As a kid, I watched a lot of classic movies. I loved movies that had a futuristic element—the ones that had super cool, hi-tech stuff, the movies that showcased the type of future that we described in Have We Stopped Dreaming of the Future. A future like one promised by Flubberoleum (lol). My childish excitement was in the tech—it was imagination fodder.
Looking back now though, I am struck not by the view of the tech, but by the vision of life that these technological advancements promised to produce: a happy, safe, organized, world filled with comfortable people. People who actually have time to do what they want and enjoy most. The dishwasher, the microwave, the dryer, the autonomous vacuum cleaner: all technology designed to give us more time back. Convenience wasn’t about ease, it was about peace and freedom. We now have more technology at our disposal than ever before: drive-thrus, email, elevators, ERP systems, warehouse robots... the list goes on.
By this point, our workload should amount to the ol’ George Jetson button-push, right? But that’s not where we are.
We’re most often frantic, trying to cut down on noise and keep up on tasks. For many, life is faster, not slower. The promised experience hasn’t yet materialized, so the guarantee of a better life is a thread that persists today in much of our marketing. “Let’s get back to life / Experience the freedom of clean clothes,” Tide promises. Back to life. Freedom. Words of hope to enjoy life. And they’re not the only ones dropping that line.
If a brand’s implied promise is, in fact, a better life, then business leaders need to start tooling to measure and improve their delivery of that promise.
Because of this promise to “make life better,” I think that eventually, all brands are ultimately going to become wellness brands.
WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY MEAN TO ENJOY LIFE?
The implied promise of more enjoyment of life is a bold claim because it’s almost impossible to measure objectively. Take high-sugar foods as an example. If measured in the moment, a large piece of chocolate ganache cake will probably have a high impact on enjoyment, especially if you love chocolate. However, if I eat a large piece of chocolate ganache cake every night for dinner, that cake will have a massive negative long-term impact on my mental and physical health. Sometimes individuals swing too far the other way in which long-term benefits are overemphasized to the point of putting all day-to-day enjoyment on hold—people need to be free to be able to enjoy life in the short term, without sacrificing their future. Gauging the impact of a product, service, or experience is difficult because people have different ideas of what is meaningful to them. Defining meaning and wellness differ from person to person that it can oftentimes feel like grasping at straws.
Of course, that’s what business is all about: defining things so we can measure them. So to start, I like to define wellness as “the enjoyment of life” because it captures both the long and short-term impact. It captures both mental and physical aspects of health.
WHERE DOES WELLNESS FIT INTO ORGS?
If you promise a better life (wellness) to your customers, you need to know that what you’re selling is actually having the impact you’re promising. The question isn’t “does my product do its function?” The question is “how is my product impacting the well-being of my customer?” If customers are spending an undue amount of attention, money, emotion, etc. on your company, this could create an unhealthy imbalance of failing to focus on other, more meaningful aspects of their lives. With this in mind, I’d say understanding wellness goes beyond merely the role of product management.
Emphasizing wellness also goes beyond customer experience. To return to my previous hyperbolic example, 90% of candy customers might be perfectly satisfied with their purchase and the NPS (or EIS) is off the charts. But 90% of candy customers might also be obese or cavity-ridden.
Metrics often guide what organizations become because incentives are tied to metrics. If you’re a metric-driven company, the only way you can become wellness-centered is to create metrics that demonstrate. The questions turn from “are my products good? Is my company worth recommending?” to “is your life better because you purchase my products? Do you think someone else’s life would be improved by interacting with my company?”
Customer experience, product management, and other existing departments provide pieces of data that can be aggregated and analyzed from a wellness perspective. This is going to require a person to take ownership of this aggregated data because metrics without a leader are often vapid.
Because of the need to fulfill the promise of a “better life” for customers, I firmly believe in the role of a Chief Wellness Officer. Traditionally this role has been reserved for focus on employee wellness. The Chief Wellness Officer role has the potential to be more for both your company and your customers’ satisfaction. By expanding the scope of the role to include customers as well, the CWO is dedicated to understanding the holistic impact of the business.
