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The currency of ‘health’ in a world of shifting values

This article is part of our series on Global consumer insight on Covid-19.
You can view the full series or download the report.

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The Covid-19 crisis has brought the fragility of the human condition to the fore. We’re seeing a renewed appreciation for our own physical health – what it means to be healthy has taken on a new potency as physical and mental (psychological and emotional) wellbeing is increasingly challenged. This has both implications and opportunities for healthcare brands.

From Gwyneth’s goop – to seeking greater control over physical health

In the past, most of us have enjoyed stable physical health. For the majority, health may have had minor fluctuations (e.g. Seasonal flu, a sports’ injury etc.) With quick, easy fixes: we were largely able to take our health for granted.

Consequently, ‘wellness’ has become increasingly understood as a way to enhance oneself for psychological, physiological or aesthetic benefits. Wellness has become a conscious lifestyle choice –

Evidenced by the meteoric rise of the mainstream wellness industry, from nutrition to exercise. the goop effect’ has encouraged consumers to take control of their health through wellness products and services like home detox, mind and body detoxes or resetting personal energy.

The pseudoscience of ‘the goop effect’ has proven popular and powerful, partly due to the simplicity, tangibility and anecdotal nature of its messages – “buy a candle, feel better”. In parallel, public health bodies have also employed clear, simple and tangible messaging to drive physical health priorities- stoptober, 150 minutes of exercise per week, five a day and so on.

The combination of wellness narratives and public health messaging has given people a sense that health is an easy choice, achieved via simple steps for guaranteed success. This sense of control over our health and the complacency of wellness narratives have been shaken by the devastation of Covid-19.

From wellness as a lifestyle choice to health as a lifesaving imperative

People have suddenly been brought face to face with how fragile a control they have over their physical health and the knock-on effect this has on their mental wellbeing. Their needs, motivations and priorities have been reframed – with both implications and opportunities for brands.

At Brand Genetics we believe in using science to help us understand how & why covid-19 is changing attitudes towards health and reframing needs

We use proven psychological frameworks that go beyond observation to reach a deeper understanding of human behaviours. The psychology of pandemics breaks down a pandemic into 4 contagions, showing that the biological contagion catalyses three additional contagious responses: contagions of fear, disinformation and more positively, a contagion of kindness. Using this model, we can identify and understand emerging consumer behaviours, showing how the contagions impact on health needs, motivations and priorities as people respond to this abrupt change in their priorities and perspectives:

1. Biological contagion: from reactionary solutions – to proactive prevention

People are bombarded with information and news that scares them. Those with who have taken their physical health for granted now fear getting sick. Those with underlying or chronic conditions fear being seriously affected by – or even dying from – the virus.

‘self-care’ is becoming a vital act of self-preservation

Given the heightened importance of our physical health, we are witnessing a shift away from a focus on ‘enhanced state of being’ wellness trends of the past decade towards maintaining and supporting physical health medical treatments (e.g. From people taking radiance boosting teas to a surge in ‘healthcare’ app downloads).

Ultimately, we’re seeing the ideas of ‘wellness’ and ‘self-care’ take an increasingly physical health focus. People are looking for information and solutions that genuinely support and protect their physical health needs. Increasingly this means using a combination of expert scientific advice to support physical and mental health alongside their existing wellness practices. The priority is to be able to do this at home.

The need for a new kind of in-home health expertise is growing

The rise in the desire for preventative measures and treatment of minor physical and mental issues via at-home self is changing how and when and where people turn to healthcare professionals (HCPs) for help. There is still need a need and a desire for hcp input for emotional support that goes beyond mere functional expertise of diagnosis and cure – for their reassurance, familiarity, empathy and approval. This has an impact on mental as well as physical health – as illustrated in a study of older patients turning to their GP for comfort from loneliness.

How can we bring the expertise and care of HEPs into people’s homes to make it easier to for people to maintain their health?

What does this mean for healthcare companies?


Greater value placed on personal ‘health’ means people will shift further away from ‘wellness’ and towards proven, protective healthcare measures to actively prevent more serious, long-term illness developing or worsening and to treat minor problems.

Access to more information and heightened respect for the limited resources of healthcare systems (particularly subsidised services like the NHS) could see a rise in at-home ‘self-care’ or ‘self-medication’.

The opportunity:

  • Where regulations allow, create a more effective, expert-led D2C strategy providing products, devices and services that help maintain a more stable ‘healthy’ state to prevent longer-term health problems developing or worsening.

Source: estimote.com

Estimote has developed a range of ‘Proof of Health’ wearable devices that provide contact tracing using GPS and Bluetooth technology which aims to monitor the potential spread of COVID-19 – notifying users of potential threats to their health and reduce local spread of illness.

