Benefits Column in the Age of Goop

In an open letter to Gwyneth Paltrow, HRE's benefits columnist weighs in on the Hollywood actress and lifestyle guru's popular wellness platform and what it could mean for employers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Write To The Editor Reprints

Dear Gwyneth,

A few months ago, a friend forwarded me a blog post written by Jen Gunter -- an obstetrician and gynecologist who took issue with how your team at -- covered women's health issues. A battle of tweets and posts took center stage after her opinion piece went viral, and you pitted your experts against Gunter and similar medical professionals. They were no less kind to you.

I must tell you, if I'm forced to choose sides -- from a science and health perspective -- I'm with Gunter. And it's not simply because I worry about women being misled by your experts' concerns regarding topics such as the purported risks of wearing bras and breast cancer. It's because you don't understand why Goop [which bills itself as "a modern lifestyle brand, offering cutting-edge wellness advice from doctors and experts"] is making some of the recommendations it makes.

C'mon now, Gwyneth. If you can't explain the basics of "earthing, squatting and jade eggs" to Jimmy Kimmel, Goop probably shouldn't be recommending these practices and products to its followers.

However, despite everything I've written so far, I've spent a fair amount of time considering Goop's success and -- most importantly, what I and others in the health, science, wellness and employee benefits areas can learn from you.

You see, Gwyneth, you continue to achieve something I fear we will never accomplish. You capture consumer attention daily while we ache to seize a small percentage of your website's monthly unique visitors, which is growing rapidly. By comparison, your archenemy Gunter's blog traffic is usually "too meager to be measured" by analytics companies such as comScore.

As employee benefits geeks like me enter open-enrollment season, something has become clear: How can we be more like you? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and you possess several admirable qualities.

But, before I get started on the ways I think people like me should consider emulating you, I must make a confession. I followed Goop during your early days.

I'm a travel buff and a fellow enthusiast tipped me off to your weekly Thursday newsletter that featured your favorite destinations. I honestly looked forward to reading it. The cities you highlighted were ones I visited, or were on my short list for future trips. Most of the restaurants and hotels you wrote about charged rates within my means, and I didn't resent for one moment that you probably benefited from the click-throughs to their websites.

Your expansion into recipes and clothing were a comfortable step to the left, since they clearly were of interest to you as were your features on exercise. Honestly, though, you lost me when the focus of your website shifted away from content and toward hitting the "Buy Now" button. Your shift from education to commerce was too stark for people like me who were with you from the beginning.

For people like HR executives whom I educate through my writing and presentations, however, my plan is to start with your approach to shifting people toward purchase.

In your May 2017 Fast Company interview, you highlighted "contextual commerce" as your greatest interest area. I did some homework and found that your interest and those of people who work in and around employee benefits are approximately the same.

In the benefits arena, we constantly think about how to move employees and working adults from being educated about a topic such as insurance products, to considering them as something they'd buy in the future, to hitting the purchase button (and then continuing to renew those selections year over year). What is intriguing to me about contextual commerce is the objective of shortening the cycle between engagement and purchase.

The challenges we face with employee benefits are manifold. First, since most employers do not pay 100 percent of the cost of benefits, we must find a way to encourage employees and their dependents to care enough about benefits to understand them. They generally don't.

Second, since most employees pay some or all the cost of most benefits such as health insurance, 401(k) contributions and disability insurance, we must create a marketplace for them to make purchase decisions.

Behavioral economic issues such as adverse selection, as well as time restraints and tradition, require us to make this marketplace available largely on an annual basis. Since the average working adult only spends 15 minutes on their benefits purchases, they make extremely fast buying decisions.

Newsletter Sign-Up:

HR Technology
Talent Management
HR Leadership
Inside HR Tech
Special Offers

Email Address

Privacy Policy

Our challenge is two-fold regarding these speed purchases: employees often make these decisions without considering benefits within the context of their lives (despite our best efforts), and the choices they make rarely consider new information nor do they deviate from their past histories.

So, one thing I want to bring back to HR leaders and others in the benefits field is this: How do we create an open marketplace for most employee benefits other than health insurance? It would require a cataclysmic shift in how we sell employee benefits, but one that is reflective of how commerce overall is evolving.

It's not simply that online shopping is changing. Seattle-based department store giant Nordstrom is opening a concept store in Hollywood that won't stock any clothes. Instead, prospective buyers will make an appointment with personal stylists who will advise customers on what to buy. Customers can then return later to try on their selections and have them altered. It seems that Nordstrom executives understand that their strength is in helping consumers make their buying decisions based upon their expertise.

In many ways, Gwyneth, the work you are doing at Goop to engage people in your ideas and products -- and then try them out and/or purchase them -- is not something people who work in my field should dismiss too readily.

You have used your familiarity and notoriety to create trust and engagement with your audiences -- something the benefits and insurance industries struggle with every day. You also willingly recommend specific products, which has been a taboo for those of us who work in my field to do publicly. It seems that Nordstrom is on the same page as you as well.

Thank you, Gwyneth, for inspiring me -- and, hopefully, others like me -- to consider how we can steal shamelessly from some of your approaches. And dare I add that maybe someday might be a marketplace that will expand to include employee benefits and perks.

Sincerely yours,

Carol Harnett

Carol Harnett is a widely respected consultant, speaker, writer and trendspotter in the fields of employee benefits, health and productivity management, health and performance innovation, and value-based health. Follow her on Twitter via @carolharnett and on her video blog, The Work.Love.Play.Daily.


Copyright 2017© LRP Publications