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A New Era For Health Brands

Health, Trust

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.

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 are 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 mindset 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.

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 are increasingly seeking advice from a broader range of sources – often pursuing three to four 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 in the way people are making decisions about their healthcare, comes the need for health companies and brands to find new solutions to help people make positive health decisions.

Brands must enable healthy living

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 is unwell, is looking for a solution – they are trying to get well, striving to become healthy again.

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.

But, consumers are looking for authenticity.

Be Authentic

As we know, they’re looking for relationships with brands that 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, simple 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 with people, creating connected conversations, inspiring people to share.  Conversations fuelled by shared purpose, galvanise action.

Consumers’ need states in health are changing.

Build health communities

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.

Connectivity is driving our social culture which means that when it comes to 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, their own choices. Particularly when it comes to health.

Health and wellbeing are now firmly established as part of mainstream culture – they have become an intrinsic part of everyday values. 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.

Sources: Edelman Trust Barometer, Edelman Wellness Trends 2016

Has the EU has become obsolete in health policy?

Brexit, Government Affairs, Health

When the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, and his College took office in 2014, many wondered whether a ‘streamlined’ approach focused on ‘better regulation’ would be sustainable in the long run. Half way through the mandate, the legislative pipeline more or less dried out, especially on health topics.

When the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, and his College took office in 2014, many wondered whether a ‘streamlined’ approach focused on ‘better regulation’ would be sustainable in the long run.

Half way through the mandate, the legislative pipeline more or less dried out, especially on health topics. The institutions have been “busy” closing pending dossiers (e.g. medical devices), but there has been little to no new EU legislative initiatives on health.

So, does this mean that the EU has become obsolete in health policy?

The short answer is: no. Despite the lack of binding (or non-binding) legislation, the EU is more relevant than ever when it comes to driving access-relevant health policy.

The number of European Parliament (EP) questions, declarations, resolutions and other “political-stating” tools continue to flourish on traditional issues (such as diabetes, health security and infectious outbreaks, electronic health records) and newer ones (around healthcare systems’ ability to cope with the migration crisis). This reflects the continuous health advocacy and stakeholder presence.

Supporting healthcare systems’ sustainability by comparing performances and the development of the HTA concept have emerged as a top priority. As the launch of the Hepatitis C treatment came with what some called “exorbitant” prices, it exacerbated discussions on wider access to medicines in Europe, health advocates started and maintained the demand for policy action. The industry and governments alike have been repeatedly called upon to improve patient access to innovative treatments.

But isn’t healthcare delivery something Member States firmly claim sovereignty over and an area of competence that they will never give up on?

It seems not as the current EU Presidency trio (the Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta), have made access to innovative medicines a health priorities and adopted on 17 June, (non-binding) Council Conclusions on “Strengthening the balance in the pharmaceutical systems in the EU”. The document, agreed by 28 member states, calls for greater collaboration towards better access to medicines, by, among others, “exploring possible strategies on voluntary joint price negotiations”, “considering further investments at national and EU level in the development of innovative medicines for clearly defined unmet medical needs” and “exploring obstacles (…) and consider new solutions to address market failure, particularly in small markets”.

The Parliament, which is the only institution directly elected by the citizens of Europe, is also developing an own-initiative report on “EU options for improving access to medicines” under the leadership of Spanish socialist Soledad Cabezon Ruiz. What the document will include and call for, is yet to be seen and shaped. These examples serve to show how the EU is continuously on the move and, directly or indirectly, influencing healthcare at national level.

However, in the wake of a “British-less” Europe, while healthcare policy making will undoubtedly continue, processes and procedures are likely to be slowed down and/or overshadowed by the discussions on the Brexit impact – from the next sit of the European Medicines Agency to the overall future of the European Union.

Image: Fotos593 /

Pokemon Go Away - AR's Getting Real

Innovation, Technology
HoloLens_Minecraft by Microsoft Sweden

"You are probably among the first 250 people in the country to try this," says Max our German guide for the evening... Edelman employees try out Microsoft's new augmented reality device, the Hololens.

“You are probably among the first 250 people in the country to try this,” says Max our German guide for the evening.

He lifts a sleek headband out of an equally sleek padded case, slips it over his head and starts tapping his finger and thumb together in front of his face. “There are only about 15 or 20 of them in the country – I flew out to New York to pick this up 5 weeks ago.” Grins of anticipation spread across the faces of my four fellow geeks. “And I believe, this is the most revolutionary device created in the past 5 years.”

So begins my Hololens experience – an evening run by Max’s company, an innovation studio, and a chance to get my hands on the new developer model of the flagship augmented reality device from Microsoft, an Edelman client.

The Hololens is equipped with four 3D scanners that fire infrared beams around the room. Like your brain, it remembers what you’ve recently looked at and additively builds a 3D spatial model of your surroundings. Our guide demonstrates the process through a live stream to a TV, enabled by the Hololens’ HD front camera. The device surveys us, and replicates the room in 3D polygons. Very Matrix.

