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Developing a marketing strategy for your worksite health program

This is an excerpt from Worksite Health Promotion - 3rd Edition by David Chenoweth.

Marketing is defined as an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer. Depending on the goods involved, these functions might include describing the product to those who have never heard of it, explaining what the product is and how to use it, advertising the product so that consumers know it exists, monitoring the product at the developmental site to check for consistent quality, distributing the product in various quantities to match the needs of different consumer segments, transporting the product to places where the consumer can easily get to it, seeking feedback about the product from the consumer to learn ways to improve the product's future marketability, and again monitoring the product at the distributor, wholesaler, or retailer to ensure consistent quality. When people talk about goods, we tend to think of tangible items. However, the marketing principles that apply to tangibles also apply to intangibles, such as WHP. As the producer, the job of WHP staff is to make the product (WHP) available and appealing to the consumer.

Organizations with successful WHP programs usually focus their marketing efforts on the four Ps—product, price, placement, and promotion—also called the marketing mix.


When your product is health promotion—helping people to feel better, reduce health risks, and be more productive—you might think the product would sell itself, but unfortunately it doesn't. As with all other products or services, a health promotion program must be marketed so that consumers consider it attractive and advantageous. As summarized in table 7.1, you should ask some important questions about the program: What is our service? Is it tangible, visible, and measurable? Why is the worksite version better than the commercialized, off-site version? What is the need for this service?

Employees need to know precisely what they are being offered. Does the WHP program require a commitment of an hour a day or only an hour a week? Does the program offer customized options for personalized services or a one-size-fits-all approach? How much flexibility is allowed for employees with busy schedules outside of work? Can employees participate during work hours? What exactly can they gain by participating in a program that promotes health? Will the benefits be financial, tangible, practical, or otherwise directly applicable to their current situation, or will they be more abstract and hard to measure? These questions and possibly others must be answered to employees' satisfaction if they are going to be enticed to try the program.


No matter how the program's expenses are covered—100% by the employer, 100% by the employee, or somewhere in between—if employees do not perceive that the benefits of the program outweigh their own personal costs, they will not participate. Even if a program is free of charge, some employees may find it too expensive in terms of time, location, special clothing, or equipment. Whether the costs are in dollars, hours, or ounces of sweat, the employees' perception must be that they have more to gain than they have to lose.

Price considerations exist from the employer's perspective as well. Some employers will find that a program is not financially feasible unless it is partly funded by the participants or unless participation occurs only on employees' time. Will this compromise employee participation? Will employees resent paying even a small percentage and consequently choose not to participate? Or, if employees are charged a modicum up-front fee to participate, can they qualify for a full refund if they participate in a designated number of programming sessions? Such questions need answers before the program is launched.


Another consideration for WHP practitioners is which employees to focus on when starting the program. Should the program target all employees equally, or should only particular groups be targeted? Keep in mind that success or failure is often determined in the early stages of any endeavor. If the program is to receive a trial run, it might be best to include only some employees rather than all of them. This way, if the trial fails, the program can be adjusted and restarted without losing credibility with everyone. If all employees are targeted and the first run of the program fails, it will be more difficult to create enthusiasm again.

Some WHP programs (e.g., disease management and case management) aim at only high-risk employees because the services are designed to meet specific needs. However, it is also true that some high-risk employees are less likely to participate in a WHP program than employees at moderate or low risk. Why is this? Part of the reason is explained in the preceding section: Some workers simply feel that their cost in time or exertion is not worth the benefits they may receive from the program. The same factors that have led to their high-risk status make them less likely to sacrifice time and effort for health improvements. Conversely, employees whose healthier lifestyles keep them at relatively low risk may be more likely to participate in a WHP program because the program is aligned with their current values. Such considerations, although potentially disheartening for WHP practitioners, need to be acknowledged and dealt with if the program is to have realistic goals and successfully counter potential pitfalls.

It can be worthwhile to vary aspects of a WHP program for different groups of employees. If possible, an employer might consider offering a cafeteria-style program in which employees choose portions of the program that they perceive best suits them. For instance, instead of focusing on nutrition or stress management for all employees in a given week, a program might give employees the option to forego that week's designated activity and spend an additional week in another program instead.

Sometimes it can be advantageous to target employees by stratified groupings based on age, gender, type of occupation, or other factors. This allows employees to focus on the areas they are most concerned about. For example, 20- to 30-year-old men might be more interested in weight training based in fitness centers than older employees, who are probably more interested in a financial-wellness seminar or program on medical self-care.


The fourth dimension of the marketing mix, promotion, is focused on the tools and techniques used to the reach the target population. Appropriate tools should be used to effectively reach as many employees as possible. In a single worksite where all employees work in a common setting, promotional displays in heavily traveled areas may be sufficient to reach most employees (see figure 7.1). However, in worksites where employees work in different buildings, point-of-contact tools, such as e-mail, paycheck stuffers, company website postings, and weekly safety meetings, are generally used to reach dispersed groups of employees.

More Excerpts From Worksite Health Promotion 3rd Edition