Maintaining Relevance In The Age Of Consumerism: Lessons From The Healthcare Industry


What are the brands that are so integral to your life that you can’t imagine living without them? Can you picture Monday morning without your Starbucks, or even worse, without your Apple iPhone? What about your afternoon jog without your Nike+ app? These brands hold a special place in our hearts – and wallets – because they are deeply relevant to our everyday lives.

I believe that relevance is the single biggest determining factor for a brand’s long-term success. Yet healthcare companies have struggled to maintain relevance in the face of changing government regulations, mounting consolidations pressures, and most importantly, the rise of consumerism. The same revolution that has reshaped the way people buy groceries, music and airline tickets is now underway in healthcare.

This rise of global consumerism has shifted the healthcare landscape tremendously. People around the world are now defining personal health in terms of wellness, not illness. They’re joining in more conversations about diet, exercise and stress reduction. But perhaps even more importantly, people are demanding more from brands. Thanks to great experiences with companies like Netflix and Amazon, people expect sophisticated levels of transparency and digital engagement from ALL brands.

Consumers today don’t understand why they are not able to schedule appointments via email or access medical records online. That’s why millennials, in particular, are flocking to start-up companies like Oscar, ZocDoc, and PillPack, which provide health-related solutions to consumers on their own terms. In a recent survey conducted by Prophet and GE Healthcare Camden Group, 73 percent of millennials said they are willing to use on-demand medical centers, while 64 percent would try retail clinics and 52 percent want telemedicine options. With so many consumers open to alternative sources of care, healthcare companies need to find a way to adapt and remain relevant in people’s lives.

A few years ago, a global pharmaceutical company, learned an important lesson in consumerism when it spun off part of its business, including its best-selling drug. The remaining company was left with a mix of nutrition products, medical devices, and diagnostic products, but no overarching brand story.

However, its situation was not unique. Most of its competitors were in the same position. For decades, pharmaceutical marketers were trained to talk about the features and benefits of a given drug, not how the company as a whole could help consumers live richer, fuller lives.

They set out to discover what consumers want from healthcare companies today. The breakthrough insight – that people no longer see health as a single event. Sure, when they’re sick, they want to get better and are grateful for any medication or treatment that helps them. But they see their health as a much bigger story, encompassing diet and exercise as much as medication. They don’t think about what could go wrong. Consumers think about what they can do to make things go right.

It was also discovered that most people don’t think about their health selfishly. They see it in terms of the people they love. Wanting to be able to play with their kids or not wanting to burden their spouse were prime motivations we heard over and over.

For this pharmaceutical company, it was realized the key to maintaining relevance was recognizing two very important truths. The first is that people don’t view health as episodic but as a continuous journey. So it must think holistically about preventative health. The second is the incredible importance of family in healthcare. People want to feel healthcare companies are helping them care for themselves and their families. They want to see the brand working alongside them to keep them and their family well.

The rise of consumerism is also disrupting the health insurance industry. In Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index, Oscar, a four-year-old company, earned a higher brand relevance ranking than industry giants Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, UnitedHealthcare, and Cigna. Why? Because consumers are drawn to Oscar’s brand promise – “smart, simple insurance.” Most people hate shopping for insurance and are turned off by the unfamiliar language and formal disclosures. But Oscar is easy to use, upbeat and even fun. Instead of endless scrolling through small print, Oscar treats consumers to an animated video on its website. It uses technology to alleviate customer pain points, much in the same way Amazon and Spotify have done.

All companies, from healthcare providers to big box retailers to financial services companies, need to understand how the rise of global consumerism has changed people’s expectations. It’s not enough anymore to simply provide a service. Consumers want to know what a company stands for. How does it help them achieve their goals? The companies that are able to embrace consumerism as a transformative force will earn and re-earn loyalty at every point in the customer journey, achieve relentless relevance, and enjoy success for many, many years to come.