Virgin HealthMiles becomes Virgin Pulse, looks beyond health

By: Jonah Comstock | Oct 2, 2013        

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Virgin PulseVirgin HealthMiles, the Virgin Group company that was one of the early entrants into the digital employee health and wellness, is rebranding as Virgin Pulse, a change that CEO Chris Boyce says will reflect the company’s focus on not just health, but employee engagement. MobiHealthNews first reported on the planned name change about a month ago.

“So what I’ve learned over the years, any time that you’re trying to sell something, if you’re not getting the number one job done, it’s going to be hard for you to sell. And the number one job for most HR people is to make their company a great place to work,” he said. “… When push comes to shove, they’ll always choose engagement over a health program. And so we’ve always been at this place where we can help you do that and other people kind of can’t. I’m tired of kind of dancing around that. I want to go frontal on that idea which is ‘this is about employee engagement, this is about becoming a great place to work,’ and if you solve that well, you can solve your prevention problems in the same breath.”

Some Virgin HealthMiles clients are already using the company’s online portal and rewards system for use cases beyond health. BP Canada, for instance, uses HealthMiles for 17 different employee programs including financial counseling and promoting volunteer work. Boyce says these services promote employee engagement, which is a top priority for CEOs according to a recent Gallup poll.

Boyce said that with the new name, the company will bring similar initiatives to all its clients, and pitch itself to companies as a holistic engagement strategy. In addition to financial management and volunteer work, stress management is another area Virgin Pulse is exploring.

“People trust the Virgin brand name. They know that they’ve taken bad experiences like airline experiences and made them the top of the industry. You know if you look here in the US, the very best airline, as per the consumers, is Virgin America. That’s the kind of thing we’re bringing to corporate America.”

Boyce admitted that the HealthMiles name was also a consistent source of confusion for the company, partly because of a perceived link to the airline (in reality the companies in the Virgin group all operate independently). He said Pulse refers not just to physical health and a person’s heart rate, but to “their own rhythm, their own tempo that they go at things.”

Although the company is releasing its own activity tracker at CES, which Boyce said was tied to the rebranding, the tracker will have its own name. He doesn’t foresee any major confusion with Withings’ activity tracker, also named Pulse.

Ultimately, Boyce sees the re-branding as a move out of the employee wellness space and into a new, broader space — one currently free of competitors.

“I’ve always been concerned that most wellness programs don’t make a hill of beans difference,” he said. “[In terms of] demonstrable changes in behavior and health, I just don’t think most of them have been able to show it time after time. I’ve always hated being in the wellness space and people were kind of painting us in that same stroke. This certainly helps with that.”