The Future of Consumer Healthcare
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We were most recently in New York at Luminary, a women-led co-working space, where we brought together entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives in the consumer healthcare space for a conversation with Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW (formerly Weight Watchers), and Brent Saunders, CEO of Allergan.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Define health and wellness as an individual journey
The word “healthy” is thrown around widely these days, often to the detriment of consumers. In order to rectify this, Mindy calls for the industry to redefine health and wellness in a way that honors individual definitions of emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. “When someone comes to us, we don’t tell them what they should weigh – we ask them what healthy means to them, and why.” Health is not a beginning and an ending – it’s a journey, and it means different things to different people. Brent added, “Consumer healthcare is about empowerment and accountability; 15 years ago we thought it was enough to give people medicine over the counter” but now, we’re increasingly focused on enabling people to manage their own outcomes. Both Mindy and Brent agree that promoting behavioral change is often more impactful than traditional medicine when it comes to inspiring accountability and catalyzing sustainable self-care.
2. To develop a trusted brand, marry technology with meaning
As longstanding organizations with household names, both Allergan and WW are often looked to as examples of legacy brand-building. When asked how they have stood the test of time, Mindy shared that the best brands are those that people trust implicitly. Trust, she believes, is born out of a combination of the scientific and the human elements. A brand has to be backed by science, data and technology, but delivered through inspiring customer service and community. “The technology is an enabler for human connection” but both emotional and rational appeals are needed to build a legacy.
3. People are an undervalued asset
Both CEOs agreed that the most important thing a CEO can spend time on is hiring. “The biggest mistake a management team can make is promoting and hiring the wrong people, or missing the promotion,” Brent said. He quickly added, “Nothing is more important. Make hiring the most important decision in your decision tree and treat it like you’re spending a million dollars.” He emphasized how organizations often make full blown PowerPoint presentations for product decisions, but neglect to treat people decisions with the same rigor. “People change everything.”
4. Seek innovation outside of the organization and promote it from within
There’s no playbook for innovation, Brent said. At Allergan, the company is open to acquiring innovation if it makes sense. “Outside ideas are refreshing – if the outside world is innovating better than we are, we’re happy to bring them in and let them run.” Mindy spoke about how at WW, the company leverages external innovation when it will accelerate branding efforts and fill gaps. A good example of this is Kurbo by WW, a scientifically-proven behavior change program designed to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight. WW acquired Kurbo in 2018, as an extension of WW’s total-health mission, with the goal of helping families earlier.
That said, both companies spend a lot of time on how to innovate internally. Allergan recently launched a digital ventures unit, Project Moonwalker, which is dedicated to creating consumer facing businesses that unlock opportunities in the medical aesthetics category. As he sees it, a successful ventures unit has to have room to breathe within an established organization – “Birth these ventures elsewhere in the organization so they have a chance to live, and then integrate them when they’re ready.”
Looking toward the future and where innovation will come from next, Brent feels strongly that science-based innovation is the most interesting category for consumer healthcare. He referenced the use of gene-editing technology called CRISPR to repair a genetic mutation responsible for an inherited condition that causes a rare blindness disease. Mindy agreed, highlighting a telling personnel shift: “Our chief scientific officer reports directly to me.”
5. CEOs drive culture, and culture drives returns
On Mindy’s first day as the CEO of HSN in 2006, she did what every other employee does on their first day – went to new employee orientation. Her presence there went viral throughout the entire organization. By the next day, when she got up to give her first townhall, this seemingly small act humanized her, and made her colleagues feel that she was going to be accessible and authentic.
Mindy, who is known for her ability to transform organizations and brands, shared, “CEOs think they have to do big, bold things immediately, but that starts with engaging and igniting culture.” Culture is the bedrock for a company’s success.
Brent added, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”
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