It may seem like something ancient but jogging, the simple act of running at leisurely pace for health purposes, is actually a fairly modern phenomenon. Sure, people have been running for as long as we’ve been upright, but usually it was to get somewhere or to catch (or evade) something.

The idea of running nowhere in particular simply for pleasure and personal improvement was a revolution when it dropped in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Today, the global market for running gear is forecasted to reach $22.54 billion by 2023. A novelty led to a lasting trend, which morphed into a bonafide commercial industry.

It’s a common cycle and one that illustrates an increasing focus on personal wellness and consumers taking an active role in achieving their desired health outcomes. It’s a trend that was accelerating even before a global pandemic made everyone take an even harder look at the behaviors, mindsets, and tools that contribute to overall health and wellness.

“73% of U.S. consumers already said that they were trying to live better by doing things like eating healthier foods, exercising more, and trying to reduce stress with tools like meditation.”

Over a year into the pandemic, things have changed fairly radically once again. Many aspects of our much talked about ‘new normal’ are here to stay — first and foremost being a massive shift in consumer priorities towards health and wellness technologies and brands.

Accelerating an Existing Trend

The early months of the pandemic were a traumatic experience. As the virus raged out of control and businesses that relied on in-person visitors worried they would never recover, the entire world was gripped by fear and uncertainty. While we haven’t extricated ourselves from this mess completely, several pandemic pivots and vaccines later, things are starting to looking a lot more optimistic.

“Billions will be lost in the wellness industry in 2020 because of months of shuttered brick-and-mortar businesses,” said Beth McGroarty, Vice President of Research for the Global Wellness Institute. Yet, “at the big-picture, long-term level, the case for the wellness concept and wellness markets post-pandemic looks very bullish,” she concludes.

“The modern health consumer doesn’t look like their pre-pandemic selves.”

This is truly more of an acceleration of an existing trend, rather than an entirely new development. “We’ve been seeing this growth since 2014 in what we call the move from ‘sick care’ to ‘well care,” said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, a market research consultancy.

WSL studied consumer sentiment in 2019, before the pandemic, and their How America Shops investigation found that a large majority (73-percent) of U.S. consumers already said that they were trying to live better by doing things like eating healthier foods, exercising more, and trying to reduce stress with tools like meditation.

According to Wendy Liebmann: “Even before the pandemic, many people around the U.S. were beginning to dabble in proactive and preventative health and wellness practices. What this pandemic has revealed is that taking care and control of your own health — individual, family, home, etc. — is even more critical than before.”

Consumers Want an Active Role in Their Health

Concurrently and sped up by the pandemic, telehealth (the delivery of medical guidance and care via digital communications platforms) has also seen new peaks in adoption.

The two trends, growing prioritization of wellness and adoption of telemedicine, aren’t just occurring at the same time because of the pandemic, however. They are more closely linked than that and are connected by a nearly ubiquitous shift in health consumer behavior away from passive and reactive modes to personally empowered and proactive attitudes.

“Going forward, opportunities will continue to emerge around telehealth, putting people in increased control of their own well-being,” explained Jemma Shin, a consumer insight strategist at trend forecaster WGSN. According to Shin, “this is just the start. More services will become democratized through digitized and affordable models.”

The question then is: which niches of the health and wellness sector will see the biggest gains and how can health and wellness brands (and, brands more broadly) effectively adapt to stay relevant and engaged with their customers in the post-pandemic market?

IN-HOME FITNESS

With the gym closed (or occupancy restricted) millions dusted off the fitness equipment hidden in their basements or ran out to purchase new gear. Yoga sessions were delivered by Zoom, spin classes happened on Peleton’s media platform, and entirely new brands like The Mirror (maker of a digital workout display) emerged and were quickly acquired by even bigger health-focused companies.

Lululemon spent $500 million to snap up the smart mirror, and already the investment is paying off handsomely. “While the business is still in its early stages and represents less than 5% of our total revenue, Mirror sales exceeded our initial expectations in 2020,” Lululemon CFO Meghan Frank said during the fiscal fourth-quarter earnings call.

ONLINE AND ORGANIC FOOD SHOPPING

There’s an old Italian adage that it’s better to pay your grocer than your doctor, meaning if you eat right, you’ll be healthier overall and avoid needing as much medical treatment. Food is a fundamental part of health and wellness, and when consumers lost control of so many other aspects of their lives that impacted their health, many turned to the one thing they could control: their diet.

Meal-kit delivery services like Blue Apron, Purple Carrot, and Hello Fresh expanded their subscription bases and added more vegan, vegetarian, and healthy options during the pandemic. Groceries quickly pivoted to ecommerce platforms to serve their customers, as millions of restaurants closed and the need for in-home dining surged.

Both trends will potentially subside some but are unlikely to ever return to pre-paramedic levels.

TELEMEDICINE

Analysts at McKinsey reported that in 2019 just 11-percent of consumers were open to adopting telehealth as a new touchpoint in their health journey. To the surprise of no one, that figure rose to 46-percent in 2020 as millions adapted to pandemic restrictions. McKinsey pegs virtual healthcare as worth up to $250 billion in healthcare spending.

Even when in-doctor visits are completely safe again, many patients will prefer the convenience of telemedicine, especially now that they are familiar with it and the videoconferencing tools that make it possible.

DIGITAL HEALTH EDUCATION AND SELF-CARE

The doctor is no longer the only source of health information for modern consumers. According to Nielsen’s Strategic Health Perspectives survey, for several years now, the number of places that patients and health consumers turn to for guidance has been diversifying.

In fact, the place they turn to first isn’t even a person: it’s Google. Those first health queries lead to medical websites like WebMD, hospital websites like MayoClinic.org, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, pharmaceutical company portals, and Twitter accounts.

Much of the New Normal Is Here to Stay

Many of the changes brought on by the pandemic have been challenging, to say the least. Everyone will be glad when social distancing, constant masking, and other burdensome restrictions are no longer necessary.

Yet, even after that point is reached, the priorities created and revealed by the pandemic will likely persist. The modern health consumer won’t look like their pre-pandemic selves. They will be more motivated to avoid lifestyle-related illnesses, more open to digital modes of health communication and even treatment, and live and work in environments that better support their health and wellness.

 

Looking for a partner to guide you through the new normal of health and wellness marketing? Talk to Hanlon.