Edelman tries the Microsoft Hololens

After some theory, and a slightly silly lesson on how to point our fingers, we get to play. Max tightens the Hololens onto my head and asks me to look around the room. I can clearly see everything just as I had left it through the glass visor – so far, so normal. Then I spot something small in the middle of the board table we are sat around. I peer closer, and see a little weightlifter holding a little barbell set. I tap my finger and he springs to life, lifting his weights above his head. With another tap, I pick him up and move him around the table. I lift him up into the air and spin him around in front of my face. I set him down on the floor and move my fingers forward to make him grow. Suddenly, stood in front of me is a lifesize 3D hologram of a real man, teaching me the clean and jerk. I walk around him and stare in awe. Max hadn’t oversold the Hololens.

The surprisingly light device is its own computer, entirely untethered and running Windows 10.  A number of speakers built into the band enable 3D sound. If you move around the room, the Hololens tracks where you are in relation to the holograms it is creating, and shifts the direction of the sound accordingly. As a fan of VR, it struck me immediately that this was an entirely inverse experience. Where virtual reality places you inside a new 3D environment, ‘mixed reality’ places 3D objects directly into your environment.

It immediately sets my brain whirring on the business applications for this fascinating technology. Designers and engineers can walk around their creations before they even exist. Theoretical training scenarios can be brought to life in safe but memorable interactive experiences. Minority Report-style control panels could be built for complex systems, from a smart city’s transport network to a company’s IT infrastructure. Remote communications could take on a whole new dimension – literally. Already, a Skype app for Hololens lets you draw 3D diagrams directly into the space in front of your caller’s eyes.

And of course for a marketing man, the communications implications are enticing. From the humble photo, to interactive graphics and video, visual storytelling has grown enormously in importance in our social and digital media age. If a picture paints a thousand words, imagine what live 3D visualisations could do to describe products, services, people, theories and data.

It’s early days still for the Hololens, and the hardware will continue to evolve. But to experience this next-generation experiment in AR is to imagine an economy and society transformed by its potential. And as a professional communicator, I spend much of my time encouraging clients to show, not just tell. Well, showing just got a whole lot cooler.

Lead image by Microsoft Sweden – win10-HoloLens-Minecraft, CC BY 2.0

The Death of Shopping

Consumer Trends & Insight, Innovation, Technology

FMCG product communications is facing a looming fight with technology. Are we and they prepared?

FMCG product communications, to my mind, is facing a looming fight with technology. Are we and they prepared?

Over the last few years a new technology, the “Dash button” using RFID technology from Amazon has started to show a brave new world for FMCG brands and their interaction with the consumer (directly) than ever before. Running low? Press the button next to the product on your shelf and it will automatically to be reordered. And with moves by manufacturers to integrate these buttons directly into the appliance, perhaps there will be no need to even press a button.

When you twin this technology with other consumer shifts including the broad adoption of subscription services (Dollar Shaving Club), and near real-time delivery (Amazon same-day), the industry is facing a zero-sum game.

What do I mean? Well once a customer has been won, the opportunity to infiltrate this cycle of subscription or of a button press to reorder will become near impossible to break by traditional communications methods. Moving consumers’ brand loyalty was always hard, but this is now further hampered by the additional commitment enforced with these technologies. Why would a customer want to change this relationship once any initial commitment to the product had been made – currently in the form of either a financial agreement or a hardware one (Dash buttons in the house)?

These relationships with products will only harden as technology further develops. In the age of IoT, packaging on most products within five years will have a low-power chip connecting them to the Internet – in essence the Dash button could be integrated into the box. Getting low on cereal, no problem, just press the button on the box and the cereal will be delivered to you tomorrow.

Play that out, and once again the opportunity to market “in-store” will further decline – the serendipity of new products or brand swaps achieved through promotion will disappear. Influence will increasingly be played out at the brand-marketing level, at a significant cost to be able to break through these closed loops that will develop, attracting customers to order directly from the brand. Your brand will be your store; why would a customer need to visit a supermarket ever again? And why would the brand want to give away the customer relationship (they won’t) in this world?

Our core FMCG brands we relate with will be like our relationships with other subscription services – think Sky, gym memberships or others. Tide’s recent announcement shows the way – brands will fight for our membership but once in they’ll have us for life. We won’t go to the product, the product will flow to us.

Product marketing will need to focus largely on “the new” and I can see a big swing towards brand marketing in “protect mode” which would be geared towards reinforcing the sense of membership (closed loops) a customer would have for being part of the “club”.

Brand relationships will have an increasingly monopolistic role over the lifetime of a customer. So the upside to those that win in this world is tremendous, but there will be lots of losers in this new reality. I predict the next five years will be like an episode of Game of Thrones, as brands fight for dominance and to win these hardening closed direct to customer loops.

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