The hybrid world of health and wellbeing

Dom Waghorn, Strategy Director at SYZYGY London on the opportunity for health, fitness and wellbeing companies to blend learnings from the digital-first lockdowns with real-world access.

Dom Waghorn

Strategy Director SYZYGY London


“I was too fat” declared Boris Johnson when he left hospital in July 2020 following COVID-19 treatment. He didn’t just think he was too fat: he claimed the whole nation needed to get healthy to beat the virus.

Problem was all the habits people had around exercise pre-COVID were threatened by lockdowns and restrictions. Vitality Insurance reported that in the first lockdown in March 2020, members recorded a 28% drop in physical activity. People at home, on their sofas, just weren’t reaching their step goals.

It’s taken a year of transformation and innovation within the healthcare, fitness, and wellbeing sectors to provide services built for lockdown and evolved consumer habits. A lot of this required investment in their digital platforms.

As we embark on a more open society, what can we expect around how people choose to exercise and approach wellbeing? According to Statista, the British public’s intentions to keep exercising are set to be stronger than before lockdown, with 54% of UK adults reporting that they plan to do more for their health, and 29% plan on increasing their spending on health and hygiene products. It’s not just physical health; 41% of the same group report they’ve made it their personal priority to maintain their household’s mental health (GWI). 

The key question is how brands will meet this demand. There appears to be a huge opportunity for healthcare, fitness, and wellbeing companies to take the best of what we’ve learned from digital-first lockdowns and blend with real-world access.

WFH, workout from home or the gym

Traditional gym brands were among those shuttered for the longest periods this year, with home exercise one of the few things people have turned to while under lockdowns. Offering virtual classes enabled traditional bricks and mortar gym brands like Fitness First to incentivise new joiners and retain existing members to stick with their memberships.

However, with a new breed of competition from the likes of Joe Wicks converting entire families to free home workouts, gyms must distinguish themselves to remain a cut above and to keep members coming back.

Predominantly, this comes down to providing higher quality customer experience rather than just free YouTube workouts. Bespoke, tailored training plans and familiar trainers as well as a community feel, a la Peloton, can evoke that feeling of membership and motivation from home.

Gyms are likely to see many customers return, but some may maintain their workouts at home. Some might want to do a bit of both. Meaning gyms need to provide a hybrid range of flexible classes that can be done anywhere.

The move towards hybrid/digital experience models will continue, offering the flexibility that people demand.

Dom Waghorn

Pharmacies and doctors on your phone

As so much of our lives moved to digital, the traditional pharmacy experience hasn’t been able to keep up with shifts. Which is problematic when Amazon is lurking. Amazon has been selling multivitamins, supplements and health foods for many years and has satisfied the rise in consumer concern for immune health, for the likes of Vitamin D tablets, by making them easily accessible while people are stuck at home.

Amazon currently sells these products like everything else it sells, but this is evolving; in the US they have launched their own pharmacy. It should only be a matter of time before talks of a UK roll out accelerate. Of course, Amazon has the advantage of being rooted in an advanced digital platform, but it’s also tapping into demand for digitalised services for all things medical.

We conducted our own research this year and found that over seven million adult consumers in the UK have consulted a doctor online for the first time since the pandemic started, almost 14% of the population. In the US this figure is 39 million. Audiences are clearly becoming accustomed to accessing medical support online, again often through a hybrid model.

Wellness-boosting products and tools, vitamins, gym equipment, supplements, fitness trackers, even mental health tools like colouring books, have all seen a rise in demand. There is no reason why people won’t want to continue using these tools even when doctors’ doors are open.

The new face of Pharma

The global race for vaccines has placed pharmaceutical brands like Pfizer and AstraZeneca firmly on the front pages. This newfound recognition with consumers has coincided with a general shift from pharma companies to act more like B2C brands. These global, complicated, long-established pharmaceutical companies are looking to start ups for inspiration, exploring ways to be more customer-focused while remaining trusted partners for healthcare professionals.

Our global pharma clients have been focusing on reimagining their role in consumers’ lives and how they can provide value that goes beyond the drugs they create. Typically, this includes content, tools, and digital services that help people stay healthier.  

This approach has another important role: filling dangerous gaps in information. As Caliber’s 2020 Global Healthcare Study recommended, pharma companies need to talk directly to their consumers rather than assuming they know everything, otherwise people fill in gaps using whatever they hear in the news and online. 

The path forward

No one really knows how people will behave in a year’s time and if they claim to, walk away quickly! But we do know some things. That health and wellbeing remains a priority for most people. That the move towards hybrid/digital experience models will continue, offering the flexibility that people demand. And that the brands who offer this will likely thrive over those that don’t.

Guest Author

Dom Waghorn

Strategy Director SYZYGY London


Dom Waghorn helps brands figure out how to reach and impress consumers through digital channels. This might end up as a PowerPoint file. But it’s waaaay more exciting when it shows itself as a brilliant customer experience or a fantastically designed digital product. With a background in journalism, he believes in the power of stories to change minds, as well as the importance of research as a foundation for these stories.

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