Promoting Wellness: Using Consumer Marketing to Drive Health Behavior Change

Those of us who’ve grown up marketing packaged goods know what it takes to develop a brand and deliver an effective plan to drive consumer interest and action.

With proper strategy work, strong creative execution and focused efforts, consumer attitudes and habits can be influenced, brand sales can rise, and entirely new markets can even be created.

So, given that we’re in the throes of a national healthcare crisis, with poor health behaviors leading to rising costs, how can we deploy consumer marketing to create a healthier population?

Well it’s not easy, but it can be done, with a new marketing model and a new type of client – the employer.

The Employer Wellness Challenge

Employers have a direct interest in the health of their workforce, both because of the medical benefits they pay and because they want a healthy and productive workforce. Recently, they have been putting increasing efforts toward promoting wellness. They are now at the early stage of adapting to a consumer marketing model and are beginning to apply many of the key principles of brand marketing.

Trying to build a healthier workforce is not a new idea – worksite wellness has been around for decades, but the traditional approaches to health promotion were often built around public health ideas and targeting higher cost employees through disease management programs.

But now wellness has gone mainstream, with some 90% of employers stating that they offer wellness to their workforce.

Many companies have already branded their wellness programs, and now it’s time to look at more sophisticated marketing techniques and actually begin “selling” wellness the way a marketer sells their brands.

The “Four Ps” of Wellness Marketing

Employers can benefit by taking a page from Marketing 101. The basic concept for marketing consumer goods is that the Four Ps – Product, Promotion, Price and Place – are the core components.

For wellness, we see a similar model – a set of key principles to help with a framework for engaging the entire workforce. We see the following Four Ps for wellness:

1. Purpose

It’s essential to have a high-level mission and clear set of well-defined objectives that incorporate the strategic objectives and the specific wellness aims and desired outcomes. Employers need to be willing to invest the time, energy and resources to attain these goals and be prepared to implement contingency plans if the numbers are falling short. They should apply the same business discipline to wellness that they use in running lines of business.

2. Process

Part of the overall thrust of health promotion programs is to move individuals along a spectrum toward better wellness. This will need to follow a sort of sequential path that can include “gating” or qualifying events and some aspects of triage to guide individuals into the right program areas and into experiences and interventions relevant to them.

We believe in an approach to wellness program processes similar to how W. Edwards Deming viewed production as a system. With multiple integrated and coordinated touch points and players, each needs to have a specific role within the process and be knowledgeable about their “place” and responsibilities and accountable for results.

3. Promotion

The industry has come a long way in improving communications planning around wellness programs, but there’s room for further progress. Just like an annual advertising schedule, a complete plan should reflect the entire calendar year; balance the need for building awareness and driving action; utilize the multiple forms of media available in a work environment; and leverage leadership and well-being champions to motivate participation.

A well-coordinated team of dedicated people and relevant outside resources are needed to pull off a smartly constructed, well-delivered promotional plan of action.

4. Performance

Until recently, the area of outcomes or performance has received far less attention than it warrants. Measurement is crucial for many reasons. Employers will want to know whether and when to amplify promotional levels if participation is below expectations. Keeping a close eye on the data is essential.

They’ll also want to track activity against their goals and keep management apprised of progress. Ultimately, they’ll need to provide a return-on-investment (ROI) analysis to reinforce the value and ensure support in the next year’s budget.

These “Four Ps” can help strengthen strategic focus and elevate delivery. Better strategies lead to better opportunities for positive and sustainable outcomes.

Wellness Engagement = Brand Loyalty

Marketing really has been a missing element for most wellness initiatives. While some clinical purists may not like the idea, it worked effectively for the prescription drug industry with the use of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising and it can also work for wellness.

If we think about what it takes to “make a sale” for goods and services that we buy on a regular or occasional basis, we can then begin to translate consumer marketing concepts as a way to improve wellness engagement.

A fundamental truth is that to get people to change their behavior, they need to move through their own process or “decision pathway.” This is true whether switching brands or adopting wellness. The expectation that by putting something out there that they “should” do doesn’t mean it will penetrate their awareness and drive action.

A basic premise about marketing is that effective campaigns move consumers through a process of “AIDA” – Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. Too often, employers and health plans try to drive action, before properly setting the stage and preparing the consumer with information and insight.

By building a smart, strategically-oriented communication plan, employers can begin by building Awareness using key messages – whether about health risks, or wellness, or fitness or whatever other main topic is relevant – building context is important.

Interest can be created through additional communications, colleague discussions, testimonials, etc., and that can begin to prepare people’s mindsets.

Desire can be stimulated through incentives, special offers, penalties and an array of tactics that will ultimately lead to Action, which is the first major hoop of sustainable engagement.

The important point is that pushing Action too early can fizzle, so set the stage with an AIDA that honors the decision pathway.

Making the Sale

Consumer marketing can help to “convince the buyer” that we have something of interest that has value to them. Of course, with wellness, we’re not asking them to pay, and in fact frequently offer them cash or rewards if they do take part. We see the following five areas as essential to “making the sale:”

1. Identify the clear benefits. We all know the rational reasons why it is good to participate in wellness programs, but employers don’t always do an effective job at framing the relevant consumer benefits that would appeal to the various consumer segments.

2. Serve up the story. This requires more than a series of e-mails or flyers. A complete communications campaign that mixes mass-market campaigns with targeted messaging is needed to deliver key story flow designed to get attention and build interest.

3. Make the sale. Awareness must translate to action. Incentives can help, but there also needs to be intrinsic receptivity to the offer, and sufficient frequency of message to move the market.

4. Reinforce the buying decision. Avoid the “trier-rejecter” pattern. Employers need to find ways to strengthen conviction through direct messages, web portal postings, wellness champion support, peer influence, and pats on the back from coaches or clinicians

5. Reward them over the long term. Health behavior change is difficult and part of a lifelong journey. Employers can design approaches to build financial or benefit-oriented advantages for individuals that have made the right choices and done the hard work to overcome challenges to create new and improved healthy lifestyles.

This perspective just scratches the surface to touch on the opportunities that lie ahead. When we consider that individual lifestyle and health behavior choices contribute to about 75% of our nation’s healthcare bill, one might think that this is the most important marketing job of all.

There’s a lot to do to get it right, but the good news is that there is a “living lab” of successful consumer brand stories to tap, and an employer market motivated to get it right and deliver the most important sale of all – a healthier nation.