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Using Lifestyle Branding to Sell Substance Abuse Services

Organizations that provide substance abuse services have a problem selling what they have to offer.  Many people just aren’t buying it.   

Whether it’s substance abuse prevention, treatment or recovery, we have not been successful in getting the majority of our potential “customers” interested in and using what we provide.     

In substance abuse prevention, for example, we oftentimes have great difficulty getting parents, teachers, pediatric health care providers, youth leaders and others excited enough about prevention programs to provide them, and for adolescents and young adults to be eager to participate in them.   

The same can be said for substance abuse treatment, with perhaps only 10% of individuals in need of treatment seeking it, and a significant number of those in treatment dropping out before its conclusion.       

The lack of interest and participation in substance abuse services is a complicated issue.  There are many contributing factors, including the overuse of negative messaging in our communications and marketing, and stigma associated with substance abuse.   

What is Lifestyle Branding? 

To the extent our limited success in recruitment and retention has been related to getting folks to buy into what we are selling, why don’t we take a lesson from successful product marketers and use lifestyle branding? 

Branding is getting our customers to see what we have to offer the way we see it.  It involves communicating the outcomes our customers want and the value we offer, not the specific types of programs or services we provide.     

Lifestyle branding is using branding to sell a lifestyle.  Isn’t that what we substance abuse prevention and treatment providers have to offer anyway?  We provide services and programs that result in healthier, happier, more fulling and successful lives.     

Product Branding Examples 

Companies use lifestyle branding to sell everything from cars to computers to cocktails.  Car manufacturers, for example, may want you feel you deserve luxury, or feel as though you are sporty or rugged.   

Computers and other technology businesses frequently brand their products as making you feel hip, current, or in the know.     

Meanwhile, beer companies often sell you an image of being attractive, fit or popular.   

The goal of all of these branding messages is to appeal to what you want your life to be like in the future.  In that respect, they are attempts to target potential customer’s aspirations, or an image of what they want to be.   

Using Lifestyle Branding in Prevention 

How can we use lifestyle branding to sell or promote substance abuse prevention services?  That depends upon the group you are targeting, i.e., your audience. 

You may want to target potential participants (i.e., youth or young adult customers), their parents, or youth services providers, depending upon your organization’s marketing goals.  Each group will have different needs. 

For example, youth and young adult participants are likely to long to feel they fit in, are popular, attractive, athletic or successful.  One of the reasons why youth and young adults throughout the country have reported enjoying Prevention Plus Wellness programs like SPORT and InShape is that they satisfy desired selves to feel fit, active, healthy and accomplished.  

On the other hand, parents often want to feel less anxious about their kids’ safety, feel like their kids are happy and healthy, or want to feel they are “good” parents.  Effective substance abuse prevention programs with a parent component or message could be branded to communicate these lifestyle desires for parents and guardians. 

Meanwhile, providers like school teachers, pediatric health care providers, and youth leaders will each have different lifestyle desires.  However, they are all likely to aspire to being effective in promoting the wellbeing of youth, and feeling that they are making a difference in the lives of young people.  Evidence-based prevention programs with published support for their efficacy could certainly be branded as achieving these lifestyle aspirations.   

Using Lifestyle Branding in Treatment 

How can lifestyle branding be used to sell substance use treatment services to potential customers?  As mentioned before, the key is to identify what your audience desires for a future self, and then communicate how your services satisfy that desire.   

Like substance abuse prevention services, treatment services have to avoid marketing using common negative communication and images, and create a positive image of your customers to counter the stigma that is sometimes associated with substance abuse and seeking treatment. 

Again, it is critical to first know the desired lifestyles of your specific audience. Appeal to their emotions and what you believe they are looking for in your services.   

Those suffering from substance abuse disorders, particularly those considering treatment, are likely to yearn for freedom from addiction, and feel like they are living a healthy, active and fit lifestyle.  That’s why we adopted our evidence-based SPORT and InShape Prevention Plus Wellness (PPW) programs into interventions for youth (SPORT Recovery) and adults (PPW Adult Recovery) in substance abuse treatment and recovery. 

These two programs can be easily integrated into existing substance abuse offerings to help lifestyle brand a treatment or recovery organization’s services as promoting fit, healthy, attractive and successful clients.   

Of course, your particular audience may have additional lifestyle aspirations, such as the need to feel nearer to God or more spiritual, or to feel closer to nature.  

The key is to connect your substance abuse treatment or recovery services to achieving the lifestyle aspirations of your customers.  Help your audience feel what their life can be like, and how your services will help them get there.   

Conclusions 

It would benefit substance abuse services industries to look at what we have to offer from the perspective of lifestyle branding and our customer’s needs.  Since substance abuse organizations are by nature in the lifestyle business, lifestyle branding is a fitting tool to help promote what we offer to others. 

In branding both prevention and treatment services, we need to conduct research to find out what lifestyle aspirations our customers have, and how our services and programs will fulfil those aspirations.   

Moving away from a reliance on negative messages and images, and using positive images to correct the stigma associated with addictions and treatment is worth a try.  We might even find we have more success in recruiting and retaining customers for our services. 

An upcoming article will look at how the alcohol industry uses image advertising to successfully sell their products, and what images are being used to market substance abuse prevention and treatment services. 


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