It depends, and it’s complicated… What the Health?!

The health and wellness sector has demonstrated tremendous growth over the past few years, which has encouraged brands to explore the space more in depth to meet consumer expectations. Although the market is expanding rapidly to meet demand, entering the health and wellness space is not as simple as it may appear at first glance. The innovation in this market category requires not only a well-thought-out approach but also consumer trust. The healthcare and overall health of the consumer should be at the forefront of decisions while developing the products, packaging and communications.  Consumers interested in integrating mindful products into their everyday lives entrust companies to conduct quality research in order to make informed decisions about the items or ingredients representing the brand. Breaking down the target consumer, ethical and legal concerns, and ways to execute a strong research plan are just an overview of the many components involved in the health and wellness space. To gain more insights, advice and examples about this topic, check out HCD’s webinar “What the Health?! Consumer Research in the Wellness Market” presented by Michelle Niedziela, PhD and Martha Bajec, PhD. 

The Conscious Consumer

The health and wellness category is an umbrella term for a lot of items: vitamins, supplements, stationaries, creams, smoothies, blankets, etc., and this market continues to expand as more and more products pivot to somehow address mental and physical wellbeing. Looking to find ways to curb the stress and anxiety, a specific group in the market is emerging—the conscious consumer. Some characteristics include being interested in holistic approaches to healthcare and actively engaged in preventative opposed to reactive strategies. Additionally, the conscious consumer has an awareness of environmental impacts sown into this narrative, since the objective to optimize health and wellbeing extends to the notion of a clean, natural, and sustainable lifestyle. (You can hear Michelle touch more on the profile of the conscious consumer here). Through those purchase behaviors, the conscious consumer is taking control of personal health by focusing on long-term benefits via small, consistent decisions. 

The attention put towards product decisions to help consumers best achieve health and wellbeing goals involves marketers listening to those new needs. Consumers are taking an interest in understanding the ingredients within a product and knowing the benefits or limitations of a service. The behavioral shift in priorities to focus on self-care requires marketers and developers to adjust the products to better serve their audience. Through careful planning and consideration, highlighting specific values of products can shift expectations. Recognizing the fast pace of most consumers’ lives should be reflected on products, packages or communications. Consumers want information shared in a concise manner, while still being informative. Learning how to communicate with the target demographic through strategies such as simple language or clear infographics can keep consumers engaged; however, misleading messaging can lead to negative consequences.

A Note on Ethics

Consumer research in the health and wellness market depends on clear definitions of terms and uses. Unfortunately, the wide spectrum of goods and services within this category results in a vague definition of what is dictated as market or clinical research. Wellness items can be categorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food, food additive, cosmetic, dietary supplement or drug (Dronkers, Krist, Van Overveld & Rijkers, 2018). The regulations and requirements that must be upheld legally are based on how the product is labeled. If the product is intended to treat a disease or disorder, clinical trials are required by the FDA, while items considered a dietary supplement may not need the same level of consent.

Other government organizations, like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), are predicted to follow the FDA’s lead by placing regulations on some health and wellness products such as probiotics (Aleixandre-Tudó, Castelló-Cogollos, Aleixandre, & Aleixandre-Benavent, 2019). However, since requirements currently vary depending on how the product is categorized, companies themselves must reflect on the specific intentions of the product. The safety of the consumer is imperative when considering if it could be perceived as a potential treatment. The fundamental questions about the type, the intention and the claims of the product truly impact the making and marketing of it. By reflecting on the specific product details, the research question can cater to major concerns and result in stronger, more valuable findings.  

Companies must uphold a level of accountability when a claim is made to meet the standards of government agencies and consumers. Legal ramifications may result from an improper claim while trying to fit into the niche market of health and wellness. From R&D, to branding, to packaging, the product should uphold a level of efficacy as a viable option for consumers. Scientific evidence can create strong proof to guide the exploration. As noted by Michelle here, “This allusiveness creates both opportunity for people to create new products, but also confusion for companies looking to take advantage of the wellness movement.” While it may be challenging to distinguish prevention from treatment, it’s crucial to take concern over the type of claim being made and strategize how to best describe a product authentically.

How Would You Measure It?

