The Journey to Wellness & Sustainability
In this blog, I have been exploring five dynamics that I believe are shaping our world and creating new “rules of the road” for businesses and other organizations:
How “higher purpose” has become table stakes for a successful enterprise
The marriage of global and local in all that is good
The central role the environment, health and wellness play in everyday life and in our future
The role of technology in driving accelerated opportunity and human evolution
The emergence of a new breed of humans (aka consumers)
Having already covered “higher purpose” and “global meets local”, in this post I will extend the journey into the “environment, health and wellness” dynamic.
I think it’s safe to assume that everyone reading this post already has some awareness of the growing importance of environmental and health/wellness considerations in our daily lives and in the purchase decisions we, as consumers, make. According to various studies, “LOHAS” (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) consumers – those for whom health, wellness, and sustainability are important considerations in purchase decisions– represent about 25% of adult Americans who buy goods and services totaling an estimated $290 billion. Beyond this core LOHAS group, there is a much wider swath of Americans and people from around the world for whom health and sustainability play some role in their lives and their purchases. In a separate post, I will provide more evidence of the importance of the LOHAS market, and why businesses should take note and embrace the underlying needs sought by this market.
But, in this post, I want to talk about why health and sustainability are important to us at GLGW, and to me personally. I’ll talk a bit about my personal LOHAS journey, and share how it mirrors what we know from our consulting work about the personal journeys of a growing number of people that inhabit this planet.
My LOHAS Journey
My story mixes influences from both personal and career influences and experiences. I have always been interested in both health and sustainability, but was not born an advocate. My health journey began with my first job out of business school, as a brand marketer at Quaker Oats, where I worked on the clinical research that demonstrated that eating oatmeal, as part of a total dietary regimen, could lower your cholesterol and thereby reduce your risk of heart disease. This was my first tangible demonstration of the role that diet could play in a person’s health. Later, a bout of asthma, brought on by an allergy to the four cats we were parenting and leading to a full-time regimen of inhalers and other medications, led me to an exploration of homeopathy and other alternative medications. After being completed cured of asthma and the need for medication, my eyes were opened to the shortcomings in the traditional medical model, and I began a lifetime exploration of alternative medicine, nutrition, and fitness, all with the aim of achieving optimal health through personal control and initiative. I have worked hard to stay healthy and fit, but it has not always been easy. I play hockey and am an avid cyclist, but chronically battle joint issues and other minor ailments. Five years ago, I learned I was gluten-intolerant, and have added “gluten-free” to an already health-oriented approach to food. As you have probably surmised, I am quite health-involved – or, as my wife might say, “health-obsessed.” I strive for optimal health, and firmly believe that my life has been enriched from that focus. I believe I am a happier, more productive person because of my personal involvement in eating the right foods, getting the right exercise, and maintaining a spiritual and contemplative regimen that helps keep my mind and heart (generally) in the right place.
My interest in conservation and sustainability came later. As I learned more about health and nutrition, I also learned about the harmful environmental impact of bad agricultural practices, wasteful packaging, and other issues. Through my work as a marketer and innovator, I worked with a number of clients who were looking to tap into the LOHAS market – and that is the point where my interest in health began crossing over into a concern for the sustainability of our planet. A growing awareness of the threat of climate change then pushed me further toward what has become at least a part-time occupation – that of environmental and conservation activist.
So, one might summarize my journey as an initial interest and awareness of health and wellness – driven primarily by personal health concerns – that has evolved over time into perhaps an even greater interest in sustainability. In many ways, I do not differentiate between a health concern and an environmental concern. To me, protecting the environment means having safe water to drink, clean air to breathe, safe and healthy food to eat, and having a planet that can continue to sustain life for humans as well as countless other plant and animal species.
Broader Perspective – Typical LOHAS Consumer Journeys
My personal journey mirrors, in many ways, what we have observed in our consulting work about the journeys of many others we might classify as LOHAS consumers. In my former firm, Arbor Strategy Group (now part of GfK Group, a global market research firm) we developed a model for predicting future innovation success. At the center of that model was an understanding that consumers make purchase decisions as a result of one or more key motivators or drivers: Gratification, Freedom, Wellness, or Security. Each product category has its own primary drivers. For example, most Health and Beauty Aid categories (take toothpaste, for example) are driven, as the name implies, by consumers seeking either Health (i.e. Wellness) or Beauty (i.e. Gratification) benefits. Different segments of consumers bring their own values to the category. For example, health/wellness-oriented consumers may be drawn to toothpastes with strong cavity-fighting benefits, while beauty/gratification-oriented consumers may be attracted to toothpastes with strong whitening benefits. But, over time, as categories evolve, consumers tend to learn about other benefits being offered in the category, and they start to “want it all.” We see products like Colgate Total Toothpaste that balance health and beauty/whitening benefits to address those needs. So, someone who started as a beauty-driven consumer evolves into having interest in health benefits as well.
We have seen this evolution across multiple product categories and industries, especially when it comes to categories where health and sustainability (a “Security”-oriented benefit) coexist. Several years ago, I was part of a team that did extensive ethnographic research on the organic foods market, piecing together the collective and individual journeys of a large number of consumers. We found a common journey that has parallels to my own. Some people are born with a strong health and wellness orientation, and are naturally drawn to organics due to perceived health benefits. Others who bring an environmental consciousness are drawn to the market as a way of helping to support sustainable farming practices. But, an even larger number of consumers eat food because they have to, or because they like the taste (aka gratification). The subset of the broader “general food consumer” group that becomes regular purchasers of organic food often does so through the catalytic effect of a health scare they or a close friend or family member experience. Perhaps they are diagnosed with cancer, and are advised to try eating organic produce. They survive the scare, but continue to eat organic as a kind of insurance policy that helps them to reduce the risk of the cancer reoccurring. Over time, they discover they really like the taste, and don’t want to return to conventional produce. Finally, they begin to learn about the sustainability benefits of organic farming, and at that point they may even veer into full-blown environmental advocacy. For that type of consumer, health and sustainability benefits are inseparable. He or she has become a true LOHAS believer.
Where We Go Next
So, at this point, I have only scratched the surface about the environment/health/wellness dynamic. I invite my colleagues to share a bit about their personal journeys into this arena, so we can compare and contrast and perhaps extract some new insights. After that, I will return with some thoughts about why this dynamic demands the attention of marketers and business leaders seeking to prosper in a changing world and economy. I’ll also suggest some ways to take advantage of this dynamic to build a bond with a rapidly growing segment of consumers whose purchase decisions are largely driven by LOHAS considerations and who are having an outsized influence on others. We may have once thought of healthy, sustainable products and services as a luxury, but at GLGW we believe providing those benefits is rapidly become a price-of-entry for successful businesses. Hold onto your seats as we explore how rapidly the rules of the game are changing.
For more on the GLGW team’s journey to wellness and sustainability, see: 5 Paths to Wellness and Sustainability Consciousness