What Communications + Marketing Professionals Need to Know in 2024
It’s no secret the game changed significantly for how consumers view all aspects of health and wellness over the past five years – living through a global pandemic will do that! But beyond changing attitudes about hygiene and disease prevention, the growing spotlight on mental health and self-care, and the explosion in telehealth have had lasting effects on changes in consumer behavior, there are few hard and fast rules for U.S. brands to follow in 2024 as they attempt to capture more dollars. Indeed, if there’s one thing that stands out as a lesson learned for those companies looking to win over the hearts and minds of American consumers, particularly with health and wellness products and services, it’s that they need to connect with customers in more meaningful ways than ever, and be willing to be nimble in how they do it.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Working with so many organizations of various shapes and sizes across the health and wellness spectrum, from CPG brands to health care startups to some of the world’s biggest and most recognizable health providers, we’ve come to understand that before you can devise a smart strategy, you need to understand the landscape. Below are some of the biggest health and wellness trends impacting how consumers perceive the brands promising to help them care for themselves or their loved ones – and asking for their dollars to do so.
Younger consumers cannot be overlooked
Millennials, Gen Z and now Generation Alpha consumers are heavily influencing the trends and information sharing that permeates on social media and drives much of the conversation around mental health, physical wellness and positive body image. They use more wearables. They think about mental, physical and social health differently – and interconnectedly. And they are increasingly making decisions or helping their parents, loved ones and yes, even followers navigate choices on everything from fad diets to telehealth options to previously often taboo topics like sexual health, menstruation, relationship boundaries and managing anxiety. Indeed, according to McKinsey’s latest Future of Wellness report, which surveyed more than 5,000 consumers across the U.S., U.K. and China, Gen Zers and millennials are now purchasing more wellness products and services than older generations. And findings from the Nutrition Business Journal spotlight how Alphas, who have grown up with complete access to smartphones and immerse themselves in tech from metaverses to AI, will soon outnumber Boomers and have huge sway on their families’ purchases – especially when it comes to health.
Not only do brands need to adapt their approach to win over these younger, more diverse and more complex demographics of consumers themselves, but they must recognize the impact they have on their parents and grandparents as well, as they become caregivers and decision makers…or at the very least, influence their perspectives and purchases.
Influencer marketing and digital media remain critical channels for educating and engaging
Speaking of influence, tapping tastemakers with niche or mass audiences following them on social media channels is still a red hot category that many brand marketers are not investing in at the level or with the strategic approach they should be. Working with influencers is a hybrid marketing and communications strategy that is equal parts reputation management and word-of-mouth guerilla marketing as it is advertising, yet too many brands often see it as simply a paid channel with an exclusive focus on numbers. As we shared in our own recent free webinar, Working With Influencers: How to Build Authentic Partnerships and Engaging Content, there are nuances to activating influencers the right way so that content feels authentic and credible, the partners leveraged by your brand make sense and don’t pose undue reputational risk, and the storytelling approach resonates to drive action versus inspiring eye rolls and skepticism. And our own surveys have shown that between 2020-2023, health and wellness remained the second most popular category of influencer content that consumers are both most interested in and most likely to act on upon viewing.
Our survey also revealed credible experts can often be more important ambassadors for brand storytelling than even celebrities – and this may become increasingly true when it comes to health and wellness topics or services. Many of our clients are finding value in partnering with licensed professionals for wellness-centric campaigns versus relying on non-credentialed influencers who may not meet younger consumers’ standards as they become more discerning about whose advice and experiences are most valuable and reliable.
