What It Means to “Speak the Language” of Wellness Is Not What It Used to Be

A woman getting fresh airWe need look no further than the recent name change and rebranding of Weight Watchers to “WW International” with the tagline “Wellness that Works” to acknowledge the fact that how consumers relate to health and wellness has shifted greatly since the days of diet products and dieting. “The diet” is no longer a tacit remedy for mainstream-consumer concerns for health issues. While Weight Watchers has profoundly shaped the culture of dieting in the U.S. for half a century, contemporary health and wellness notions have moved beyond weight loss and management.

Exploring these changes, our Health + Wellness 2017 report finds that consumer awareness of and engagement with their health issues and overall wellness appear to be growing. Thus, designing and marketing products, services, and retail spaces that speak to consumer health and wellness aspirations is more necessary today than ever before. However, as Weight Watchers appears to have concluded, what it means to “speak the language” of wellness is not what it used to be. “Traditional” health messaging, including highlighting connections to specific physical conditions via specific nutrient profiles (e.g., low fat, cholesterol-free for heart health), is by no means dead but does not reflect how consumers talk about their own health and wellness. 

Compared to the past, wellness culture today encompasses a broad expanse of both physical and mental aspirations and practices. The Hartman Group has been tracking consumers’ perspectives and behaviors relating to health and wellness since the 1990s. In that time, we have seen consumer definitions of health and wellness shift from a rules-based, reactive paradigm to a proactive wellness culture where ideas about what health and wellness is and how to achieve it have broadened to encompass many, if not all, aspects of consumers’ lives (see figure below). This includes diet, the ebb and flow of energy, sleep and rest, activity and exercise, mindfulness and emotional outlook, mental health, social engagement, and work-life balance. A modern approach to health & wellness

Several important factors inform and influence today’s wellness practices:?

  • The Concept of Balance remains key to how consumers understand and embody health and wellness; when one aspect of their health and wellness grows too big or too small, it affects all the others. Rather than a mechanistic, defensive approach, consumers are more likely today to see health and wellness in a more ecological way, as a system that needs harmony inside and out.
  • Self-Knowledge and Personal Responsibility: Rather than one-size-fits-all rules from traditional health authorities, wellness culture today emphasizes self-knowledge and personal responsibility.
  • Feeling Good: Mental and emotional health is as important as physical health in wellness culture, and “feeling good” is prioritized over “looking good,” although consumers do still place physical health high on their lists of both health and wellness definitions and goals for improvement.

Speaking the Language of Wellness

Consumers today see wellness as multifaceted, but there is no doubt that they continue to view food as the linchpin of both health and wellness. Food literacy continues to grow, and food has increasingly become the language consumers use to both assess and express their wellness values.

Feeling Well Means

Food continues to play a central role in consumers’ aspirations and expressions of wellness, in particular via the search for fresher, less processed food.

The nutrition panel and ingredients label are not the only language available for communicating the healthfulness of foods and beverages. Narrative about how it’s made and who made it can be as, if not more, important in communicating a product’s healthfulness, particularly for more engaged consumers.

  • This language can speak to the micro level of nutrition and food quality with which consumers are increasingly concerned.
  • We see major shifts in consumer understandings of major food groups — what qualifies, and how important they are relative to each other. Understanding this is key to developing new product formulations that feel like they are supporting consumers’ wellness goals.
  • Sugars and carbohydrates have replaced fats as the primary source of consumer concern, especially in the form of soda. As such, consumers are turning to an array of newer, “healthier” beverage alternatives. They are also aspiring to incorporate more vegetables and, for the more engaged, prioritizing quality over quantity in meat.

Staying abreast of wellness trends today involves listening to a wide array of sources. Social media listening and grassroots promotion strategies are valuable tools as consumers turn to “people like them” for guidance.

Appealing to consumers’ interest in how a product makes them feel for validation of quality is particularly relevant in wellness culture today.