The Plateau

Change has permeated nearly every part of life, producing friction and complexity. But companies are not deploying their resources and brand-led experiences in such a way to alleviate this friction and complexity.




October 2022



This article originally appeared in Campaign.

A sick consumer at home having a virtual appointment with a healthcare professional

You know that friend who’s always giving you unsolicited recommendations? The one who proselytizes about the “life-changing” benefits of celery juice or the horrors of not cashing in on your frequent-flyer points?


And it’s always prefaced with some non sequitur, the oft-employed linguistic shortcut.


Well, believe it or not, many brands rely on these chatty unofficial representatives. Rather than embrace brand strategy, a brand embraces devotees, expecting word of mouth to yield success. Throwing business acumen to the wind, it favors targeted, individualized missions.

Here’s a typical scenario. You see an acquaintance on the street. While catching up, you talk about how you’re orchestrating your company’s annual conference, contributing to a monthly magazine column, teaching Spanish at night in your local elementary school, and organizing the neighborhood potluck. The acquaintance says, “Wow, you really seem to have your life together. You have so much going on, yet you seem so calm.” As you smile and nod, the meme of a coffee-drinking, wide-eyed dog enclosed in flames proclaiming “This is fine” occupies your brain. The acquaintance asks, “Just how do you do it all?” On cue, the meme fades away and you open your favorite wellness app. “This. This is how I do it all.” You then explain how a weekly check-in with your online therapist is the secret to your serenity and how the app’s daily 10-minute meditation helps you achieve a level of Zen that rivals that of the Dalai Lama.


Now we’ll move to the acquaintance’s thoughts. “You can’t be serious. How in the world is an online therapist helping you? The therapist is probably repeatedly typing ‘And how do you feel about that?’ while catching up on TV. And how, on this suspicious app, could you possibly trust a programmed-to-be-empathetic robot with your deepest secrets?”


For the acquaintance, a non-user of the wellness app, the experience is complex. But for the enlightened user, it’s simple—a transformative tool that is vital to mental health. While the user is devout, the non-user is dubious.


The latest World’s Simplest Brands study saw this dichotomy in action. There were several brands with high user scores and low non-user scores. For example, one health provider’s care model is centered on an integrated plan that puts primary care, specialty care, pharmacy and labs, digital care options, and an overall health plan under one umbrella. For the existing customer, this amalgamated approach works. But for those weary wellness-seekers looking to make a switch, the list of big health words on a list that say they’re part of a plan doesn’t seem simple; rather, it seems more like a barrier to entry.


When your brand has built trust with users of a product, service, or offering—but when non-users are kept at a distance—brand and experience leaders should put all their energy into closing that gap. This is a challenge, given that all outcomes or benefits of engaging with a health brand require honest goal setting, dedicated time, behavior change, and trusted guidance from experts who have years of specialized wisdom and experience. To close this gap, brands might think that the default answer is to create a media campaign that attracts more eyeballs. But that won’t necessarily change the mindset and inspire behavior change, even if the famously attractive doctors from Grey’s Anatomy appear on the ads.

In today’s world, brands must create an ecosystem of brand-led experiences to motivate behavior change. Below, I explore three critical moments where that new ecosystem can come to life and drive the non-users to open up. If done well, you will attract even more users.

Get on the campaign trail


What if health-and-wellness brands’ communications and content could be crafted by real humans, real patients, real everyday people who need support? And just as the health goals of real humans, patients, and everyday people change, so should your content. It could be designed and delivered based on your health goals, adapting to your objectives. And don’t get me started on jargon. One shouldn’t have the actual Gray’s Anatomy textbook next to them when exploring healthcare options. It seems like you need an advanced degree to understand what a health-and-wellness brand offers. So, user advocates are the most effective means of driving users, because they are people speaking to other people about healthy people doing healthy things.


Create experiential campaigns that speak to both the head and the heart. It could be a hub of human content that speaks to real people—and not medical magicians. And speaking of magicians, you know how things always go together? Rabbit and hat. Hocus and pocus. Well, be sure that your campaign is native to the environment in which you’re playing. Don’t translate your social ads to your feature in the print newspaper. That’s like a magician pulling cryptocurrency from behind the ear of a living, breathing human. It just doesn’t make sense.

Stop the stigma


What if health-and-wellness brands skipped the stigmas? What if you didn’t have to ask for help, try a new type of care for the first time, or tackle a private, intimate issue with the same hushed tones as if you’re buying something illegal? “Psst. Psst! Um . . . can I . . . try, um, that new meditation service? You never saw me.” What if health brands got creative and helped people feel confident in their choice to seek help?


I see a world in which people can use hybrid, brand-led health experiences to learn more about and explore a health solution. A person could have the choice to state needs, ask questions, and learn more about a diagnosis with either a solo digital tool or a trusted expert who is ready to assess a person from anywhere that makes him/her/them feel most comfortable. An inclusive environment that champions personal education and expert guidance builds trust in your mission and your brand.

Curate comfort


What if health-and-wellness brands reimagined the physical care footprint? What if spaces were relaxing, informative, engaging, and dare I say enjoyable? What if such words to describe a space as “clinical,” “intolerable,” and “anxiety-inducing” were thrown in that orange biohazard bin (the one next to cotton balls and tongue depressors)? What if the space was so appealing that you wanted to look up from your 2015 People magazine?


Care spaces of the future should take inspiration from the boundlessness and connectivity of nature and the mindfulness and pleasure of lavish spas. Because who doesn’t want to have an eye examination in a room that looks like Gwyneth Paltrow’s at-home bathhouse? Welcoming, serene environments help people feel confident, yet relaxed—inspiring an open-mindedness towards health treatment. From the interior climate to the décor to the dwell spaces to the immersive media and soundscapes, these reimagined health facilities promote optimism and tranquility, two crucial components of health.

For the health-and-wellness industry, heartfelt experiential campaigns, safe environments in which to explore health concerns, and relaxing, rejuvenating physical spaces will eliminate complexity quicker than a jade roller reduces morning puffiness.


To learn how the hotel industry can rid the full-body rash that is complexity, read more.