Trying to introduce a new product or reposition the brand into the health and wellness space involves a lot of uncertainty. Yet, there are many potential avenues to explore as a means to test and adjust the product, package or communications prior to making a full launch. The best research options are subjective based on the type of product being tested as well as the question being asked. Luckily, a lot of tools and research methods are available, making it feasible to determine the best methods for your particular question.

Consumers perceive and process cues differently based on context and experience; therefore, reactions can vary from certain sample populations. Selecting the target demographic is a really important decision because external factors (i.e. health, age, sex, etc.) make it challenging to minimize confounds. While keeping a tight sample of participants is always the best, it is important to be realistic during recruitment.  Seeking out “unicorns” may be great for a directional exploration but may be unrealistic for claims research since the sample size may be too low. Considering time, objectives, and budget constraints can help determine the best recruitment route for health and wellness research.

Health and wellness research can include something as simple as a survey or an interview to the use of psychophysiological tools or eye tracking and be as involved as collecting blood or urine samples. The location of the research is dependent on the methodology utilized. Some research opportunities permit home use tests (HUT) to learn about the product performance and evaluation in a natural usage environment. More invasive research will need to involve a clinical research organization (CRO) to help manage the study, whereas a market research facility may be acceptable for higher-level, noninvasive experiments. Revisiting how the product is being used can help determine the level of granularity necessary within the research design. Furthermore, the potential need for an ethics committee such as an Independent Review Board (IRB), a Research Ethics Committee (REC) or a General Medical Council (GMC) should also be considered when making a research plan. By having the information about the protocol organized and structured early in the exploration phase, it will eventually help promote a better understanding of the measured effect.

Jiving with the Concept

The possibilities are endless when it comes to researching novel avenues within health and wellness. Part of the fun in researching new ideas within product, packaging and communications is recognizing the endless possibilities (for better or for worse). Particular goods or services may fit directly in the “wellness world,” while others try to blend in through small, meaningful pivots. Keeping a pulse on consumer preferences helps to determine if that particular innovation is actually worth pursuing. Martha summarizes this point beautifully here in stating, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Make sure the extra health benefit is enticing to consumers. Chasing a health halo, aka overestimating the healthfulness and wellbeing of an item based on its appearance or communications, may be displeasing to the consumer if the experience doesn’t meet the expectation. For example, if you are craving a greasy bag of chips after a long day, indulging in a package advertising a new recipe with 70% less saturated fat may be less satisfying. Learn what values of the product are important to the consumer and emulate those characteristics in the packaging and communications. To put it simply: grow with the consumer, rather than against them. 

The New Product 2.0+

It is safe to say consumers want more from products. From Goldfish Veggie Crackers containing a third serving of vegetables to Dr. Organic Extra Whitening Charcoal Toothpaste, consumers want the product to solve additional deficiencies. Pushing multipurpose items as a way to solve some problems allows for an easy opportunity to address consumer values. If cream can act as a moisturizer while also having SPF in it, then two pain points are being addressed in one product. However, it is important to consider consumer needs and ask if consumers will agree with merging two items. Researching consumer interest, likability, or believability may help prevent spending a lot of money on a product that flops in market. Throughout the research process, it is important to periodically take a moment to reflect on the goals and accomplishments needed to succeed.

Martha brings up an easy way to start your thought-process on wellness product innovation. She suggests considering the downstream effect by thinking about how these products may be used by your friends and family. The product itself, as well as the claims or packaging, is relied on by the consumer to uphold its promises. By conducting the best research feasible and creating a strong end product, consumers’ validation will prove itself through longevity and loyalty in buying behavior.

For great examples of the complexities within the health and wellness space and where this field is going next, please listen to Michelle and Martha chat more in depth in our “What the Health?!” webinar available on Youtube! Additionally, if you are interested in conducting research within the dynamic space of health and wellness, please contact Allison Gutkowski (Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net).   


References:

Dronkers, T. M. G., Krist, L., Van Overveld, F. J., & Rijkers, G. T. (2018). The ascent of the blessed: Regulatory issues on health effects and health claims for probiotics in Europe and the rest of the world. Beneficial microbes9(5), 717-723.

Aleixandre-Tudó, J. L., Castelló-Cogollos, L., Aleixandre, J. L., & Aleixandre-Benavent, R. (2019). Tendencies and Challenges in Worldwide Scientific Research on Probiotics. Probiotics and antimicrobial proteins, 1-13.