There was a time, all of three years ago, that ‘wellness’ as a concept invoked images of sun-soaked influencers in yoga pants, sipping kale smoothies after a 4am bootcamp that was totes #inspo.
But in no time at all the term has become an all-consuming, catch-all label for anything that achieves the opposite of immediately killing you, or that improves your spiritual, emotional or social wellbeing. It’s about taking care of the human being as a whole, which makes for one giant sector incorporating everything from supplements to chakra realignment and walking holidays in Devon.
Sport is probably the best example of a sector upended. Sports brands are no longer necessarily sport brands per se — they need to also be wellness brands. Going to the gym is very rarely about getting in shape or buffing up anymore; running is not necessarily about competition. It is about ‘being well’ as an actively pursued goal.
For brands, tapping into wellness often means re-orienting their values to reflect those of the people they are trying to serve. But here they must tread carefully. Wellness is driven almost entirely by social media, and much of what is popular is faddish for good reason.
The wellness industry is plagued with placebos and snake oil products that mislead people and fail to deliver. People are suckers for the next thing that promises to make them look like and feel like Gwyneth Paltrow, be that a coffee enema or home delivered camel milk. Which are both real, by the way.
People lap it up. The value of being seen using a certain product, regardless of its utility, cannot be understated. People want that Instagram shot, to tag the brand, to instill a vicarious envy in others.
The temptation for those exploring wellness can be to ape this short-termist approach; to jump on a fad and make a quick buck before anyone notices. If people are going to buy your jade vagina eggs, by all means sell them. But don’t expect to be able to build a brand with loyal customers after you’ve cheated them.
In a market driven by fad, brand loyalty is hard to come by. And for the innumerate sports brands re-establishing themselves in the wellness sector, there are lessons to learn before diving in.
Lululemon is a good example. What started in the yoga space soon started designing for running, cycling and training. First yoga then sports, Lululemon today has transitioned to wellness with ease.
Lululemon offers free yoga classes and other fitness and social events on a weekly basis; its social feeds are packed full of videos, classes and advice; it presents itself as a community. In short, it behaves like a human being that practices yoga and the wellness lifestyle.
It has built a persona that reflects back the values and ethos of those who practice wellness — the brand is like a friend who is taking your health journey with you. So much so Lululemon has been testing, and plans to roll out, an $128 P/A loyalty programme. Members get a free pair of yoga pants or shorts, free expedited shipping and access to workout classes and special events.
Adapting to wellness requires a holistic shift encompassing all aspects of a business, starting with communication. Simply jury rigging ‘wellness’ into a brand’s name or comms won’t cut it. It has to be authentic. You need to walk the walk — live the life — over and over again, to prove a brand has the right to be in the wellness space. Brands need to understand their target audience and speak on their terms. They need to be the friend that helps people to achieve the long-term positive change they desire. Anything else is just a fad.