by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

At HES, we refer to our products as wellness campaigns, but often get lumped into the same wellness “challenges” pile with other vendors. The distinction is more than semantics.

Challenges as they’re practiced today are simple models where participants do something like record steps, then get points and/or badges. The activity gets graphed over time, and users can compare their progress to others on individual or team leaderboards. Various iterations of the model allow peer-to-peer and coordinator challenges that can change from week to week.

It’s an approach that’s a mile wide but an inch deep. You can generate an almost endless array of challenges. But without significant rewards — gift cards, premium discounts, and/or cash incentives (which don’t change long-term behaviors) — all but the already active, healthy, driven participants lose interest within a few weeks.

Wellness campaigns, on the other hand (as we define and design them), are rich experiences that get the user immersed in a theme as well as setting and working toward a very ambitious goal. And while we apply many of the same social features as the challenge model — teams, buddies, messaging — they’re all geared toward contributing to the theme and the big personal/joint goals. 

Our content is developed around the theme first, and health behaviors second. The reason is simple: The health part of health promotion is pretty straightforward — move more, eat more vegetables, get appropriate sleep, etc. What makes up a healthy lifestyle hasn’t changed in nearly a century.

A robust theme — travel, game show, virtual trails, sports, natural wonders, international festivals, seasonal imagery — gives participants the chance to get lost in something other than produce servings. It’s a way to engage, inform, and even entertain. It’s something to rally around and talk about beyond their respective points on a leaderboard. In short, it lets you inspire your population without coercing them with rewards or punishment.

But a good wellness campaign theme is more than just a catchy tagline and a few badge icons. A theme is essentially a story that unfolds as participants record the targeted health behaviors. And like a good story, it pulls the participant along, moving them toward their goal, making them want to turn the page to get to the next element in the overall plot. It involves creative conceptualization, extensive research, talented writing and editing, and in-depth image decisions.

That’s just the beginning. Unlike static words and photos on a page, theme-based wellness campaigns are dynamic, evolving. They encourage participants to skip around, explore the topic, build community, and contribute to the story by supporting their colleagues. Achieving these results within the context of a theme requires a lot of trial and error… testing assumptions, reworking features, expanding on concepts that work, and fixing or eliminating those that don't.

Getting theme-based wellness campaign content right is hard, hard work. But when it’s right, it feels easy, seamless, even natural to the participant. And it’s sustaining. When a population experiences a well designed and executed theme-based wellness campaign, a common question to wellness managers is not When do I get my gift card?, but rather I can’t wait to do this again when is the next campaign?

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