Marketing For Health & Wellness

Mastering Health and Wellness Messaging: Essential Lessons from HLTH 2023

HLTH 2023 banner

A bustling conference hall, a melting pot of 10,000 global health and wellness thought leaders, and the ever-present challenge for brands to effectively communicate their value. 

HLTH Conference 2023 was quite the scene – buzzing booths, big ideas, and lots of folks trying (sometimes too hard) to make their mark in the health and wellness game. Attending the HLTH conference 2023 was an eye-opener in many respects. 

Missed out? No worries, I’ve got the inside scoop for you.

Deciphering the Health and Wellness Brand Landscape

Walking around, one thing was clear: it became apparent that a significant number of companies struggled with their messaging. Booth after booth sported fancy phrases like “modern AI for connected patient wellness,” but when you dug a little deeper, the clarity just wasn’t there. This wasn’t just an issue with booth presentations – in conversations, unless it was a founder or a high-ranking executive, representatives seemed to fumble when describing their company’s unique value propositions. Brands must remember: An impactful presence at events like HLTH requires clear, succinct, and compelling brand communication.

Mastering Health And Wellness Messaging: Essential Lessons From Hlth 2023

The Underrated Power of Community in Wellness

Diving deeper into the sessions, there was an evident oversight in many discussions: the importance of community. Convincing people to adopt healthier lifestyles is an uphill battle, and people need support from others like them, just not from a gadget or a professional expert. Often, the real transformation catalyst is peer support. Only a handful of voices, unfortunately, championed this idea. The future of health and wellness marketing should not overlook the human touch – the community aspect. Only a handful seemed to get this, and I’m betting the brands that tap into this community vibe are the ones we’ll be talking about next year.

Mastering Health And Wellness Messaging: Essential Lessons From Hlth 2023

Gems of Wisdom from the Industry

A few quotes that really stood out to me:

  • Thirty Madison President Michelle Carnahan‘s advice for startups was a game-changer: “Give them a moment of truth when they’re having a moment of tension.”
    • She also pointed out that there was 100 years between when the mammogram was invented and when it was covered by insurance.
  • Startup founder Madilynn Beck’s statement was bold in a hall filled with the Who’s Who of insurance and pharma: “We have a sick care system, not a health care system.”
  • I don’t remember who said this, but this phrase stuck out to me: “the selfcare healthcare boom” to describe the rise of consumer-led health and wellness interventions.

Generational Preferences in Health Product Packaging

A fascinating observation was the generational divide in packaging preferences. 

While younger Millennials and Gen Z gravitate towards more friendly, modern designs, elder Millennials and Gen X show a preference for something professional and ‘medical’. It can be the exact same product inside the box, but what’s on the outside will determine who picks it up off the shelf. It’s crucial for health and wellness brands to recognize these nuances in consumer behavior and adapt accordingly. I tell our clients all the time – it doesn’t matter what you like or would respond to – what does your market want to see?

Mastering Health And Wellness Messaging: Essential Lessons From Hlth 2023

A heartfelt panel around founder burnout was raw and real. 

Damayanti Dipayana’s affirmation, “Your company may not be OK, but you will be” and Tegan Bukowksi’s statement, “I’m not going to fail if my company fails,” were truly empowering. 

Others on the panel gave great advice like:

  • When you’re tired, remember your team and your mission. Or, use the chip on your shoulder – proving people wrong is a great motivator.
  • It’s okay for two thoughts to be true at the same time, such as: we’re succeeding AND I’m not doing okay or scared of failure.
  • Your challenges are not your identity – they are a part of you, but they are not who you are.
  • It’s okay to be honest and real and address your issues with the team – to ask for help.

For every entrepreneur, understanding that challenges don’t define your identity is vital. And it’s nice to remember that we are not in this alone.

Decoding the Mind of the Buyer in Healthcare

The “Navigating the Sea of Sameness” panel was gold. The stage was occupied by folks who’ve been pitched to more times than IBM’s Watson can count: Dr. Rich Safeer from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Henry Ting from Delta Airlines, and Heather Dlugolenski from Cigna Healthcare. 

If you’re selling to big players, they had some advice: make it personal, know your stuff, and bring something new to the table. And cold calls? They’re as outdated as fax machines.

