The Changing Face of Health and Wellness

May 29, 2012 |5 min read

The concept of 'wellness' has evolved significantly in recent years and today it can mean many different things to different people.

Ask your Grandmother what wellness means, and she will probably say that it's about being free from illness.  However for the modern consumer, wellness encompasses so much more. It takes into account every aspect of life, from personal life to working life, physical health to emotional health, intellectual stimulation to spiritual wellbeing. Consumers have started to manage their personal wellness in a proactive and autonomous way. As a result, they demand much more from the brands they interact with.

The concept of wellness has been developing over recent decades. In the 1950s, the focus was on physical health, with the post-war rise of the NHS and the invention of antibiotics. In the sixties, social revolution and women's liberation shifted the focus to social and intellectual wellbeing. The eighties was an era of economic prosperity and financial wellbeing, with women calving out a place in the business world. There then became a much greater focus on emotional as well as physical wellbeing in the 1990s, with the rise of popular psychology and self-help, as well as an increased emphasis on exercise and regular health checks. 

Modern consumers are taking a more holistic approach to their personal wellbeing. Physical health is central to this, but the definition of wellness reaches far beyond these boundaries. People want to feel good on the outside and the inside, in all aspects of their life, and strive for balance and a sense of harmony. They desire self-fulfilment in their jobs, stimulation from their surroundings, connectedness with those around them and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. The emergence of health centres offering a more cohesive approach to physical and mental health and wellbeing, with medical professionals, alternative therapists, fitness trainers and nutritionists under one roof demonstrates how companies are starting to capitalise on this shift in consumer mindset.

This century has witnessed the rise of rationality and with it a desire for self-management; modern consumers are knowledgeable and proactive in their approach to life. Digital developments have played a key role in this. Access to online information, resources and tools has created clued-up consumers who feel empowered to take control of their lives. The democratisation of online content has meant that information is no longer only delivered top-down but also bottom up, giving people confidence in what is being said. The increasing popularity of self-tracking, through online tools and apps that allow people to monitor and control things like exercise levels, sleep patterns and food intake demonstrate this hunger for self-management.

No longer passive in their approach to consumption, people want to develop skills and expertise for themselves, contributing to their sense of intellectual wellbeing. They want to learn a craft or skill, not just buy a product, as evidenced by the increasing popularity of home-grown fruit and vegetables and food foraging. They want to be involved in the science or thinking behind a product; women's increasing scrutiny of beauty product ingredients and demand for proven results demonstrates this.

This age of austerity has enhanced people's desire for control over their lives (looking after their financial wellbeing). They demand more of the products and services they use, expecting high quality, longevity and direct benefits. The rise of considered consumption has led people to be more selective over what they buy, looking for purchases that are multi-functional or bespoke to improve efficiencies or reduce waste.    

In the age of democratisation of information, consumers are demanding more transparency and authenticity from companies. Consumers are turning to 'trusted' sources rather than brands for impartial advice, and are more marketing savvy than ever before.  Consumers are more informed and more demanding, with higher expectations for the brands they use.  A disconnect seems to currently exist between consumer vision and reality; often products and services are not living up to promises or meeting changing needs. This can lead to disillusionment and reduced enthusiasm towards brands. There is an opportunity for brands to capitalise on these shifts in consumer attitudes by rethinking their approach to wellness.