On Thursday March 12, Hearst Magazines was scheduled to hold its Health & Wellness Summit at the venerable Hearst Tower in New York. During it, the company planned to present findings from “From Me to We: Rethinking Health Perceptions,” a study of more than 2,000 people conducted in January. The effort was designed to better understand how different groups and personas engage with the health and wellness industry.
Circumstances changed, as the expression goes, and the event was recast as a virtual one and rescheduled for May 20. In the time between the original date and the new one, however, Hearst Magazines and research partner Open Mind Strategy went back into the field, surveying an additional 1,000-plus individuals. Last Wednesday, the organizations presented the updated results, slightly redubbed as “From Me to We: Rethinking Health Perceptions in the Age of Covid-19.”
“People are looking for insights that speak to exactly what we are all experiencing today,” said Hearst Magazines SVP, chief marketing officer Todd Haskell, in an interview the day after the virtual event. “We took the research we had and put it through the filter of these last few months.”
Here are a few takeaways. A summary of the research findings can be downloaded here.
1. There is room for light-heartedness in COVID-era health and wellness marketing.
Allison O’Keefe, president of Open Mind Strategy, said during the event that there may already be a degree of messaging fatigue. “We are hearing that consumers are a bit sick of the ‘we’re all in this together’ serious mentality that’s out there,” she said.
To that end, O’Keefe suggested that health and wellness marketers can – and should – evolve the tone of their communications beyond the current homogeneity. “There is a lot of permission to be light-hearted and have fun,” she noted.
2. Magazine brands are rising to the occasion.
Or at least Hearst’s A-list ones appear to be, anyway. The edit-side execs who participated in the event – O, The Oprah Magazine digital director Arianna Davis, Men’s Health editor-in-chief Rich Dorment, Seventeen executive director Kristin Koch and Prevention content director Sarah Smith – seemed energized rather than intimidated by the challenges confronting them.
At media events featuring execs who lead brands that originated in print, there’s often an undercurrent of defensiveness – along the lines of “we are not dinosaurs! we like digital as much as you do!” None of that surfaced here; rather, the mag-brand panelists talked platform strategy and community with authority and enthusiasm. Koch pointed to platform-specific content on Snapchat (around anxiety management) and Instagram Live (at-home yoga sessions). Smith, on the other hand, noted that 10,000 people registered for a virtual 5K walk held earlier this month, complete with training plans and t-shirts.
All acknowledged a spirit of community that, they believe, has strengthened during the time at home. “Using Instagram Live, for example, was a way to bring together a community of readers and make them feel more connected with Oprah, with each other and with other familiar faces,” Davis said. “[We’ve shared] uplifting words from people they’re familiar with. That will continue beyond the pandemic.”
3. Consumers of those publishing brands might be ready to spend.
Dorment detailed how pandemic-related content published across Men’s Health’s digital channels has sparked sales of home fitness equipment ($8 million in sales during the last two months, he reported) and grooming gear (like hair clippers, built off a story on DIY haircuts). Those sums underline one of the survey’s findings – that 69% of men aged 25 to 54 are willing to pay a premium for products that promise to improve their health or well-being.
It’s worth noting that not all of the mild and cautious optimism about spending is directly related to the health and wellness category. Davis said that O readers have expressed interest around products that “make them feel more physically comfortable at home – loungewear, bathrobes,” while Smith reported that Prevention’s audiences are shopping for bedding. “Our readers feel younger than they are,” she added. “For them it’s about feeling good internally.”
4. Privacy remains a dicey subject among male audiences.
Asked about the findings that surprised him most, Haskell pointed to the ones that addressed privacy. He noted what looked like a conflict among male audiences, who expressed comfort with technology that facilitates contact tracing but at the same time view privacy as “a big obstacle” in the treatment of issues related to mental health and wellness.
The study unpacked that disparity. “When we got under it, we realized that for men privacy is about feelings and emotions,” Haskell explained. “Not to be cliché, but a lot of men struggle with talking about these things. When it comes to technology and what you’re doing, like with contact tracing, they could care less.”
5. Publishers oughta be out there with research and any/all other tools that help marketers navigate the current climate.
In the wake of its acquisition of Rodale’s health and wellness magazine brands more than two years ago, Hearst Magazines became the publishing world’s most prolific producer of health content. The authority conferred by that distinction puts Hearst Magazines in a position to lead and, especially in these atypical times, innovate.
“There’s so much unknown and uncertainty in the marketplace that [marketers] look to people like us to shine a light and help make some sense of what’s going on,” Haskell said. “We’ve thought about the fact that our editors literally hear from thousands of readers every day through all the tools we have, and used it to inform the creation of a research study that would drill down into some hypotheses we had… I think we’ll be better as a society if we work together and share what we know.”
Expect to hear more on similar topics from Hearst Magazines. “It’s one thing to create thought leadership. It’s another to create thought leadership that people can act upon within marketing campaigns,” Haskell added.