What It Really Means To Be a “Wellness” Company

At the latest Saatchi Salon, our panel of experts discussed what companies can do to participate in wellness culture in an authentic way — without the gimmicks.

“Wellness is more than just a physical feeling,” explained Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness Managing Director JD Cassidy during his opening remarks at the latest installment of Saatchi’s salon series. “It’s social, spiritual, intellectual, and, above all, emotional. Simply put, wellness is ubiquitous.”

He’s not wrong. In today’s culture, the idea of “wellness” has become such an integral part of our lexicon that consumers expect to find it everywhere — not only at the doctor’s office, but in their grocery carts, at the the beauty counter, and in markets beyond healthcare.

This new expectation has been the driving force behind the rise of “wellness culture,” a trend that has inspired brands from outside of the traditional healthcare space to begin infusing their products — or at least the messaging surrounding their products — with actionable elements of health and wellness. As more brands attempt to capitalize on this trend, our panelists agreed that companies aiming to position themselves as a wellness brands have both an ethical responsibility and an economic interest in doing so with authenticity.

Our Panel of Experts

While consumers may be excited to incorporate new, healthier products into their routines, they’re unlikely to be fooled by companies that use wellness as a branding ploy and little else. In order to establish a presence in the wellness space, brands must demonstrably embody the principles they’re slapping on their labels.

Our five panelists — each an industry expert in their own right — brought their diverse professional and personal experiences to the table as they unpacked what it takes for companies to meaningfully enter the health and wellness space:

  • Jaimy Lee, Healthcare News Editor at Linkedin, panel moderator
  • Nigel Hughes, SVP Global Research and Development at Kellogg Company
  • Elissa Levin, Director of Policy and Genomic Services at Helix and Co‑Founder of Vinome
  • Justin Montanino, Executive Director of Branded Content Video, 23 Stories at Condé Nast
  • Jim Stengel, President/CEO of The Jim Stengel Company and Former Global Marketing Officer at Procter & Gamble
  • Sara Holoubek, CEO at Luminary Labs

You’ve Got to Walk the Talk.

Early on in the Salon, Holoubek introduced this idea of higher-level corporate responsibility by highlighting BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s recent open letter to CEOs. “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” Fink argues. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

In the context of wellness, answering Fink’s clarion call means making a comprehensive commitment to healthy practices up and down the corporate ladder. According to Holoubek, wellness-oriented companies must take a look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Is it easy to be healthy at this company? Do employees work long hours under highly stressful conditions? Do they have time to exercise? Do they have access to childcare options?” In short, to what — if any — degree is the company contributing to society through the wellness of its employees?

In a similar vein, Stengel pointed out that companies must find ways to take ownership of the often unforeseen “side-effects” of their products. “Companies like Facebook and Apple have to confront the fact that consumers are starting to feel lonely — and even depressed — as a direct result of spending so much time using their products. This is something these companies have to deal with or else they’re going to be in serious trouble.”

Following CVS’ Lead

When asked for an example of a company that has managed to “walk the wellness walk,” Holoubek offered an answer with which the entire panel agreed: CVS. In 2014, the drugstore giant announced that it would no longer sell cigarettes in any of its stores, a move that cost the company an estimated $2 billion per year in lost sales.

In his statement on the decision, CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo hit nearly all the marks for which the Salon panel argued: “By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients, and healthcare providers…Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is delivered. This is the right thing to do.”

What’s more, just days before the Salon, CVS announced that it would no longer “digitally alter or change a person’s shape, size, proportion, skin or eye color or enhance or alter lines, wrinkles or other individual characteristics” in any promotional materials for its beauty products. “Our images of ourselves — especially as women — are directly impacted by what brands tell us we should be,” said Holoubek, “and for me, this kind of move is the biggest play a brand could make for the wellness of women in 2018.”

Be Authentic, Build Trust

Ultimately, the importance of brand authenticity was one of the major takeaways of the Salon. The more radical and comprehensive a corporate commitment to wellness, the better, but the panel was careful not to discount the value of incremental progress, so long as brands remain committed to better serving consumers.

Is a company making a substantive investment in its employees’ wellness? If a company hasn’t traditionally operated in the healthcare space, is it hiring people with the requisite expertise to make wellness a meaningful part of its products? Are a company’s products delivering long-term, sustainable results to consumers? At the end of the day, these are the kinds of questions that separate companies that are actually participating in wellness culture from those that are simply trying to make a quick buck. Which category would you rather belong to?

Interested in learning more? Watch the full discussion here.

Saatchi Salon — Panel of experts