The insight Job to Be Done: We need to understand and map the consumer journey for different consumer segments to understand core needs, barriers and triggers around self-care and self-cure

2. The contagion of fear: from depending on outside help for healthcare – to DIY self-reliance

The fear of interacting with others and the increasing avoidance of places of contamination has led to hospitals and surgeries no longer being seen as places for solutions and cures but as places to fear.

People are using DGX options as their primary gateway to medical expertise

People are avoiding hospitals and GP surgeries – with people ignoring serious illness, putting off face-to-face appointments or turning to alternative sources for diagnosis and treatment.

This is combined with a fear exerting additional ‘unnecessary’ pressure on already stretched front line workers. Edge health, a data provider for NHS trusts in the UK, estimates there have been 10,000 non-covid-related deaths among patients unwilling or unable to seek medical treatment.

As a result, people are turning away from medical institutions as their first port of call and turning instead to on-line solutions, like digital GP provider babylon or online pharmacy echo, as the safe gateways to medical expertise.

There is a need for diagnostic and self-monitoring tools to support DGX

People are turning to virtual diagnoses, appointments and pharmacies out of necessity but are enjoying the convenience and speed digital options offer. There is an increasing need for these services to be supported with at-home means of monitoring and tracking health symptoms, compliance and progression – particularly for those with ongoing health conditions

How can we use the medical and emotional reassurance of hcp and medical institutions through a digital frontier to deliver better quality healthcare?

What does this mean for healthcare companies?


The shift to digital healthcare was born of necessity for many but it’s currently only relevant for minor ailments or repeat prescriptions. Current formats fail to deliver on two fronts: they aren’t providing the depth of emotional support, care and reassurance and they only serve minor or recurring problems that don’t require diagnostic tools or a face-to-face consultation.

The opportunity:

  • ‘Health’ is more than the physical. Consider ways to partner with healthcare apps or HCP (physical and psychological) to help deliver the emotional, supportive, reassuring voice and tools consumers seek in the absence of face-to-face contact with HCP
  • Utilise the benefits of remote consultations to provide on-going, more effective tracked healthcare for vulnerable people, or those with chronic healthcare issues now and beyond the pandemic

Source: pagd.net

Ping An Good Doctor clinics offer “healthcare ecosystems” in photobooth-style pods for convenient, in the moment diagnosis and prescription while The Good Doctor app offers specialised services for on-going check-ups, weight loss etc. by partnering with nutrition and wellness companies.

The insight JTBD:  We need to understand the consumer attitudes, benefits and pain points (both functional and emotional) within DGx, the relationship between consumer and HCP and the opportunities to enhance the experience

3. The contagion of disinformation: from wellness messaging – to seeking the best, proven medical advice

The severity and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted that the virus does not discriminate. Regardless of money or healing crystals, everyone is at risk – from British prime ministers to Hollywood celebrities living in the wellness mecca of la.

Not only are people seeing that wellness can’t provide immunity against illness, but the novelty and unknowns of Covid-19 means people are looking for scientific experts to help them understand and navigate this uncertainty. This has been reinforced by governments worldwide, who issued fines against companies selling “fraudulent products that claim to treat covid-19” which included “teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver”. 

People want reliable information

People are turning away from the vagueness and pseudoscience of recent wellness narratives in favour of information that is more evidence-based, scientific and from reputable sources. Dr Google is no longer the domain of the ‘worried well’ seeking self-diagnosis prior to seeing a professional hcp – but increasingly the only port of call for everyone with health concerns.

Researchers at cornell university and UCL have shown correlations between symptom-searches on google and the severity of Covid-19 breakouts across the world. As fear has mounted around Covid-19, search terms reveal people are looking for clear, medical expertise and have abandoned wellness fluff in favour of tangible, concrete answers. 

But they are bombarded with fake medical news

Although Google tells us that people are actively looking for more scientific sources, it is difficult to navigate the vastness of information available online.

Outside of the realities of the pandemic, there is a digital dis-infodemic of viral hoaxes and distorted medical news stories. This misinformation is written and designed to be sensational. It confirms fears while appearing to be from a reliable source – it is sharable content people take in good faith.

In contrast, the format and narrative of scientific information is dry, complex, nuanced – often requiring a certain level of intelligence and / or education to understand. It is unsurprising people are confused and misinformed by the swathe of clickbait – it’s naturally more appealing and accessible than dry, lengthy scientific papers.

How can we be the trusted voice to ‘cut through the noise’ and leverage clear, accessible and trustworthy medical expertise and health guidance?