Of course, it’s not just social media that needs to be a core part of any health and wellness brand’s marketing mix, but really embracing a healthy mix of digital-first tactics as part of an overall omnichannel communications strategy. According to eMarketer’s Jeremy Goldman, we’re seeing momentum towards the point where consumers will be spending one in $5 online by 2027, and e-commerce continues to be a huge growth opportunity in the U.S. whereas it has matured much faster in other global markets. While that means four out of five dollars spent are still in-store in the U.S., consumers are still shopping across digital and brick-and-mortar venues, as buy online, pick-up in store becomes more accessible, and folks discover items online and then seek them out in person. When looking closer at categories, Goldman cites that 21% of health and personal care purchases are online, with that share expected to grow dramatically as we move into the future.
Retailers and CPG companies hoping to win in wellness and health care service providers need to understand that each consumer’s journey is likely to include a combination of online and offline interactions with their brand. Looking for ways to deliver seamless, frictionless experiences continues to be paramount – and that means reaching consumers and engaging them should include an array of online and offline tactics, too – even if that makes the ROI a bit more complex to measure than simply tracking KPIs such as direct clicks and e-commerce sales.
The hottest topics in wellness keep changing – so it’s important to stay plugged into them
Finally, one of the best pieces of advice we have emphasized with our clients is that to stand out, they need to hone in on topics and themes that are going to resonate – and use those to show how their products or services are relevant. Media coverage, research, social buzz, surveys and Google’s weekly search tracker are all great vehicles to keep tabs on what trends are rising or dominating. Your team and agency partners have to be tuning in and deriving inspiration from the news of the day and the rapidly shifting behaviors that illustrate what consumers care about and are seeking information on.
Mental health, stress management, hydration, fitness and self-care, healthy aging. These are all stand-out topics that are leading much of the conversation, online and offline, about consumer health and wellness. That’s not to say that for specific patient communities or folks managing chronic conditions, that there are a plethora of other ways in for your brand. But for companies trying to break through the clutter, think about all the articles and podcasts on work-life balance, changing routines and norms that we come across on a daily basis. The desire to draw healthy boundaries not just on work vs. home time, but in relationships, friendships, familial connections. And that fitness and self-care mean different things to different people. A recent Forbes Health/OnePoll survey cited that the top New Year’s resolution this year was focused on fitness and physical health, a departure after several years of mental health claiming the top. The rise in semaglutide medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro have offered hope to hundreds of thousands if not millions of consumers who are experiencing weight loss milestones they’ve struggled to attain for years. At the same time, there’s been an explosion of low calorie and high protein TikTok recipes and food trends that we can’t seem to get away from. The body positive culture celebrated across pop culture and in music. Each of these topics on their own offer new opportunities for brands to be part of the conversation around how they can help people maintain or establish new healthy routines and habits, or address underlying issues.
Across all demos, hydration is huge – look no further than the Stanley cup craze and #WaterTok for evidence. Plus, with the proliferation of mocktails being added to menus and on store shelves, and more adults opting to go alcohol-free, that leaves the door wide open for flavored and creative water options and other non-caloric, non-alcoholic beverages that can be tied in with people’s health goals.
And all of it extends as people age – what 60 or even 70 looks like today is nothing like it did when many of us were children, and it shouldn’t. As a result, there are so many trends, practices, products and services all geared toward the concept of slowing down the aging process. The benefits of extreme temperature treatments (cold plunges, saunas, cryotherapy), intermittent fasting, supplements, plant-based diets, paying more attention to the quality and nutrient density in food…the list goes on and on. Even popular docuseries like Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, Live to 100 and You Are What You Eat are hugely trending for many because of their desire to explore anything we can do to have more healthy, good years.
While there’s still some uncertainty after 2023 turned out to be a roller coaster of a year for many, driving success in 2024 is very achievable – but the time to act is now. Experiment, optimize, be willing to try new things and invest as much in brand awareness and building affinity for the things you stand for, the problems you solve, and your purpose or connection to the communities you serve. All of that is going to continue to be just as critical as simply sharing what makes your products or services different from the next ones. In short, there’s no scarcity of “ways in” for brands to market their offerings well to consumers who are eager for anything that will help them on their health and wellness journeys. You just have to be committed to doing it meaningfully.