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Best Global Brands: The health invasion

Brand managers: No matter what sector or category you may think you play in, you are also now a health brand (whether you want to be or not).

This assertive claim may raise an eyebrow or two, but an important one to heed, considering more than half of all the companies on the 2018 Best Global Brands list have made major inroads into positively impacting the health and wellness of employees, customers, and in some cases, of society overall.

Amazon is a great analog: the e-commerce giant has been edging up against healthcare for a while with its AmazonBusiness medical supply distribution business, but went all in this year when it announced plans to form a healthcare consortium with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway. The group will seek to insure and support the health and wellness of its one million-plus total employees. Then, even more recently this year, Amazon bought PillPak for $1 billion, which organizes and delivers pharmaceuticals to consumers.

The simple takeaway is that the business of health and the traditional consumer mindset towards health are changing—but so are the players who are driving those changes. While traditional healthcare brands – pharmaceutical firms, health systems, insurers, and even health-tech-driven disruptors like Oscar and Flatiron Health – will play a role in changing healthcare, it’s just as likely that change will come from outside the category, from non-health Best Global Brands we’ve identified here, and others, large and small, driving both incremental evolution and ultimately transformation of healthcare, related services, and the overall patient experience.

For a non-health company, the imperatives to move into health are three-fold, beginning with the table stakes of supporting employee health, extending to desirable near-term wins of advancing customer health and wellness, and, finally, landing on transformational plays that better society’s health overall. Let’s break into each level of action to see how brands are dissolving traditional category boundaries.

Table Stakes:
Supporting employee health

Sick days and chronic illnesses hit close to home for any employer, and in total, reduce U.S. economic output by more than $260 billion per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore, it’s not surprising that firms have created entire healthcare benefit and delivery programs in-house, shaping benefits programs around employee needs, and in many cases delivering care via on-site physicians and nurses capable of offering vaccines, lab tests, and checkups to employees.

Apple launched a group of health clinics under the brand “AC Wellness” for employees and their families this spring. The company launched, with more details about its initiative and a careers page listing jobs including primary care doctor, exercise coach and care navigator, as well as a phlebotomist to administer lab tests on-site.

Starbucks has been on the cutting edge of progressive benefits programs, insisting its health plans cover gender reassignment surgery this year for the first time. At the same time, politically conservative Walmart has explored entering the health insurance market as a move to engage its 1.5 million U.S. employees with better benefits offered more cheaply.

Better cared-for employees will be more motivated to improve their health and wellness, will turn to their workplaces for even more support, and as a result will reduce the amount of health-related time off. And moves such as these from several Best Global Brands are not lightly (or inexpensively) undertaken. These are major investments and commitments to improving healthcare access for millions of employees and their family members, but this year, we consider them to be table stakes among the best-in-class.

Near-Term Wins:
Improving customer health

Over the past four years, more people have shifted to naming sugar as the most harmful substance to human health over tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, according to a Wall Street Journal poll from earlier this year. Perhaps as a result, food and beverage manufacturers are changing formulas to reduce sugars and increase healthier ingredients, even if the adjustments are more costly.

This year has already seen Coca-Cola revamp its Diet Coke line with a series of new fruit-like flavors presented in taller, skinnier cans. But at the enterprise level, Coca-Cola continues its ambition to become a “total beverage company” with its alignment with the Balance Calories Initiative, pledging to reduce sugar intake nationally. In addition Cola-Cola also announced a possible partnership with Aurora, a cannabis producer, to infuse Coke with CBD extracts, promising healthy benefits. Product and enterprise moves together seem to be paying off: this year Coca-Cola has finally returned to positive volume growth in North America as a result of the rebranding, according to Bloomberg.

Heineken may not be an expected entry in an article about health, but here we go: its Lagunitas brand this summer launched “Hi-Fi Hops,” a cannabis-brewed sparkling water beverage featuring a “formula” including THC, the marijuana compound responsible for psychoactive responses, as well CBD, the compound with potential therapeutic benefits including anxiety reduction. While squarely positioned as a recreational beverage, Hi-Fi Hops offers formulas that are similar to those found in medical cannabis products. Moving into non-alcoholic beverages may make sense, as 2017 saw U.S. alcohol consumption drop for the third year in a row, according to IWSR.

