Marketing and workplace health – a marriage made in branding

What does marketing and Health and wellbeing have in common?


As a public health and wellbeing (H & W) specialist with over 15 years in public health and workplace wellbeing roles why my interest in marketing? Well it is quite simple really. Both functions are in effect ‘selling’ something. Both use levers to influence ‘buy in’ from target markets. Both look at behaviour change principles.

Fig 1 – Com B Behavioural change model in public healthCOM-B


In health and wellbeing circles I may term selling as ‘engagement’, in marketing terms it may be ‘leads or selling’. Marketing looks at USP’s and the psychology of buying – what makes us tick. That is interesting. How can Public Health / Workplace health programmes tap into the way people think and try to ‘nudge’ healthier habits?

H&W seeks the same objective in a none commercial sense but has a rather hard time trying to sell an ‘intangible’ – a vision in effect. For example ‘you engage in this consistent behaviour (for example 10,000 steps a day) and you will reduce the chances of X,Y and Z health condition by X % 10 years down the line’. What does that mean to someone in the present?

The problem with this is the selling of a vision. When it comes to H&W, long term vision doesn’t give people instant satisfaction as is achieved when, for example, a new i-phone or car is purchased. People like instant benefit. Being part of a H&W brand or an association with a ‘brand’ that aligns with their values and social standing is one way we can hit some sort of instant satisfaction.

On the plus side H&W is a very personal issue to approach and therefore interest in one’s health is almost an endorsement of genuine care and responsibility to help people achieve that positive health outcome. A brand for a campaign (thing the NHS’s change 4 life) or an internal workplace H&W programme is key in my experience.

H&W maybe shrouded by evidence base, hard stats and behavioural science (but that is for professionals like myself to know, it may be boring for the target audience – not always but mostly). On the outset a H&W brand needs to be fun, social, engaging and highlighting benefits to being involved not necessary features. I expand on this later in the article.

In a workplace H&W programme creating this feeling of care through wanting to support employees health can invoke feelings of value, aid employee retention and recruitment, reciprocate good performance from employees feeling privileged to work for a caring company with lots of benefits.


In essence a H&W brand is creating a USP for the Employer to set itself apart from competitors and other recruiters battling for the best talent. See where I am going with this? Not only does H&W offer improved individual health outcomes but can also be plugged right into hard business objectives.

So the articulation and narrative to ‘sell’ H&W can learn from the some of the ethical tactics marketers deploy around brand identity, social proof, relevancy and reciprocation. For a successful H&W campaign who is the audience, what are the barriers and what is the USP?  – all legitimate questions.

The same principle can be applied with getting ‘board engagement’ in investing in a H&W programme, a focus on more hard business benefits than features.

Marketing offers some great insights here. For example when selling a product avoid descriptions on features but focus on the benefits to buying it, or investing in it.

Marketing doughnut offer a great example here ‘A feature is simply a characteristic of your product or service, such as a kettle with a 2000-watt heating ring,” explains Guy Aston, SME director at sales training company Huthwaite International.

“A feature should offer benefits – a true solution to a specific need,” he continues. “In this case, the kettle can boil water in less than 60 seconds. So if a cafe owner can’t make tea fast enough, you need to tell them your rapid-boiling kettle will solve their need.”

For H&W and public health programmes this raises the following question. What solution are we offering for a specific need? Of course weight loss is a good one to target, but the solution needs benefits.



For example a consistent approaching to moving more will result in weight loss (accumulating effects). Or is the ‘real’ benefit to the individual that beach body? Is that the motivation – if so the narrative needs to tap into that.

Another example, “climbing the stairs everyday at work over the course of a year is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 5 times”! That may appeal to some people.

Focusing on the larger benefit is a better approach for highlighting a sense of achievement rather than let’s say ‘3 flights of stairs burns 12 calories’. Such a small benefit is likely to reinforce the notion to the person of ‘what’s the point’.


