Don’t succumb to woo: Building a sustainable wellness business starts with science

Breathe Education founder Raphael Bender

Breathe Education founder Raphael Bender.

We all want to be well. To feel healthy, energetic and pain-free. To be full of vitality, joy and glowing with inner beauty.

We want it, and we’re willing to pay for it.

A whole industry has grown up to help us feel well. It’s called the wellness industry.

The wellness industry encompasses a vast range of lifestyle-based wellness products and services. From yoghurt to yoga, green smoothies to red light therapy, personal training and massage to supplements. Physiotherapists are even getting in on the act with pilates and dry needling.

It’s a big, lucrative industry.

According to GWI, the wellness economy is worth 5% of the world’s GDP. 

But, does the wellness industry make you well?

Sadly, most of that huge pile of money doesn’t help people, because it’s spent on useless treatments and products which lack scientific evidence. This is because the wellness industry has embraced woo.

It is rife and riddled with woo. That is to say the unscientific, the pseudoscientific and the wacky. 

Gwyneth Paltrow has made a nearly-billion-dollar business from selling expensive wellness products to women, many of which have spurious claims attached.

So spurious, in fact, that the company was forced to pay a $145,000 fine for its claim that a vagina ‘egg’ could improve bladder control.

In reality, all gynaecologists could confirm was that the eggs would likely lead to a bladder infection. 

Some businesses such as Lorna Jane are learning the hard way when it comes to distributing health marketing messages which are not built upon scientific, evidence-based facts. 

The ACCC has taken Lorna Jane to Federal Court alleged false or misleading claims about its ‘anti-virus activewear’, alleging the brand to be in breach of Australian Consumer Law.

Until at least November 2020, Lorna Jane continued to claim that its garment permanently protected the wearers against pathogens, despite allegedly having no scientific or technological evidence to support its claims.

You may agree that virus-zapping sports bras and vagina eggs sound a bit out there, but it goes a lot deeper than that. Even some of the most innocuous-seeming things consumers buy with their wellness dollar are in fact woo.

Most of the advice given by personal trainers is likely not evidence-based, or at best, is out of date. Trainers are still recommending debunked approaches such as core stabilisation, and superfoods remain firmly in the public consciousness.

Nutritionists roll their eyes and die a little bit inside every time they hear the word ‘superfoods’, and yet people still line up to pay premium prices for turmeric, goji berries, quinoa and açai.

There are many, many more examples of woo in the wellness industry, including detox diets. They don’t detox you: your liver does that.

Stretching doesn’t prevent injuries.

Low carb diets are no better than any other diet for long-term weight loss, and acupuncture is no better than sham acupuncture for low back pain.

Dry needling by your physiotherapist doesn’t work, and myofascial release doesn’t release your myofascia, and isn’t helpful for long-term pain.

Clearly, people are willing to pay big money in order to achieve amazing results, with little effort at attempting to obtain these results without turning to some woo, for a little extra support.

It turns out there is no life-hack, shortcut or *one weird trick* to achieve amazing results in any area of life.

The prominence of woo is not a case of unscrupulous operators pulling wool over the eyes of an unsuspecting public.

Rather, most business operators simply don’t have a high level of scientific literacy. Which is to say they can’t easily tell the difference between proven treatments and pseudoscientific fads.

Circular causality is also at play, where customer demand for woo drives businesses to invest and promote woo, which in turn increases demand by consumers. 

Building a sustainable, science-backed wellness business

It’s a pity that so many wellness professionals promote unscientific and outdated practices, because science-backed treatments actually work.

And because they work, you can build a sustainable business on them.

When you use science-based treatments, your clients get real-world, repeatable results. Then they tell their friends, and teach others to do the same. 

We do have pretty good science-based ways to help lower back pain, lose weight and prevent injuries.

Unfortunately, they all involve lifestyle change and consistent effort over time. We understand that this is not sexy, nor can we calculate how long it will take by the number of sessions, but it works.

If you’re planning on diving into the wellness industry, it’s time to get your facts straight and realise that the time for woo is well and truly over.

In 2021, consumers are all too aware that without science there is no guaranteed cure and we should settle for nothing less than real results.

The most fundamental principle of business is to solve a problem for your customers.

The more effectively, and cost-efficiently you can solve your customers’ problem, the more value you will create, and the more of that value you will be able to capture in the form of profit.

Selling science-based products and services is fundamentally a sound business strategy because science-based products and services are, by definition, the most effective method of solving a given problem.

If you solve customers’ problems more effectively, you gain a massive business advantage over your competitors.

In short, it’s high time that wellness businesses meet consumer demands, and implement permanent professional changes, away from the woo. 

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