Samsung this year announced a groundbreakingpartnership with WellDoc to launch the Diabetes Wellness Program (DWP). Integrated with the Samsung Health app, DWP is a 12-week program designed to help adults with type 2 diabetes achieve a healthy lifestyle and manage their condition using their phones. WellDoc is used in an FDA-certified diabetes application that has been shown in trials to be nearly twice as effective in controlling blood sugar as diabetes medications alone.

These initiatives come in response to consumers’ demand for healthier lifestyles, and their willingness to open wallets in pursuit of wellness, validating both corporate and product-level brand strategies.

Long-Term Change:
Transforming society’s health

The new healthcare consortium led by Amazon, JPMorgan, and Berkshire Hathaway is certainly this year’s highest profile example of non-health brands partnering to transform healthcare – not only through employee benefits (though this is a key imperative of the group) – but also for society as a whole. Sound ambitious? It is—but if they are successful, the consortium will disrupt the notion that top-quality healthcare cannot be delivered in the U.S. at lower, manageable cost levels.

Disney announced a $100-million commitment to reinventing children’s hospital experiences worldwide for patients and their families, starting with Texas Children’s this year.

The aim is to transform the patient and caregiver experience at children’s hospitals around the world. Personalized, distinctly “Disney” experiences will feature characters and stories, driven by technology, entertainment content, interior design, and customer service training to embed Disney-like experiences where patients and their families spend precious time in treatment and recovery.

Over the next five years, Disney’s renowned “Imagineers” will be working with patient care experts to help create a supportive atmosphere that’s personal, warm, and entertaining at the hospitals. The aim is that the combination of customized experiences with favorite Disney characters and the brand’s legendary creativity will help inspire young patients and their families, and ease the stress of a hospital stay.

On the tech side, IBM has built an entire healthcare division out of its artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, IBM Watson Health. And while there have been reports of mixed successes to date, IBM just recently stated that is more dedicated than ever to applying AI to massive amounts of clinical data with the ambition to impact diagnoses, recommend new and different courses of treatment, and optimize candidate matching to clinical trials in ways that outperform human-driven processes.

For its part, Samsung announced My BP Lab, a jointly developed smartphone research app with the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Hospitals, to help users manage their blood pressure and stress levels and obtain personalized insights for improving their daily health. My BP Lab leverages an optical sensor available on Samsung’s Galaxy S9 line to measure heart load factor (HLF), which is obtained by analyzing high-resolution pulse waveforms from the patient’s fingertip. Analysis of the waveforms provides information on the load on the heart and blood vessels. The objective of the UCSF research study is to correlate the HLF with blood pressure and stress levels.

Apple made its healthcare move this year with the launch and opening of Health Records API to developers. In addition to creating an ecosystem of apps that can leverage health record data, this move also allows patients of 28 hospitals, including Cleveland Clinic and Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, to access medical information from various institutions organized into one view on their phones – meaning patients will be able to share medical records from multiple hospitals, helping them improve their overall health, and potentially streamlining administrative headaches.

And as of September, the Apple Watch has been upgraded from a health tracker into an automated diagnostic device: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared two new features, an advanced method of monitoring heart rhythms via an electrocardiogram (EKG), and an ability to detect and notify the wearer of an irregular heart beat.

While the FDA has cleared or approved wearable devices performing similar functions in the past, this is the first time a direct-to-consumer wearable earned this level of designation.

The common goal of these Best Global Brands is to do well by doing good: empower people, patients, and providers with technology that informs, enhances, and streamlines the path to healthier lives and better care, by injecting tech-brand know-how into the health category with the potential to transform healthcare altogether.

Should your brand make the move into health?

If you are a brand manager, CMO, or brand experience planner supporting a non-health brand, we believe that the immediate imperative is to make a lasting mark on the health and the healthcare of your employees and customers. It’s a matter of linking audience needs with your capabilities, technologies, and partnerships to formulate new offerings, roll out new business models, dive into new channels, and create experiences that align with how your customers and employees are managing their health and wellness.

Consider doing this in ways modeled after the Best Global Brands mentioned above, who are already making admirable moves into health. Or you might discover your own consumer insights and unmet employee needs that will lead you to a health-related move that’s even more innovative and relevant.

Farther out, a more transformational impact on healthcare in society for non-health brands may be a longshot. Healthcare has its own rules, regulations, and rituals that resist major change from the outside. But our analysis of non-health Best Global Brands suggests that the most transformational moves will be underpinned by data, partnerships, and patient experience, undertaken in concert with healthcare brands, to focus on improving the challenging healthcare category, inside and out.

Download the 2018 Best Global Brands report.