Word Cloud Social Marketing
Word Cloud with Social Marketing related tags

Public Health England (an important benefit for health commissioners) said “  brisk walking 10 minutes a day equals” (3)

increased physical fitness

  • greater ease of performance of everyday physical activities
  • improved mood
  • improved quality of life
  • increased body leanness and healthier weight
  • 15% reduction in risk of early death

This is a good example of describing population benefits that will resonate with public health commissioners in getting them to commit to, and fund specific projects and campaigns around increasing activity levels everyday to 10 minutes. Audience specific you see.


Another benefit over feature example – when looking at trying to encourage more people to walk or cycle short journeys instead of the car in urban areas consider time as the ‘sell’.

I was involved in a project where we changed street signs from distances to local amenities to time for walking or cycling in minutes. That was an instant benefit to someone as it was often quicker to walk or cycle considering a cars average speed is 5-9mph in UK cities (add parking / cost significantly more time).

Another example is around the UK Chief Medical Officer guidelines on recommended physical activity levels. Time bound – 30 minutes moderate x 5 times a week. Then the play on time. So x 3 lots of 10 minute exercise bouts at a higher intensity (adding up to the 30 minutes) meets the recommendation. Much more realistic to folk when shorter in time. And can be spread out throughout the day.

Then there is social proof.  The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well. As a rule we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than contrary to it. Usually when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do.


Take the big trend on mental health in the workplace and the introduction of mental health (MH) first aiders as one proactive approach to supporting an environment conducive to listening and support around MH issues.

A huge swathe of companies are doing it and so it has created a sector movement with more employers embracing the agenda. An example of Social proof in action impacting on a sector not only an individual level.

I can offer examples around my H&W programmes where certain employees have embraced a change around exercise, who previously were quite anti-exercise. By using gentle ‘nudges’ and creating an environment where physical activity was an easy choice (through varied opportunities and communication) that person has changed their habits.

Those around that person (especially quite influential peers) are more likely to conform and adopt some of those behaviours (for example lunch time walks or using the stairs over the lift). This may then lead onto active commutes, walking meetings etc. Of course a policy environment that facilitates this and Board level encouragement are both key (a different article may be) to cause this effect to take place.



Another look at decisions people take are around commitment and consistency (1)  A great example. Below. “Two Canadian Psychologists uncovered something fascinating about people at the race track:  Just after placing a bet, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down the bet”.

Of course nothing about the horses chances have changed, same horse, track in the same field; this relates to our desire consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with the commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.

So some of the Health and wellbeing levers to ‘nudge’ people into better habits consistent with improving health outcomes might be pledges. Pledges were used in stop smoking campaigns – an example in Beeston, Leeds using promises of smoke free homes (SFH) where pledges increased SFH from 35 % to 68% and 90% of people said they were keeping to their promises 3 months after (2).

It could be suggested that using a health pledge has some degree of influence on encouraging commitment to a goal and falling into the theory above. A pledge to walk more maybe or achieve the 30 minutes physical activity recommendations 5 days a week.


One thing that remains intrinsically linked between health and marketing is the focus on people and behaviours. The difference is the ‘commercial’ approach of marketing and the more ‘social’ approach of H&W. H&W approaches and public health can learn a lot.

It also gives clear opportunities for both functions to work alongside each other in a business setting for mutual benefits. That is the value of H&W to lever a Business brand into different networks and audiences that could lead to more business leads.

And for H&W using the expertise of marketing to develop internal branding for Workplace H&W programmes that help to engage and influence people. A programme that people want to be associated with – creating an instant recognition of being involved in it.

The more H&W programmes tap into other business functions the more traction it has.


And remember if there is one thing all marketers can agree on –  human interest stories (that H&W is a catalyst for) gives a carousel of content and powerful marketing collateral (case studies / images) around employee activities – boosting Employer brand and investor relations linked to Corporate social responsibility objectives.

I have only skimmed the surface of a huge topic area drawing parallels with the behaviour change of both functions and how both can work together for multiple benefits spanning business and social objectives. See my other articles on the link with pay & benefit, Employer brand and HR.

Andrew Picken

Member of Royal Society for Public Health

Copyright AJP Health Consultancy



(1) Cialdini, RB (2007) “ Influence the Psychology of persuasion.”


(2) Accessed Online:  11.3.2019

(3) Accessed Online: 11/3/2019

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