare professionals, they’re increasingly seeking advice from a broader range of sources before making an informed health decision. As a result, trust has evolved from the more traditional sources of authority, such as doctors, to specific communities. Peer-to-peer influence now sits firmly at the top of the trust pyramid.

With this change comes the need for health companies and brands to find new solutions to help people make positive health decisions.

Enable healthy living

It’s no longer enough for health brands to communicate around product claims, simply telling the healthy product benefit story. These messages have increasingly become indistinctive for consumers – there’s really very little difference between the claims of one headache tablet to the next.

A brand selling functionality assumes the consumer is focused on being sick. But, a consumer who’s unwell is looking for a solution, striving to become healthy again.

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Today’s consumers want to understand how a product fits into their overall approach to living a healthier lifestyle. Companies need to understand what’s important to this new consumer and then articulate how the brand can deliver against these priorities, driving cultural conversations. This value exchange can take the brand beyond loyalty, into the advocacy arena.

Be authentic

People are looking for relationships with brands they can trust. So a company’s value proposition needs to be intrinsically linked to consumers’ wellbeing – and the company needs to genuinely live this proposition, not just talk it.

This proposition also needs to be articulated fully – and simply. Consumers are looking to reduce the complexity in their lives, so a single narrative with the consumer’s needs and values at its core will build trust and shared purpose.

To develop authentic engagement with consumers, brands need to be continually evolving: they need to be ‘living brands’ that resonate, creating connected conversations, inspiring people to share. Conversations fuelled by shared purpose, galvanise action. 

Build communities

A consumer’s reason to believe in a brand now combines health, as well as cultural need states. People strive to be well, and look for brands and companies to provide solutions that inspire health behaviours – but these must tap into a cultural relevance.

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Connectivity is driving our social culture – health consumers think in terms of community, alongside individual benefit. So, although they pursue health needs in isolation, they inevitably relate to people in similar situations, with similar goals. Brands navigating this landscape need to focus on building communities – but they must allow for personalisation.

People want to be in control of making their own decisions, particularly when it comes to health.

Health and wellbeing are now firmly established as part of mainstream culture. As a result, for a health brand to be successful, its value proposition needs to reflect that an informed and engaged consumer is implicit at the core of the health industry of the future.