If going green has helped companies win a lot of public support and beef up profits, then health can be an equally effective consumer engagement tool. This is the finding of a new global survey by public relations firm Edelman, which was released on 13 April at the 7th Annual World Health Care Congress in Washington, DC.

Numberspeak: Seventy-two per cent of Indians surveyed said they would buy products from a firm engaged in health activities.

According to the Edelman Health Engagement Barometer 2010, an online survey of 15,257 people in 11 countries, including India, 65% of global respondents were willing to buy or recommend products from companies engaged in well-being initiatives. For India, this figure was higher—72% said they would buy products or services from a company engaged in health activities.

The study was conducted in February and March across Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the UK and the US by research agency StrategyOne, and follows up on a smaller survey (5,000 respondents from five countries, excluding India) done last year. “The main difference if you compare the two results is that health has very, very quickly come to the forefront," says Robert Holdheim, managing director, Edelman India, suggesting that factors such as the recent debate over the new US healthcare Bill have focused attention on it.

Also Read News You Can Use

Support local communities

The survey suggests that it’s not enough for companies to be looking after the well-being of their employees and their families. The majority of those surveyed (92%) believed that companies should be engaging in other ways too.

For example, 71% believe it is important for businesses to support the health of their local communities.

However, 75% also believe it is important for businesses to educate the public on health topics related to their products or services, and 75% again believe it is important for businesses to create new products or services that maintain and improve personal health.

Smart marketeers are already well aware of these trends. Take appliances and lighting manufacturer Philips Electronics India Ltd, which started to focus on “health and well-being" two years ago, based on global trends. “Health awareness is on the rise. More people are looking to prevention than treatment," says Vivek Sharma, chief marketing officer, Philips India. “When a consumer has a choice of many brands, preference is given to a brand that is more knowledgeable about health needs. It also increases (the) credibility of (the) brand." Hence, Philips’ current portfolio emphasis (in addition to nutritional aids such as juicers) is on products that affect air and water quality, as well as “healthy appliances", says Sharma, citing the example of a new lighting product to address jet lag.

The company has also taken its global corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme Simply Health@School to rural government schools near Gurgaon (on the outskirts of Delhi), where it has begun creating awareness of basic health hygiene, oral hygiene, fresh air and all the five elements (air, fire, water, earth and space) that constitute life in traditional wisdom. Philips employees volunteer for these projects; at the end of these, the company undertakes a makeover of the classrooms with better lighting facilities.

Food manufacturer Britannia Industries Ltd, with its Swasth Khao, Tan Man Jagao tag line, is also investing time and resources in health and nutrition awareness drives. “Increasingly, we have realized that a large part of the work needed in the health and nutrition area is to create awareness of nutrition needs and drive up adoption rates for healthier alternatives," says Anuradha Narasimhan, category director, health and wellness, Britannia, which runs nutrition awareness programmes for children across rural India in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Orissa, using storytelling as a way to underline the importance of taking iron in food.

In 2009, the company also launched the Britannia Nutrition Foundation—a non-profit which builds awareness and advocates good nutrition through seminars and workshops, focusing especially on addressing malnutrition. As part of its focus, it supplies fortified biscuits for midday meal programmes in some schools in Chennai and Puducherry and to a couple of NGOs in Delhi.

Talking trust

Meanwhile, the survey showed that even though the Indian public’s expectations from businesses were high, their faith was low: 47% of Indians surveyed said they did not trust businesses to

address health needs in the country. Holdheim attributed this to a general loss of trust in businesses in the wake of scandals such as the Satyam scam, as well as our native scepticism.

However, considering the fact that consumers in the Indian market have far higher expectations of business involvement in healthcare activities, he notes, “This is a call for Indian companies in both health and non-health sectors to engage actively in health-oriented programmes."

Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com