  1. Personalize Your Approach: It’s not just about knowing the company. Dive deeper. Understand the person you’re talking to. Tailor your approach so it feels personal to them, not just the organization.
  2. Know Your Healthcare Lingo: You’ve got to walk the walk. It’s not enough to have a product; you need to deeply understand the healthcare landscape and the specific environment you’re pitching to.
  3. Provide Value, Not Just a Product: Sure, you’re selling a boat. But do they need a boat? Focus on the broader value you offer. How can your product positively impact health outcomes and address the whole individual, not just a particular condition?
  4. Research, Research, Research: Understand what the company is currently invested in or looking at. Your approach should align with their interests and needs.
  5. Networking Trumps Cold Calls: The consensus is clear. Introductions through a trusted connection beat cold calls or emails any day. Every panelist was nodding emphatically here.
  6. Keep the Pitch Tight: If you get that precious meeting, lead with your strongest, most unique value proposition. Skip the urge to detail every tiny feature. Let your main value thread through your entire presentation.
  7. Time for Dialogue: Meetings shouldn’t be monologues. Allow ample time for discussions. Additionally, sending materials for them to peruse beforehand can set the stage for a fruitful conversation.
  8. Understand Their Market’s Problems: Before pitching, chat with their customers or survey the market. Come armed with relevant talking points or data that can bolster your pitch.
  9. Be Substantially Better: If you’re offering a replacement for an existing system, ensure it’s significantly better in performance or cost. Minor improvements won’t cut it; they’re looking for game-changers.
  10. Seek Transformative Solutions: Incremental add-ons? No thanks. What these decision-makers want are real paradigm shifts in solutions.
  11. Value-Based Contracts are the Future: Shift from traditional licensing models. Focus on contracts that tie payments to actual outcomes.
  12. Employee Experience Matters: Put emphasis on the actual experience an employee would have with your product or solution.
  13. Offer Constructive Critiques: Be prepared to give your perspective on what they’re doing right or wrong, and areas where competitors might be edging them out.
  14. Foster a Culture of Wellbeing: The emphasis is shifting from mere healthcare provision to creating environments where wellbeing is a core part of the culture.
  15. Emphasize Human Connections: Technology can’t replace the human touch. Highlight ways your solution fosters genuine human interactions because at the end of the day, humans need humans.

In summary, the big players aren’t looking for the same old pitches. They want thoughtfulness, genuine value, and an understanding of their unique needs. So, vendors, it’s time to step up your game!

Pitching 101: Making VCs Sit Up – Judging the Future of Health Startups

There was a Well by HLTH pitch event in which health and wellness startups were able to pitch to VCs from Google Venures, Flare Capital Partners, Northwell Health, and Olympus Innovation Ventures.

Most of the founders stuck to a similar script, but they all had varying degrees of preparedness. Some had clearly said the pitch a hundred times over, and they carried themselves with confidence. 

The startups that didn’t grab the attention of the judges tended to not have a clearly stated market problem (they were a solution in search of a problem), didn’t have good structure to their pitch, and/or fumbled through the pitch.

The interesting bit? The questions VCs threw out. They weren’t just looking for cool products; they wanted to know the strategy, the data, the long game. 

If they weren’t interested in the product at all, they would lean back and disengage without asking a question. If they were, only then would they ask a question or two. 

Here are some of the questions they asked:

  • What about partnerships with existing companies in the space?
  • What customers do you have? What are they like and how are they using the product?
  • How do you work with the care system?
  • What is your retention and LTV?
  • Are you looking at health systems? What is your path to reimbursement?
  • How do you collect and store data?
  • What is your GTM and business model?
  • How do you vet the practitioners on your platform?
  • How do you track metrics?
  • What is your payer strategy?
  • Do you plan to break into the education sector? What about reaching adolescents?
  • What differentiates you?
  • What integrations do you have?
  • What are your product innovations?
Mastering Health And Wellness Messaging: Essential Lessons From Hlth 2023

Peeking into the Future: HLTH 2024 Predictions

There were two major insights I got from trends in the conference:

  1. Big Pharma’s not just playing matchmaker for meds anymore – they’re hunting for partners that actively work with the consumer on changing behaviors and habits. They want to go beyond just prescribing a medicine but to ensure that medicine is actually taken correctly and that other modalities are used to work on the disease or issue.
  2. While AI had the spotlight this year, preventive care was sneaking up as the breakout star. Mark my words: next year, Prevention will be stealing the show. It’s not just about fixing what’s broken anymore – it’s about making sure things don’t break in the first place!


In wrapping up, the HLTH conference 2023 was more than just sessions and panels. It was a reflection of where health and wellness marketing stands today and where it is headed. As we look forward to HLTH 2024, one thing is clear: The future of health and wellness is not just in innovations, but in clear communication, community-building, and understanding the nuanced preferences of consumers.

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