How Headspace Can Win Over Calm in Mindful Marketing

Alexandra Borbely
Scale Fanatics
Published in
7 min readFeb 3, 2021

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So about a month ago Headspace released a new Netflix series called Guide to Meditation.

It’s an 8-part series (for now) narrated by Andy Puddicombe teaching you all things about meditation and mindfulness. It’s quite educating content and great for those too who have never practiced mindfulness before.

Undoubtedly, the series had been released just at the right time but also with the right content.

Current circumstances are far from ‘our normal’ but they lead to increasing reachable market size in the mindfulness space. As we all know, all those unfortunate events bring growth to this sector.

And that is what Headspace is able to capitalize on with these series. And of course, able to help so many. Those are two sides of the same coin.

And well, this is also the part where Calm seems to fail. Let me tell you why…

You see, Netflix is being a whole new channel where Headspace can not only reach but EDUCATE people about meditation, mindfulness, and overall mental fitness.

While the audience (whose majority might not even meditate before) becomes more AWARE of mental fitness, they are also starting to see Headspace as a credible source of all information related to the field.

And that first touchpoint is super important… moving forward they are going to choose Headspace over Calm within a blink of an eye.

Does this give Headspace a real chance in the long run? Let’s find out.

About Calm & Headspace

Calm seems better on the outside. They are the №1 mental health app with 1 million downloads per month. They are the first mental health unicorns. Plus, they have been valued at $2B most recently.

Headspace has only half the monthly downloads around 400k. They haven’t published their valuation in recent years which most probably means they haven’t reached Unicorn status just yet.

Together, they hold about 70% of the market share.

So the mindfulness space is quite consolidated, to say the least.

Now, after capitalizing on the advantage of first-entrants, they both want to build a media empire that outgrows the initial app.

Let’s see what their approaches are.

Communication Strategies

Calm heavily leans on Sleep Stories and A-list celebrities in their acquisition efforts.

In fact, Sleep Stories has been such a huge hit for the company it initially helped them land Unicorn status. It might seem a bit of a stretch but first, hear me out…

It is the app’s main feature that catapulted them to the top of the list in the mindfulness space.

Source: Business of Apps

This is how Calm’s growth looks like compared to Headspace after they launched Sleep Stories in 2016. A year after, the app was named Apple’s App of the Year. And then in 2019, they started celebrity endorsements. By that time, the difference between the two was clearly visible.

Now, the downside of Sleep Stories is that it made such an impact on the app that now Calm is more or less like the “Sleep app” in the H&F space. It sorts of feels like Brand Identity became less flexible because of that.

They also created a TV series on HBO Max launched in late 2020. It is basically the same strategic approach Headspace took with Netflix.

Both brands aim to reach completely new segments of the market via these channels.

And see, this is where Headspace has a real chance to come out on top.

Reaching these new segments will be a catalyst to growth this year. With the right messaging, it can be great momentum for either brand.

To dig deeper into their messaging approach (and see which one is better), we are going to compare the two TV series they recently released.

Trying my best to give you an unbiased description of both:

World of Calm is more or less like Our Planet or Planet Earth on Netflix without the interesting parts. It’s like watching Nat Geo with no fascinating facts about nature or without the adventurous lion fights. You don’t really get the feeling that you are (re-)discovering earth as you would do with the above.

All parts are very visual and have beautiful scenery. Like following a turtle in the ocean or wandering through Venice, following a camel in the desert. But there’s not so much more than that to it. It is a simple and aesthetic content-series narrated by celebrities (as per usual) aiming to calm you down and entertain.

Headspace’s approach is slightly different.

Same length — about 20 mins or so, teaching you about meditation and mindfulness. It is an 8-part animated series giving you a guide to different methods of meditation, how the brain works, how to make it a habit in your life (even if you haven’t tried before), and everything in between. Each part ends with a meditation practice guided by Puddicombe.

The interesting part here is that they both want to reach those who merely (or haven’t) practiced meditation before. The only question is which brand could succeed over the other and additionally catalyst its growth this year.

To understand whose messaging (and thus targeting) is essentially better, first, we need to understand what the “new-coming” segments are feeling, where they are at mentally, etc.

To do that, we usually start by breaking down the audience by stages of awareness. Now, we’re not going to do all of that (this article is long enough already… whoops!) but we’re going to shed light on some of it.

5 Stages of Awareness

If you haven’t heard about the 5 stages of awareness yet, I highly recommend Eugene Schwartz: Breakthrough Advertising — one of the most influential marketing books of all time.

Basically, Schwartz breaks down awareness into 5 stages like this:

Totally Unawares are having problems at this stage but not realizing them. They never heard of you either. In our scenario, they might be frustrated, lashing out at people. Feels overall stress and/or anxiety. Might have bad sleeping patterns and bad habits. They are not aware they have a problem that needs to be solved.

While Problem Awares already realized they have a problem but don’t know about any of the possible solutions out there. They need to realize that there are solutions out there that can put an end to their problems.

Solution Awares are actively looking for options to solve their problem. They might have tried meditation before but never tried mindfulness apps. Still never heard of you before.

And the list goes on…

Generally speaking, those who fall into the above brackets need to gather knowledge about the topic/product and become (more) aware of it. And then start liking the concept realizing this might be helpful for them.

If you think about it, Headspace’s content better fits this description. It’s educating, entertaining, and guiding you through a real practice showing the benefits it can bring to one’s life.

It is the type of content Solution Awares would watch who might have tried meditation before but “were never really into it”. All of a sudden, pandemic created new circumstances and now they are more open to try.

The same goes for Problem Awares & Unawares who never tried any of this before but might be joining their friends and family to watch.

Educating people about mindfulness simply fits Headspace’s Brand Identity. Calm is more about entertainment rather than education.

Relying on this strategy, Headspace has a real chance to educate those “new-comers” of the market.

I guess the question remains whether they’re able to emphasize this key pillar of their communication well enough or not.

What’s ahead

Headspace has been working on an FDA approval of their product lately. They are actively conducting clinical research that fits the overall science-based approach they took with the product.

A potential FDA approval would benefit their B2B partnerships that give them steady and more predictable growth in the long run.

While Calm is actively working to become one of the biggest brands of all time. Among their goals are conquering Hollywood and the entertainment industry, building Calm Island, and entering the hotel business.

In the shorter-term they are also working on B2B deals, kids content, looking into the one-on-one coaching space, want to onboard more celebs, and more.

The competition is strong and to keep up with growth both brands have areas for improvement.

Calm has to be more vocal about value props other than sleep — or they need to find new areas where they excel for that matter.

As Acton Smith puts it: “You can be hot one minute and not the next. You’re constantly needing to come up with your next hit.” — they’re clearly working on the matter :)

For those who are not competitive with these 2 giants yet, building a brand and getting back to old-school marketing practices (like raising brand awareness) are going to be more crucial than ever as targeting gets less impactful with IDFA deprecation.

What You Should Do Now

If you are serious about taking your app to the next level, you should download our 12-step Scaling Matrix — it’s incredibly useful if you want to scale your campaigns. (Best works at 30k+ ad spend.)

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