What does this mean for healthcare companies?


We see people are moving away from ‘wellness’ towards more evidence / expert-based attitudes to ‘health’ across all aspects of their lives. Shifting attitudes and behaviours demonstrate people’s desire to control their immediate environment – not just the mind and body – to stay safe and therefore healthy.

During the SARs outbreak which started in 2002, and killed 774 people, masks became the ubiquitous and deadly face of the virus in China and Hong Kong. The pandemic ended in 2004, but the scar it left behind is evidenced through the continued and widespread use of masks throughout East Asia. We can expect the scars of COVID-19 to be felt not only through heightened behaviours around cleanliness and personal hygiene but in a more holistic sense – as people look to make ‘healthier’ choices across all aspects of their lives.

The opportunity: Create products and devices that are the trusted life-partners, using existing expertise to educate and help people live ‘healthier’ lives every day

Source: nbastore.eu

The NBA have already released cloth face coverings with league logos and designs for all 30 NBA and 12 WNBA teams, designed to be worn in public settings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Insight JTBD: We need to understand what ‘health’ means in the broader, more holistic sense – how ‘health’ relates not only to physical illness but how changing behaviours will be impacting socialising, dating, working etc. and explore country-specific nuance.

4. The contagion of kindness: from mental health as a ‘problem’ for a few – to a priority for everyone

People seek comfort, care and reassurance by reaching out and connecting to others – evidenced through acts of public appreciation and collective applause for healthcare workers. The world has become kinder and more empathic. The need for kindness becomes even more pronounced when viewed in the context of the impact Covid-19 has had on mental health.

The mental health crisis has been well documented as we see continual increases in cases of anxiety and depression, while care remains inadequate and /or inaccessible for most. However, the Covid-19 pandemic poses new psychological challenges, with public health professionals calling for greater attention to be given its impact on mental health.

Controlling the virus takes a toll on individuals’ mental health

While controlling the spread of the Covid-19 virus is the global imperative, the drastic measures undertaken are having severe repercussions on people’s emotional wellbeing. In fact, nearly half of the people living in the united states feel the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. Social distancing measures are contributing to loneliness, increased unemployment triggering depression and in the prolonged uncertainty of the circumstances, anxiety.

A pandemic is considered a global crisis –  psychological research suggests crisis is a form of trauma. Experts argue Covid-19 is a form of collective trauma, on a global scale. The psychological ramifications of trauma are significant, leaving many people feeling lonely, helpless and searching for support however they can get it.

People are looking for more convenient ways to access mental healthcare

With social distancing measures making face-to-face treatment inaccessible and anxiety making them unappealing, even as social distancing measures relax people are turning to online options for emotional support. As a result, we are seeing the rapid evolution of digital therapies to meet this growing demand.

How can we embed care and promote positive mental health into people’s physical healthcare journey?

What does this mean for healthcare companies?


While mental health innovation to increase access to care is vital, it does not come without its challenges. Empathy is a large part of the therapist’s job, and this is difficult to supplement or re-model through digital platforms. Considering how to embed empathy into digital therapeutics, across all healthcare experiences, is going to be one of the biggest digital health care challenges brands must face.

The opportunity: Ensure all products and devices, from packaging to digital service design, are built with empathic principles and kindness at their core

Headspace is a mindfulness and mediation app promoting positive mental health. During COVID-19, Headspace have launched initiatives that speak to the contagion of kindness and demonstrate the empathic principles that underpin their mission to make the “world healthier and happier” by offering free subscriptions for healthcare workers and for unemployed Americans.

The Insight JTBD: We need to immerse ourselves in people’s lives, ‘walk a mile’ in their shoes using empathic research methodologies and ground our thinking in established scientific and psychological models

crisis leads to innovation” – people don’t want to go back to ‘normal’

Covid-19 is changing the ‘health’ narrative, as we see a shift in attitudes and a renewed value in preserving a ‘healthy’ state.

People don’t want to go back to ‘normal’. They have seen how the old ‘normal’ has led to large-scale failures across the healthcare system, to illness and to deaths. The pandemic has also triggered a societal shift towards a newfound value for care workers, and the emotional labour that once went unnoticed. From mutual aid groups to the global care workers clap, a renewed appreciation for kindness may pave the way for what the WEF is calling the ‘mental health care revolution’.

People are looking for something better than ‘normal’ for a safer and kinder future. Brands must evaluate emerging opportunities and embed empathic principles to ensure a place in this new future.

If you want to be a more empathic business and introduce human-first insight and innovation – Brand Genetics can help. Click here to download our healthcare creds or get in touch today to find out more!


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