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Health & Wellness: Packaging Strategies that Resonate

From the foods we eat to the packaging it comes in, to the types of experiences we enjoy, health and wellness trends are driving purchasing behavior today more than ever before. Consumer psychology studies tell us that this trend will continue to build, but what does that really mean, and how does it translate to the shopping cart? When asking important questions about how your brand compares to competitors around this trend, a true and accurate understanding of consumer buying behavior is crucial.

Removing The 'Bad' Could Damage Your Chances

The traditional market research strategy would be to commission a study, survey consumers, and take a good look at what the data has to say. These days, it’s telling us that consumers want ‘healthy’ or ‘sustainable’ products. Taking that data to heart, many brands have gone on to create products and marketing messaging to meet that demand – taking out the sugar, lowering the salt, and removing the fat. But as all too many have discovered, it’s not as simple as jumping atop the health and wellness bandwagon.

As shoppers ourselves, we’re all aware that ‘sugar-free’ often means tasteless, and ‘organic’ regularly translates to overpriced or inconvenient. Though we’ve all done our best to change our eating and buying habits at least a handful of times, for many of us, the trend is more of a passing phase – giving way to convenience or cost savings before too long.

Once again, the do/say gap is a thorn in the side of researchers and marketing strategists. As it turns out, the words ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ mean different things to different shoppers. And when it comes to consumer psychology around the trend, understanding the trade-offs people are willing to make to achieve these perceived ideals is nuanced and complex.

Some of the research we’ve conducted shows, for example:

  • When consumers think about ‘healthy eating’, three mindsets emerge - 
    Low Everything (low sugar, low fat, low salt), Fresh & Natural, and Value.
  • Women focus more heavily on words like freshness, low/light options, home cooking, nutrients, and labels
  • Men tend to have less focused mindsets but those tendencies center around fiber, beer, red meat, organic, and value when considering what is ‘healthy’.
  • Lower-income demographics focus on value, convenience, and fruit and vegetables.
  • Higher-income groups index more highly for eco-friendly solutions, more premium brands, and home cooking.
  • Younger shoppers index highly for low carbon, eco-friendly and fair-trade options, as well as mental health concerns and convenience.
  • Older buyers are concerned with freshness and fiber, a varied diet, and homemade options.

The complexities don’t end there. In fact, if our research tells us one thing, it’s that the consumer psychology behind health and wellness is anything but straightforward. As insights professionals, our stakeholders want to better understand emerging consumer trends such as the health and wellness movement, and yet, traditional research focuses more on the past. Consumers themselves are bad at predicting their future behavior.  Straightforward questions simply do not work. Consumers misremember their past and exaggerate the likelihood of making positive changes in the future.  

So, how can we tackle these problems differently? Behavioral research and storytelling are the answer. It dives deeper than simply asking the consumer ‘do you want to be healthier in your food choices?’ and instead builds a narrative around their behavior that translates to the choices they make at the supermarket shelf. We've done the work on sustainability and the powerful hidden narratives that need to be heard for successful brand management.  

Health & Wellness Ideas That are Good for Your Brand

For market research to be of value to brand strategies, a novel approach is required. By uncovering new narratives around products, services, and trends, your brand can focus its resources in the right areas. When conducting market research into consumer psychology and attempting to unlock trends in consumer behavior, we have found that stories are the key. These tap into the unconscious mind and are far more accurate at predicting consumer behavior than conscious responses.

Brands must tap into deeper stories and hidden narratives to understand what consumers say they want and what they will actually do in the moment. The question is: How do you work together with the consumer to make their stories and dreams come true, but still generate revenue and create winning products? Here are three strategies for successfully harnessing the health and wellness trend and better appealing to the true desires of your buyers:

Tick Boxes for Your Consumers

Every shopper has health aspirations of one kind or another and goes to the store with a set of boxes that need ticking. Healthy, fresh, cheap, convenient, eco-friendly, low in sugar, high in fiber, organic…the list goes on. For some, a healthy evening meal ticks the ‘healthy’ box for the day and excuses a ‘naughty’ snack at lunch. But our research shows that almost nobody tracks their total consumption to optimize their health. Instead, it’s all about taking symbolic actions that make consumers feel better (high reward) around the choices they make.

We recommend: Making messaging simpler. Different-colored ‘tick box’ symbols can help shoppers spot what matters most to them.  

Marry Freshness, Health, and Convenience 

Shoppers have strong intuitive associations that often have limited basis in reality. Whilst a retailer’s lighter ready meals may objectively meet health needs (with a balanced mix of calories, nutrients, and vitamins), shoppers persist in believing that fresh food is better and healthier. Home-cooked food, in our research, always outscores prepared food for ‘health’ with consumers. Words like ‘processed’ and ‘ready meals’ have become almost tainted and can turn off the consumer, despite the virtues of the product itself. This is a symbolic issue more than a practical one, and consumers are concerned with ticking the ‘fresh’ box on their list of needs.

We recommend: Launching an ‘almost ready meal’ range requiring only one or two added fresh ingredients (e.g. chopped bell peppers or onions). This ticks the ‘fresh’ box while also meeting the consumer’s reward buttons for fast, convenient, and low-effort food.

Create Helpful Context and Prompts

Healthy choices are strongly influenced by context and conscious and non-conscious prompts. For example, recipe cards are seen as valuable and will guide people in making different choices. At the same time, what comes to mind (and hand) first is often what will be selected. Products near the front of the store, or the things you see at the front of the cupboard or fridge, are selected in favor of less visible options. Brands can take advantage of both factors to create context and helpful prompts for shoppers. In the online environment, there is a much greater opportunity to shape the choice architecture to influence healthier choices.

We recommend: Behavioral design in the online shopping experience, such as nudges and heuristics, can be used to bring healthy options to the consumer's attention. Meanwhile, framing will shape the perception of products.

For brand strategists, nothing beats compelling and rich stories for a better understanding of your consumer. Putting their reality and opinions at the center of every decision your brand makes allows you to maintain a competitive edge. But understanding the true nature of consumer psychology and harnessing trends in consumer behavior requires more than traditional analytics can deliver.

Fortunately, a new generation of neuroscience holds clues to the predictive brain – the imagination as a tool for planning and making future choices. We used this to build System 3, a product for mapping consumer imagination and seeing more accurately into the future.

For more information on how this tool and others from Irrational Agency can help align your advertising dollars, marketing messages, and business decisions around trending topics like health and wellness, get in touch with our team. We can help you to pave the way forward for your brand when you're ready to lead the conversation around important trending topics. 


Ready for a conversation about what System3, narrative research and more can do to create a competitive advantage for your brand, products, and services? Let's talk! 

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