Why Wellness Really Is Different

I recently had lunch with a guy who worked for me when I was running a big technology services firm.

He asked me why Radial specializes in health and wellness businesses – clearly thinking that every industry pretty much faces the same issues.

It was a great question and inspired me to hop up on my soapbox about why health and wellness really IS different.

 1. Yes we can!

Does anyone lose sleep at AT&T if I’m having phone problems? Not a chance.

But wellness professionals really care. When clients struggle, you’re truly invested in helping – in making their lives better.

Reality check: Leading a successful business takes passion and intensity, yes – but your team has to be able to stay the course. Your most empathetic employee may also feel clients’ ups and downs most intensely. Watch for burnout and work/life balance.

2. Not just a number

“Enter your account number to get your balance.” “First, check for an answer in our online FAQ.” “The hold for a live representative is currently 28 minutes.” “Email customer service.”

Other industries actively avoid live contact with customers, because it costs more.

Not you. You know that health and wellness is the most personal thing in the world. There is no way that our customers can just be numbers to us.

Reality check: The strategic way to control costs is to put great people in every job – and give them the best tools, whatever makes them super-effective and efficient. Do you ask a great football team to play with Nerf footballs?

3. Battle of the experts

Need a new kitchen counter? The choices are fairly limited and largely depend on budget.

Want to lose weight? The list is endless, and even experts disagree on which methods actually work best.

That’s why health and wellness marketing – unlike other consumer marketing – has to authoritatively cut through those conflicting messages to connect with potential customers.

Reality check: In a marketplace full of alternatives, specialists stand out. Concentrate on what your business can do best. Tap other trusted experts and businesses to fill in gaps.

4. Free for all

I’d be rich if I had a nickel for every time a client said “We need to make a decent living for our team, but what we really care about is helping as many people as possible.”

And they mean it. Can you name any other industry where business leaders think that way?

Reality check: You’ll help lots more people if your business is healthy and sustainable – if it’s built to last for the long haul. Scholarship programs and “good deeds” budgets let even sole proprietors give while keeping the bottom line healthy.

5. Product perfection

In other industries, companies get lazy. They stop improving their products (after all, that costs money).

Health and wellness businesses are never asleep. You’re always thinking about what would work better, how to incorporate the latest research, how to do a better job of making lives better.

Reality check: Perfect is the enemy of good. Taking forever to roll out a program – because it just needs a few more tweaks! – is the enemy of a healthy business.

6. No hassles

Most health and wellness businesses hate the thought of hassling people to buy their stuff. And their instincts are good. In this industry, marketing only works when it’s authentic and distinctive.

Reality check: The most brilliant healthy lifestyle program ever created will still fail if no one knows your business exists. You must market to survive and thrive.

7. Subject-matter experts

Your businesses overflow with health and wellness knowledge and experience.

Reality check: Health and wellness know-how is necessary for a successful business – but it’s not sufficient. You’ve got to spend time and money on the other legs of the stool, too: sales and marketing, people management, financial management.

8. Great expectations

Health and wellness businesses are eternally optimistic. They are the Weebles of the business world. Knock ‘em down, and they bob back up again. Because when you know you can change lives, your determination to succeed overcomes hurdles where others falter and second-guess.

Reality check: Sometimes this optimistic outlook morphs into the delusional belief that your programs will success because they “should.” They’re great, they make a difference – so customers “should” buy them. Sorry, but that’s not how it works.

9. Customers think different

You want to buy a TV? You check a few prices, check a few features, make room in the den – and you’re ready to go!

The process is different – and more complex – when people think about buying health and wellness. Their life experiences, their internal self-talk, their dreams and disappointments…it’s all in there!

Reality check: Successful health and wellness marketing isn’t like selling soap or sweaters or picking an accountant. It blends stages-of-change marketing PLUS all the conventional marketing know-how that every industry needs.

10. Works in progress

Gratification is instant – or darn close to it – for most consumer purchases. Want a new outfit? Browse your favorite mall, check your go-to websites, ping a few friends – you’re done!

Not in health and wellness. In our industry, customers don’t overflow instantly with wellbeing.

It takes time. It’s a marathon, possibly an ultra-marathon, never a sprint. They don’t change overnight. They backslide. Their life situations change. Their needs change.

Reality check: Successful healthy lifestyle programs build in early successes that build self-efficacy and motivation to help clients build momentum that keeps them going for the long haul.

11. Walking the talk.

Fair or not, right or wrong, many customers think they can tell whether we practice what we preach just by looking at us. We're supposed to be super-fit, never stressed, never sick, at an ideal weight. When's the last time someone said to a financial advisor, "Before I take your advice, let's take a look at your bank account!"

Reality check: Sometimes your "physical resume" matters - and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the best person to lead a fitness business or teach a nutrition class is the person who's struggled with it the most.

12. Graceful ways to say awkward things.

Health and wellness professionals talk about awkward, tough topics all day long. What's a better word than "fat"? How can we explain to guys that protecting their heart health also improves their - ahem - stamina? How can you talk comfortably about end-of-life decisions?

Reality check: Just because you're comfortable doesn't mean your clients are. Tailor your language to the personality of your business - casual, clinical, formal, humorous - and the way your customers think about these topics.