Leapfrogging healthcare consumerism

Probably the buzziest of all healthcare marketing buzzwords is consumerism. Throw a stone in any direction and you’ll hit a publication with consumerism in its title, often paired with words like “Amazon” or phrases like “the rise of.”

When most of these publications talk about consumerism, they do so as if consumerism is an impending tsunami that will wash over the industry and drown health systems that aren’t aligned with its principles. The common wisdom seems to be that consumerism is the way all of us must do the complicated business of making people healthier, and those that don’t will find themselves irrelevant.

But that’s only one way to look at the situation. There’s another way, and it holds much greater brand growth potential for health systems. That way is to leapfrog the ill-fitting and societally problematic idea of consumerism entirely and embrace the more natural fit of post-consumerism.

Health is wealth

Post-consumerism isn’t a well defined idea just yet. In the spirit of full transparency, I’ll admit that the term has connotations with a number of controversial (but only very loosely related) ideas. For the moment, let me paraphrase a definition of post-consumerism that applies nicely to the central mission of most healthcare providers.

Post-consumerism is the idea that well-being, as distinct from material success, is the aim of life. In other words, health is wealth.

This is a very powerful idea for numerous reasons. Not the least of which is that many people intuitively believe it. Both older people (for whom health issues accrue more quickly) and people of the millennial generation (who spend more on wellness than any other generation) find common ground under this idea.

Speaking of millennials, they are well-documented advocates of post-consumer ideals. Preferring to buy quality, multipurpose goods over a quantity of cheap ones, they are more primed than any other generation towards purchasing non-material goods that improve their wellbeing. We wrote about their healthcare buying tendencies in more detail in our 2019 healthcare marketing trends playbook.

If you’ll permit me to be very optimistic for a moment, I’ll also posit that post-consumerist ideas can help consumers better cope with rising healthcare costs. The more people can be convinced to shift their finite resources away from buying unnecessary retail goods, the more resources they will have to defray, if only a little, the costs of healthcare. This alone will, of course, not make Americans solvent. But until we have culture-wide solutions for the cost of care, this is one of many, many steps we can take to bridge the gap between the cost of the care and the liquid money most people have available to them.

Healthcare’s opportunity to lead the culture

Brands that have capitalized most from aligning themselves with cultural trends often come from the retail sector. Nike’s recent campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick is a good example of how a brand grew its influence by taking a leadership position on a cultural movement. Their alignment with Michael Jordan is another example.

But Nike and other retailers will never be the natural leaders of conversations about the comparative value of health and material goods. Retailers have to sell a lot of goods to keep growth happening. That goal is diametrically opposed to post-consumerist ideas about health.

There’s only one sector that’s naturally positioned to lead the conversation about the value of health, and that is healthcare providers. No other industry can do it. Neither can any other subsector of healthcare. Both pharmaceuticals and medical devices, like retailers, must sell their wares to more and more people to keep growth going. As such, they can’t speak with the kind of believable authenticity providers can. Insurance would also have a hard time leading the conversation, as their business model is about balancing risks across portfolios of patients, not about caring for the complexities of each individual.

No, we can’t rely on anyone else to teach America about the value of health. It’s on us. And that’s both a great responsibility and a great opportunity.