After a challenging few months for comms professionals in the health & wellbeing sector, Smoking Gun’s MD Rick Guttridge talks to the MPA about why opportunity might be on the horizon.

Since the late-March lockdown, many brands have been grappling with what they can do to support consumers through the Coronavirus crisis – and none more so than those in the health and wellbeing space.

The shifts in consumer behaviour forced by the pandemic are unlike any most of us have seen in our lifetime, and at Smoking Gun we’ve been doing some analysis that’s revealed a lasting change in how people view their health and fitness – which could mean the biggest opportunity to engage with consumers is ahead of us.

We analysed 8 million social media posts from January to July this year to understand exactly what people think and feel about lockdown life, how this has impacted attitudes and behaviours towards health and wellbeing, and what the opportunities are for brands as we move into the recovery phase.

We found that since lockdown, positive conversation around health and fitness goals smashed the traditional January and February peak, rising by more than 60% in March and April. Fitness discussion remained 50% higher in May, June and July too, suggesting a more lasting change than the New Year fads.

Discussion of health and fitness goals were two-thirds men and one-third women. And as social chatter around alcohol was 13% lower than talk about exercise, it appears the nation was reaching for its running shoes more than it was reaching for the bottle!

So what does this mean for comms professionals?

While January is the time when most of us capitalise on the thirst for self improvement, our data suggests lockdown has given us the time to realistically reflect and take action on our own wellness – far outrunning the quick burnout of the ‘new year, new you’ period.

It’s evident that lockdown is bringing about a long-term shift in how people set and consider their health and exercise goals. Nobody wants to lose their health gains as lockdown eases, so brands that can support consumers to continue to achieve their goals year-round will win hearts and minds. Comms pros need to be quick to recognise this and shift their campaign planning accordingly.

What other health and wellbeing trends did the data reveal?

Social media discussion around #wellbeing rose dramatically in the weeks after lockdown and continues to run at historically high levels. In particular, the data showed a dramatic increase in people using fitness apps – more so than in January – presenting a huge opportunity for fitness tech brands to tap into a much bigger audience.

The NHS’ ‘Couch to 5k’ exercise programme was a big success and this interest continued into July. Social posts about this soared, particularly among women who dominated two-thirds of this particular discussion. There was not a single day during lockdown when volumes did not exceed the highest daily totals recorded in January.

Positive social media conversation around cycling also peaked, including those planning cycling trips once restrictions relax.

In terms of our mental wellbeing, the so-called ‘snowflake’ millennial generation proved their resilience, displaying shrinking levels of ‘anger’ and ‘mistrust’ and growing levels of emotions such as ‘joy’ as the lockdown went on and they adapted to the ‘new normal’ – even finding silver linings.

What can we take from this as we move through the next few months?

Well, lockdown has created a desire for personal improvement that won’t fade quickly. The pandemic has shrunk people’s reference points – how a brand can impact ‘me and my world’ will be more of a focus than ever before.

The context for all of this is time – the majority of people had more time to look after their health in lockdown, so they did and continue to do so. This creates habit and new behaviour over time. There is an opportunity for brands to support the continuation of this as the ‘old normal’ returns, and help satisfy the appetite to keep hold of the positives that rose from such a terrible time.

You can read more about Smoking Gun’s insights on the impact of lockdown life on our health and wellbeing here.