Eudaimonia: How Health Care Brands Can Fulfill the Lives of Their Customers

What is best for human beings? This question anchors Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the ancient Greek philosopher’s most extensive treatise on what a life well-lived entails.

Certainly, Aristotle suggested, most people agree that specific aims are desirable: Few would dispute that it is good to have friends or maintain one’s physical health, for instance. Yet, these pursuits are worthy precisely because they aim for yet another ideal, a more “universal good” that makes life worth living.  

Aristotle termed this ultimate good “eudaimonia,” derived from the Greek words for “well” and “spirit.” The word denotes a sense of happiness that transcends the ordinary concerns of daily life, describing a deeper sense of purpose and prosperity. Although we often fixate on lesser goods, they are actually desirable only in reference to this more fundamental ideal. Whatever we do to improve our lives, Aristotle asserted, we do in pursuit of eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia: the ultimate good

Aristotle acknowledged that different concepts of happiness could incite intense and nuanced debate among philosophers. Yet, in proposing the universal good of eudaimonia, he consciously elected to keep his notion simple. True happiness, he wrote, is “living well and acting well.”

Health Care’s Higher Calling

Although Aristotle’s conclusions seem relevant in virtually every industry, his notion of eudaimonia is particularly pertinent for the health care and pharmaceutical sectors.

In many ways, these fields seem uniquely positioned to assist their customers in achieving true well-being. Which industry can claim to do more to help individuals live and act well within their own potential? And yet many health care companies find their focus diverted from this high-order purpose. Though they seek to prioritize patient wellness, business priorities and external pressures frequently take precedence.

This struggle is understandable: Health care brands have ample reason to stress the details of their performance. First and foremost, health care entities are subject to an unparalleled degree of regulatory restraint. When compliance replaces the customer experience as a business’s chief concern, higher-order ideals will hardly flourish.

Moreover, in contemporary America’s litigious climate, medical brands can prioritize limiting liability over maximizing patient satisfaction. Last but not least, rising costs are glaring issues for patients and insurers alike, causing health care companies to adopt a laser-like focus on expenses.

While these obstacles are significant, they pale in comparison to the evidence suggesting health care brands should pursue a higher purpose. Across a diverse array of sectors, among companies selling both goods and services, purpose-driven brands boast better financial performance and growth metrics. Additionally, their meaningful missions position them for long-term growth and shield them from shortsighted moves designed to lift profits.

Critically, however, brands must truly deliver on their ideals, not just tout them in marketing materials. Flowery language abounds in health care brands’ communication, but how many actually embrace the chance to impact their customers’ well-being?

Within the health care industry, some highly regarded institutions are leading the charge to make the patient experience primary, employing new technologies to enable better care. Indeed, what purpose would suit health care companies better than helping individuals achieve health and happiness? Still, many medical brands focus on basic necessities while neglecting a broader sense of purpose.

In other words, health care brands devote too much attention to efficiency and too little to eudaimonia. Until their aims align with the ultimate good of their customers, they won’t form meaningful connections with their audience.

Below, we’ll share key principles from the world of behavioral science that health care brands can adopt to earn emotional, trusting connections with their customers. Each of these suggestions will urge brands to place the ideal of eudaimonia over more limited definitions of care. By moving from a narrow sense of treatment to a holistic vision of happiness, health care brands can project a new sense of promise.

Empowering Eudaimonia: Behavioral Science Insights for Health Care Brands

Hear What Patients Aren’t Saying

When attempting to learn what matters most about the customer experience, it can be tempting to simply ask patients directly. Indeed, traditional customer research methodologies prevail in most industries: Discussion groups and haphazardly designed surveys can yield a lot of data about potential customer sentiments. There’s a challenge associated with this kind of information, however – you can’t entirely trust it.

Scholars have repeatedly found that focus group methodologies often produce very different conclusions than one-on-one interviews and that the latter approach is typically more effective in revealing deep drivers of customer behavior. This finding is particularly relevant in the health care space, where emotional complexity is commonplace.

Certainly, group feedback modalities can yield powerful and actionable conclusions, but only if they are crafted and conducted correctly. Without a nuanced approach that incorporates the learnings of behavioral psychology, these methods may produce problematic data.

Consider the fate of Home Access Corporation’s 1996 launch of an at-home HIV test kit. All focus groups and target demographic surveys indicated the product would be a hit. But when it actually reached shelves, the product completely floundered, costing the company millions. Whatever their enthusiasm displayed in focus groups, real consumers couldn’t bear to bring such a significant test home with them and learn the results alone.

This anecdote should indicate that no brand can rely exclusively on the initial statements of its customers, especially in the health care space. Instead, companies must employ more nuanced interviewing methodologies to access the real content of customer experiences: their feelings.

Acknowledge Emotion

Although they study human behavior from decidedly different perspectives, behavioral economists and neuroscientists are in definite agreement on at least one subject: The vast majority of our choices are nonrational.

