We’ve all seen it before – exaggerated or unfounded claims tied to health and wellness products in an attempt to appeal to health conscious consumers. So it wasn’t too surprising when Dr. Mehmet Oz began hyping the alleged fat-burning effects of various supplements. However, the cacophony of criticism (including even a congressional hearing) that arose from both consumers and regulators as a result, was noteworthy.
Action taken against misleading or false advertising is nothing new, but the speed and severity of the public backlash against Dr. Oz marks one of a few subtle, yet notable, shifts happening now in consumer behavior. If this indicates anything, it’s that the landscape for health and wellness marketers is currently undergoing a great deal of change, and businesses looking to stay ahead of the curve and be effective should keep in mind six emerging trends consumers in the health and wellness sphere.
Consumers are cautious of bold claims about products. Brands must reel in anything that sounds too good to be true or miraculous.This isn’t to say that scientifically proven effects of various products be underplayed; rather it’s in a brand’s best interest to strategically balance its claims with hard facts. In a November 2012 show, Dr. Oz claimed that the supplement coupled with “No Diet, No Exercise, No Effort” had proven fat-burning effects. Consumers nowadays are very capable of knowing “snake oil” when they see it. Crafting balanced, reasonable marketing strategies in the health and wellness sector doesn’t have to prevent a product from gaining widespread awareness; instead it can portray the brand in a positive light among increasingly discriminating consumers.
Scientific accountability is required more than ever. This means going above and beyond meeting low-level scientific muster. Avoid manipulating scientific data, otherwise, be prepared to deal with the contempt of both your customers and the press. Products or brands at large can easily be tarnished with loosely based claims or by flat out ignoring contradictory bodies of evidence. There are few truly unbiased tools to provide the information many health and wellness consumers want in order to make smart health and wellness decisions, but those few services, such as Examine.com, are fortunately beginning to see an uptick in demand.
Transparency is incredibly important. There’s no excuse not to have all relevant information, such as nutrition, properly visible on the product. The digitization of healthy living requires easily accessible information, otherwise you run the risk of the consumer tossing your product aside in favor of another one. Services such as MyFitnessPal are quantifying how people choose what to eat for every meal, highlighting the fact that consumers don’t want to be burdened with doing research on your product, nor do they want to feel like you’re hiding something. Be transparent with that key information.
Do digital, but do it right. Apps and wearable technology are becoming a major presence throughout the health and wellness world, paving the way for some early adopters to flood the market with well-intentioned, but often unnecessary software or tech. Take, for instance, Apple and Google's recently announced forays into the healthcare sector; clearly, tech giants are getting serious about health and wellness. In the rush to capitalize on this trend, brands should not make the mistake of adopting technology just for the sake of adopting technology. Instead, they should ground themselves in making additions that truly benefit the consumer and demonstrate a genuine approach to making people healthy.
Gamification can work. We’ve all seen the novelty hardware, the gimmicky apps, and the social networks built into platforms to add an element of competition into traditionally personal tasks such as running and dieting. Seems like a decent idea, but good intentions and expensive software integration don’t automatically make a successful platform. The so-called gamification of health-related tasks can be very effective, just not in every case. New products, such as the Bluetooth and app connected toothbrush, and even the smart cup, have the potential to change consumer behavior in a big way. Providing new avenues for feedback that positively reinforces better behavior is not an impossible task, but it requires much more than just good intentions.
Finally: Don’t be dictated by transient trends. Fads come and go, and tastes change, but the basics of how to stay healthy pretty much stay the same. Don’t let your image get swept away by the latest craze. Brands that behave authentically will successfully endear themselves to consumers and build a loyal customer base.
The author was a member of the 2014 Health Effie Awards Final Round Jury.