CHICAGO: Marketers operating in the US health sector – in verticals from insurance to food – need to rethink consumer segmentation and move away from a narrow focus on their own area of interest to take a more holistic approach.

Writing in the current issue of Admap, Denise Fedewa, EVP/director of strategy at Leo Burnett Worldwide, and Carol Foley, EVP/director of the same agency's HumanLab, observe that changes to the US healthcare system, coupled with a population whose health is deteriorating, are increasing the pressure to move people towards preventative behaviours.

But that's not an easy task in a country as large and diverse at the US, where people approach health in many different ways.

Existing segmentation approaches, the authors note, are typically based on health status and are usually industry-specific.

"But health status has relatively little to do with healthy behaviours," they say, while tightly defined segments based on particular industries fail to address the wider perspective that consumers take: "the choices they make about what insurance plan to buy, what vitamins to take, and what foods to eat are typically related".

Further, "no segmentations have taken into consideration how people process health and wellness information", they claim, with existing persuasion models predicated on providing extensive information and rational arguments, often coupled with scare tactics, none of which has generated much in the way of proactive change.

The authors propose, based on a multi-phased research programme involving more than 12,000 American adults, eight segments of Americans, from 'healthivores' to 'couch potatoes'.

"Each has a distinct holistic orientation to health and wellness, each has a distinct information processing style, and each has a unique mix of product, service and environmental offerings that will best facilitate a shift to proactive prevention," they say.

Communication approaches are equally varied and the authors observe that technology solutions are often less effective than easy, common-sense solutions or modifications to the built environment.

Technology and apps, for example, only work to 'nudge' about 20% of people; turning fitness and dieting into social activities only works for some. And just pouring out information about health and daily steps really doesn't work for anyone but the people who are already engaging in lots of proactive behaviours.

"Solutions which integrate seamlessly into how people actually live, rather than how we wish they would live, will gain better traction," the authors conclude.

Data sourced from Admap