In fact, merely a fraction of our decisions ever occurs at a conscious level. Instinct governs most of what we do, categorizing new experiences and initiating conditioned responses. Within these subrational systems of cognition, emotion is the primary driver. Just as our fight or flight instincts emerge with feelings of fear, our sentiments govern our behaviors to a significant extent.

Moreover, the function of emotion within our decision-making explains debacles like the launch of the at-home HIV test kit. Often, consumers are so disconnected from the emotional drivers of their behaviors that they cannot perceive them at work.

The corollary for health care brands is clear: Relinquish the mode of rational appeal and get willing to engage emotion. In matters pertaining to our physical well-being, emotions may be even more influential than they are with other products.

Indeed, researchers like Harvard’s Jennifer Lerner and her colleagues have consistently found that emotional states significantly shape health care choices. This is particularly true with regard to how patients assess risk and responsibility within the context of care: Life-altering decisions about procedures can be influenced by small frustrations, like a long wait to see the doctor.

If health care brands hope to make solid and positive connections with consumers, they’ll need to engage the emotional dimensions of their well-being as well. If your brand conjures unpleasant associations, you’re unlikely to help anyone achieve eudaimonia.

Build Solutions Around Real Behavior

If our behavior is driven primarily by nonrational forces, and human beings are often incapable of articulating these motives, how can brands hope to improve customer experiences?

The first step entails dispelling the myth of the rational customer by observing real patterns of human action. This penchant for empirical observation distinguishes the behavioral sciences from the abstractions of traditional economics. It also arms brands with a factual basis for business decisions, rather than mere theory.

Interestingly, the health care space supplies plenty of striking examples of anti-rational consumer behavior. One might assume that cooler heads tend to prevail in matters as serious as physical health, but the opposite often holds true.

Consider Americans’ lackadaisical approach to prescription medication: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fifth of prescriptions go unfilled. Of those that are filled, approximately half are consumed incompletely or incorrectly. These medications aren’t unnecessary; in fact, prescription noncompliance results in $100 to $300 billion in additional health care costs each year.

Why do people neglect to take medication that could significantly improve their quality of life, especially if they’ve already paid for it? Clearly, if consumers functioned on an entirely rational basis, this challenge would simply not exist.

A similarly striking pattern of nonrational thought emerges in connection to organ donation, as psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely has demonstrated. In European countries where organ donation is the default policy for drivers, rates of donations are quite high. In nations where drivers must opt in instead, a much smaller portion of drivers sign up.

Effective consent rates, by country

The subject of one’s own organs seems so personal that it is hard to imagine our choice altered by the way in which the question is framed. But even the fate we choose for our body parts can be dictated by nonrational factors.

These medically oriented examples are not intended to shroud customer behavior in a baffling mystery. Rather, they demonstrate the need to suspend assumptions when gauging which elements of the customer experience are formative. Open-mindedness and experimentation are the keys to developing a sound strategy.

If your brand earnestly seeks to help customers achieve eudaimonia, you’ll need to serve them in all their human inconsistency. Brand purpose doesn’t entail a purely rational approach. Instead, it must incorporate behavioral principles that make true engagement possible. When it comes to serving customers, making a connection is worth more than making sense.

Where Purpose Meets Progress

These behavioral science principles promise to broaden the value that health care brands can provide to their customers, elevating the emotional impacts of care. By releasing prior notions of what patients need and exploring what they feel instead, companies across the health care sector can start to answer a higher calling. That promise will serve as the basis of consumer trust, distinguishing companies from the crowded field of their competitors.

Thus far, we utilized Aristotle’s notion of eudaimonia to describe the state of well-being that health care brands can help their customers achieve. But a quote from another ancient Greek might best encapsulate the mission of health care brands that embrace a higher purpose. It comes from Hippocrates, long regarded as the founder of the medical profession.

“Wherever the art of medicine is loved,” he wrote, “there is also a love of humanity.” If health care brands seek to truly serve their customers, they must recognize and respect their human truth.

Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love for humanity

Moreover, when health care businesses invest in the patient experience, their efforts can revitalize the enthusiasm of their workforce. After all, those who choose careers in healthcare do so to honor a higher calling: The noble use of their talents to advance the wellbeing of others.

If brands can empower their employees’ love of humanity, the art of medicine will inevitably flourish as well. In a field in which employee turnover is a persistent challenge, creating this kind of purpose-driven culture is an invaluable advantage.

With nearly 20 years of experience helping brands navigate business challenges, Brandtrust is uniquely capable of helping your company identify and achieve its purpose. As social scientists and subject experts, we employ research techniques from behavioral sciences to better understand our clients’ customers.

We don’t just supply insights, however: Our services include practical programs of action tailored to our clients’ needs. By offering both big ideas and implementation suggestions, our work empowers brands to transform the way they do business.

To learn more about how we explore the human truth at the heart of business challenges, take a look at our past work with many of the world’s most admired companies.


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