Brands eye a share of booming digital health sector

Nike Training Club
Nike Training Club

Several leading brands are targeting the burgeoning health data market, writes Sarah Shearman.

Have you heard of Quantified Self? While it might sound like a self-help book, it is, in fact, a global movement based on the concept of 'self-knowledge through numbers'.

Founded in California in 2008, it now has more than 5000 members in 11 countries and even hosted a 260-delegate European conference in November.

It might be among the more hardcore evangelist groups of e-patients - the 'e' stands for empowered - but the idea of combining health and data is gaining momentum among brands and consumers.

This trend was a focus of this month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where a range of health-related devices, from diabetes blood-testing mobile apps to wi-fi-enabled smart scales, was unveiled.

Companies that align themselves with the health or 'wellness' agenda might be nothing new. However, more brands are spotting that they can facilitate, through technology, the growing desire among consumers to use data to fine-tune their lives.

Health apps

In the US, the value of the mobile health apps market is expected to reach $392m in 2015, up from $230m in 2010, according to a report by research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Moreover, health-related brands, such as Weight Watchers with its points calculator app, are not alone in making a connection between health and digital. Nike, O2, Motorola and Philips have also made headway, with products that range from training apps to pulse monitors.

This development has more to do with people's appetite for information and personal data, than rife hypochondria, according to Dave Castell, head of digital at content strategy company Seven.

Castell says that personal healthcare provides the perfect opportunity to be a useful part of consumers' lives, as long as the brands in question have a 'natural affinity' with this area.

In general, consumers now have an unprecedented level of control over their personal data. They can use smart metering to see how much energy they are consuming in real-time, for example, or use online budgeting tools from banks to track what they spend.

'There is a real opportunity for big health brands to steal a march and even become thought-leaders in the health data space,' adds Castell.

Clear plans

Aviva is a case in point. The health-insurance provider has clear plans to push a personal health agenda. It offers several digital products, such as MyHealthCounts, which enables consumers to fill in an online health assessment and match that data to a 'real-life' assessment from a pharmacist.

Rebecca Paterson (right), head of marketing, communications and consumer propositions at Aviva, UK Health, says the scheme, launched in 2009, is popular. 'Our research shows that just 10% of the UK population use gyms. Therefore, a potential 90% want to try (fitness-related) things in the home and need technology to measure their progress.'

Supermarket chains such as Tesco will be next to explore the area, she predicts, but it will be the smaller technology start-ups - such as those that showed their wares at CES - that will become the 'engine for those big brands'.

Ben Jones, head of technology at digital agency AKQA, which worked closely on developing Nike's Training Club iPhone app, says its success is down to the authentic service it provides users.

However, Jones contends that a brand's sector is not necessarily an issue. 'Brands that are not perceived as healthy, like McDonald's, can still step into this space, and have a positive impact,' he says.

Nonetheless, Paterson and Jones both flag up the need for marketers to exercise caution. Liability is a major issue, says Paterson, adding that all of Aviva's health information is based on sound data.

As Jones says: 'There has been a phenomenal level of growth in the area, but you tread a fine line when tracking consumers' health. Accuracy will be the critical next part.'

BRAND COMMENT

'We want to connect consumers' - Keith Nurcombe (right), Managing director, O2 Health

We entered this market last year, with the overriding rationale that we wanted to connect customers to the services they want.

Currently, we offer 'Healthy', which is a walking app, and this summer, we are launching a type of panic-alarm service.

There are several new brands moving into this space. As long as the products are good, that's what matters, though it helps if you have a credible brand, such as O2.

Consumers are taking control of their health and looking for services that benefit them.

NEED TO KNOW

- Choice Consumers want the same health content across multiple platforms, including mobile, tablet, TV and print.

- Real-time feedback This can be between doctor and patient, or individual and device.

- Visual data This helps consumers envisage the health journey quickly and effectively and offers exciting engagement opportunities.

- Sharing Brands can tap into the enormous increase in consumers talking about health.

- Wearable health technology This is rapidly becoming the norm.

Source: Seven

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