Challenging the Norm and Breaking Out of Comfort Zones Will Push Healthcare Forward

Brands in this industry need to be more open to change

Green and blue background; on the left a woman is using an iPad; to the right is numerous hexagons
As an increased interest in health and wellness continues, marketers need to be more aware of nuances. Getty Images
Headshot of Mike Hudnall

Too often we laugh, scoff or dismiss thinking or ideas that don’t conform with “the way we do things.” But it’s fresh thinking that inspires us to challenge convention and complacency—and sometimes even change the world.

Today, technology and data are driving a proliferation of channels and mediums that are enabling new thinking and ideas to find an audience and disrupt cultural and societal norms around the world.

Few industries embody this dynamic of cultural change more than health and wellness where ideas from the fringe, historically overlooked and shunned, have gained mainstream currency and flipped the way we do health. We’re living in an expectation economy where the consumer is taking more control, and businesses need to quickly adapt to the new ways people are seeking, receiving, paying for and engaging with healthcare.

For instance, only a few years ago it would have been taboo to trust recommendations from a stranger or a diagnosis from a physician you’ve never met, but that notion is long gone with the rise of urgent care facilities, patient social networks and telemedicine services that allow consumers to get care and treatment on-demand.

Businesses need to quickly adapt to the new ways people are seeking, receiving, paying for and engaging with healthcare.

Even cannabis, once considered an illicit recreational substance for stoners, is today increasingly embraced as an effective treatment for conditions that afflict millions worldwide. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are no longer hippy practices; they’re now encouraged and offered by employers across industries. Through crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe, patients with little or no health insurance can now turn to strangers to help pay for medical costs. And mental health and women’s health, both historically taboo topics, are now more openly discussed.

Mostly, this change is good for consumers and patients. But it can be challenging for companies to stay ahead.

Clearly the only constant is change. As health and life science companies transform their businesses to deliver on consumers’ increased expectations of service and experience, it’s those that dare to break with convention and champion fringe thinking and ideas from wherever they may come from in an effort to stay relevant and connect meaningfully with their audiences who will win the future.

As the pace of change continues to accelerate, there will always be deep seated conventions that must be challenged to move our industry and societies forward. For a recent example, look no further than the recent CES show in Las Vegas where a female robotic sex toy was at first awarded for innovation in robotics only to be subsequently stripped of the honor as it didn’t fit into a pre-existing category, according to the organizers. Women’s sexual health is apparently still taboo for the biggest orgy of consumerism on the planet.

As we move forward as a culture and as health marketers work to influence healthier lives, it’s important that we continue to challenge the norms, however risky and uncomfortable they might be. Especially those of us working in health where we have the opportunity to truly change lives around the world. It’s our obligation to break out of convergent thinking around the “right way” to communicate about health, disease and treatments. And let’s always remember to cast an eye to the unconventional. It’s there that we will likely find the ideas that catalyze creative transformation and shape the world tomorrow.


Mike Hudnall is the global head of WPP’s Health Practice.
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