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No magic pill in the age of wellness

How should we define the state of 'wellness' – and can we create tools that help us measure it?

To be human is arguably to dream of a life free of pain and loss, yet to suffer it all the same. As long as records have existed, we detect traces of humankind's attempt to blot out pain, mitigate loss and prevent harm. Whether for heart, mind or body, our search for a magic pill to cure what ails us is a legacy that also defines us. 

But, recently, in our global consumer study, The Truth About Wellness, we noticed a slightly different pattern emerging. Our global respondents were surprisingly uninterested in the promise of extraordinary inventions that would relieve them of a range of discontents. 

To begin, only one out of five of our UK respondents would elect to stop the ageing process and remain the same age forever (compared to 53 per cent in China). Further, our British respondents were the least likely to 'erase unpleasant memories'. In fact, nearly half of our British respondents declined all of our suggested innovations.  

Does this spell the end for our quest for a miracle cure? Not entirely. But it does provide a peak at how a culture of wellness has expanded over a few short decades. 

The dawn of the age of wellness 
It goes without saying that the expansion of a culture of wellness has also had implications for the healthcare clients we serve. Increasingly we ask ourselves: are we in the business of alleviating illness or promoting health? 

About a year ago, India Wooldridge (Truth Central's deputy director) and I sat in her New York City office to chart the design of our global research study, The Truth About Wellness. Even though we had access to multiple definitions and models of wellness, such as that provided by the WHO, we knew that our study had to be both exploratory and defining.

In our online survey, we asked consumers to assign 100 points across physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial and social wellness, to indicate their ideal mix of priorities when it comes to wellness (see chart below). Globally, we found that consumers view each of these components as relevant to achieving an optimal state of wellness. 

While physical wellness may appear to be the most important facet of that definition, notice from the chart (below) that the combined importance of mental, spiritual, and emotional health is greater than that of physical health. In fact, we discovered that when faced with a choice, 41 per cent of consumers – a narrow majority – would rather preserve their mental health over their physical health. 

Ranking of importance to what makes overall wellness

This raises important questions for our clients in the medical healthcare industry, especially concerning the potential contradiction between a well life and an ill body. That is, might patients with chronic illnesses be more or less capable of attaining a viable state of wellness? Are we truly equipped to not only attend to the physical but also the mental, emotional and social dimensions of wellness that consumers value? 

The expanding wellness ecosystem
Many of us may remember days when there were limited options for improving our personal health. If you felt ill, you would likely go straight to the doctor or perhaps the pharmacist. Today that picture is much more complex. If we suspect we are suffering from an illness, we Google it, then visit the doctor, and then Google what he has said. What might be called a 'Google medical sandwich'! 

In turn, we might consult our yoga instructor, our stylist, or even an interior decorator. And, without a doubt, this has an impact on the role of the doctor. In our study 21 per cent of respondents could conceive of a future when the doctor could be replaced by robotics or other automated services.

Coinciding with the shifting landscape of expertise, consumers are assuming a greater sense of personal responsibility. When asked, “Who has the greatest amount of responsibility for wellness?” the top ranking answer is “me” (ahead of doctors, government, or brands who are the front-lines in a strictly clinical health model). This shift is impacting everything from the consumer's willingness to self-medicate through to how they manage their relationship with the doctor. 

The implications for the pharmaceutical industry are increasingly complex. Consumers in 'the Age of Wellness' are seeking a change in traditional medical standards and even expecting diverse 'around the pill' offerings to help achieve wellness to the fullest possible extent. Brands and companies who do not attend to these concerns will likely see challenges to their role in the new wellness ecosystem.

Where is the return on investment? 
Spending on wellness has doubled in the last decade, and will continue to grow at an impressive rate (Euromonitor International). With global healthcare at a crisis point and consumers picking obesity as the number one threat to the future health of humanity, you might argue that it is the very worst of times for our overall health, while it is the very best of times for our pursuit of wellness.

Indeed, there is much to be positive about: 86 per cent of people believe they have the power to change their own level of wellness, 73 per cent feel positive about their overall health and the average person now believes they will live to 79 (in China this rises to 84). This optimism is being amplified by a technological revolution that is set to dramatically impact our global standards of health, ushering in an era when one's attitude might be just as important as the quality of healthcare one receives.

Seize the day as partner and pioneer
There has never been a better time for brands and companies to shape the future of wellness and to assist consumers in their quest to live healthier and happier lives. Some brands, such as J&J, Nestlé, Nike and Adidas, are finding simple ways to engage, inspire, and support consumers make positive behavioural choices. Our Wellness Manifesto is one tool among many that supports their work and the goals of global consumers. 

Five years on, we may look back to find some of today's models of health falling the way of clay casts and astringents. But how will we partner with consumers going forward? Are we ready to shape and respond to the future, and potentially contradictory demands of health and wellness? In what ways are we prepared for wellness to become an integral part of the way we see and do business?

Fast track

  • The global expansion of 'The Age of Wellness' is radically restructuring the consumer health landscape
  • Achieving personal wellness is increasingly a key objective of consumers everywhere
  • Mental health is becoming on par with physical health for today's consumers
  • The patient is at the centre of his or her own wellness ecosystem, with the doctor/pharmacist competing for a shrinking share of influence
  • We are witnessing a paradigm shift from treating illness to promoting wellness
  • Leading brands are finding simple ways to support consumers as they make positive behavioural choices 

Article by
Jacqueline Way and Rodney Collins

Way is head of planning, McCann Torre Lazur and Collins is regional director McCann Truth Central (McCann’s global business intelligence unit). Email Jacqueline or email Rodney.

30th January 2014

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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