WELLNESS IS ESSENTIAL
Coming out of the pandemic into… the confusing part of the pandemic, people are more aware than ever of the need to be healthy - at every level. There’s some clear signs of this - with explosive growth of health and wellness brands. Headspace is valued at $3bil. Calm over $2bil. Moderna and Abbott stock are reaching new heights. People are more concerned about germs than ever before. Higher awareness of the importance of mental health was already among GenZ’s attributes, and the pandemic accelerated that too. Right now, wellness couldn’t be more important to people. So if you’re making promises about being able to make people’s lives better, you’re going to need wellness to be at the core of your message - and you’re going to have to be able to deliver.
WALMART, AMAZON, AND WELLNESS
Walmart snacked on the apple of a better-life promise back in 2007 when they changed their slogan from “Always Low Prices, Always” to “Save Money. Live Better.” This is a classic marketing recognition of a feature vs. a benefit. The implication is that by saving money, you will live better. Don't tell people what they're going to get, tell them how they're going to feel.
We could contrast the steps Walmart’s taken toward fulfilling this mission in the years since the switch, but instead let’s start with a new piece of info: Amazon surpassed Walmart in retail dollars spent with them. We all knew this was coming. It was inevitable because Amazon was miles ahead of Walmart on ecommerce prior to the pandemic. While Walmart needs to continue to invest in ecom (and has, for years now, been playing catch up), even this is subservient to Walmart’s potential opportunity by investing further investing customer and employee wellness.
In fact, Walmart has invested in customer and employee wellness. Last year Walmart partnered with Thrive (Arianna Huffington’s new wellness venture) to help employees improve mental health. In the past couple of years, they’ve also invested in wage increases and improved their healthcare programs. Are they the best? No. There are still a lot of opportunities to improve. But they’re taking one step at a time to make measurable improvements.
In addition to employee wellness, Walmart is also investing in the physical health of their customers as we learned from Marcus Osbourne on the podcast just three weeks ago. The word on the street is that they’re going to open 4000 health supercenters by 2029.
I believe a lot of this improvement stems from CEO Doug McMillon’s vision for what Walmart can become. If this is true, this is good. By virtue of their customer and physical footprint, Walmart has the opportunity to make a difference for a lot of people. Large scale = large opportunity to influence.
Walmart should drop “Save money” from its slogan. Simply say “Live better.” Cue Justin Timberlake from The Social Network: "it's cleaner."
While living better is often empowered by saving money, purchasing lower-priced goods doesn’t always equate (pun intended) to saving money or living better. The upper-middle-class often views Walmart as a disorganized eyesore for people who can’t afford things to buy oodles of cheap goods that are cheaply produced and poorly merchandised.
There are many of you reading this (maybe Phillip Jackson included) who are skeptical. Walmart has a marred record, it’s true. But if Doug and his team can designate people like Marcus Osbourne who are dedicated to the holistic improvement of wellness for customers, suppliers, and employees, Walmart will find an edge over Amazon. The fulfilled promise of a better life is going to beat out using native channels that are becoming more and more natural.
I’ve been feeling it lately. As Amazon climbed further into our lives, general disdain is at an all-time high. While at RetailX this week, I met up with a smart ecom manager whose family of five just canceled their Amazon Prime membership. As Amazon takes over more of our lives, the impact will be more and more measurable. The frenetic pace is unsustainable.
THE FUTURE OF THE FLYWHEEL IS WELLNESS
Amazon made its mark by flywheeling into the future, finding ways to take existing tech to solve existing customer problems with it. The obsession with solving customer problems at scale with tech was is genius. The next level of the flywheel is to look past problem solving and ancillary opportunities. Instead, look to Newton’s Third Law: when a customer engages with your brand, it causes ripples in other parts of their lives. When someone spends money and attention in one place, something else gets ignored. Figure out what those ripples are so you can understand how to make sure that those ripples are good for that person and not destructive.