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Brand Insight

Headspace: “Our Mission is to Improve the Health and Happiness of the World”

Chief creative officer Caroline Pay on Headspace’s invaluable support through some of our toughest times and the challenges of breaking down meditation cliches

Headspace: “Our Mission is to Improve the Health and Happiness of the World”

Chimney is a proud supporter of LBB. Over the next few months, as part of the brand insight channel, we’ll be spending time with leading marketers who have successfully transformed their brands.

Following the introduction of Laura Romeu as Chimney’s new chief growth officer for its Health & Wellness expansion, in this conversation LBB’s Sunna Coleman hears from Headspace chief creative officer, Caroline Pay. 


LBB> What is it like to work at a place like Headspace - especially at a time like this - does it help to keep you grounded?


Caroline Pay> I've been at Headspace for over two years now, and when I first joined, it was a real shock to the system. Just because it was so quiet and so calm. I came from 20 years in advertising in London where it was just crazy high energy, very pressured and stressful work. Then to come into an oasis of calm and quiet, I had to really calm down a lot - and it was lovely, and very good for me. 

It was also a whole new world for me. I moved to a new country, I moved to an opposite industry. And the individuals that I was lucky enough to work with, were just completely different and from such different backgrounds and expertise. So at first it was a real shock to the system. 

As a place to work, especially now with everyone being apart and alone working from home, it really brings us together, knowing that we're helping people with what we do. We get messages from members on a daily basis thanking Headspace for helping them. And I think that really helps to give you perspective, and keep you focused on what's very, very important, which is helping as many people as we can during this time.


LBB> How does Headspace nurture this culture of calmness and what are the core values of the company? 


Caroline> Working for a mental wellness company, we all come together and meditate every morning at 10am. And then we all have a chance to meditate again at 3pm. So there's definitely a constant practice. And I think that gives us a sense of peace and calm and grounds us all, making us really focus. As a culture, we've become really comfortable with working quietly and peacefully. 

In terms of our values we have them written on the wall of HQ as a constant reminder. Firstly, our mission is to improve the health and happiness of the world. And that’s the reason that we get out of bed in the morning. Then the strengths of the company are based on three things. First, our authentic expertise coming from our co-founder, Andy, who spent decades as a Buddhist monk before he brought meditation to the masses through Headspace. And then the last two are creative excellence and the push to simplify complexity: simplifying 3000 years of meditation and mindfulness practise to make it easy to understand and accessible for everyone. 

Lastly we also have values that we strive to stand for as individuals at Headspace, which are selfless drive, courageous heart, and a curious mind.


LBB> With Covid-19 disrupting so many lives and affecting mental health, how has Headspace reacted / adapted to help those in a crisis?


Caroline> It was certainly a strange time in the middle of March when overnight we all went into lockdown. So as individuals, we were all going through it on a personal level. But at the same time, we were part of a wellness company and we knew we could do something to help. It was an incredible moment for Headspace and within 48 hours, we had launched Weathering the Storm, which was a curated collection and original content available to everyone in the world, whether they were Headspace members or not to help them get through that first initial crisis. 

Off the back of that, Governor Cuomo’s office reached out and we built another free pack for his people in New York called New York State of Mind. We made a pledge to help those who needed it most. So fast following that we made Headspace available for free to healthcare workers in the US, followed by France and the UK. We also made it available free to anyone who found themselves without a job in the US at the time of launch, which was mid May - that helped around 14 million people and we saw a huge uptake in engagement numbers. The pandemic certainly made people look inwards and they are more receptive to ways to look after their mental health.

We also just had the election here in the US so we released curated content called Politics Without Panic to help people deal with the anxiety and stress that comes with it.  


LBB> In your last interview with us, you mentioned that prior to joining Headspace, you didn’t really understand the benefits of meditation. In what ways does Headspace try to reach out and educate an audience that may be unfamiliar with the practise?


Caroline> In the 10 years that Headspace has been around, culture has definitely changed. So people are more open to meditation and they certainly weren't a decade ago. We try to strip back to the basics when we're talking about the benefits of meditation, and really listen to what our members are wanting and searching for in the product. We then deliver back the things that they need most: so help with stress, help with anxiety, help with sleep, those are always the three biggest reasons that people come to Headspace time and time again for.  When we're talking with work members, it might be resilience or focus that they’re hoping to achieve. When we're talking to parents, it might be empathy. So really just stripping back to expressing benefits that are most poignant to people at the time, and the environment that they’re in.

The second thing is understanding the barriers to using Headspace. People are becoming more and more familiar with why meditation is good for them but some of them still aren’t practising it. This is down to things like not enough time or they see it as too much of a commitment, whereas actually, just a few minutes a day, a few times a week, can make a huge difference to your life. 

People also worry whether they are doing it right. Are they sitting right? Are they supposed to have their eyes opened or closed? Are they breathing properly? What are they supposed to be feeling? Can they really empty their mind? So we also aim to build people’s confidence and take away the all that pressure of doing it right. Because there isn't really a right or wrong way to do it - you just have to practice. 

The third barrier is for those who wonder if it really works. And that's where our science team comes in with authentic expertise and all of the white papers and clinical trials around the efficacy of Headspace, and how we can prove the difference it can make to your life. 


LBB> With users all over the globe, do you find that certain countries, cultures or demographics are more open to the idea of meditation and mindfulness?


Caroline> I think generally, you can look across the world and see that there's certain groups in every country that are more open than others and that you will always have your cynics. But what we find is the way in which people respond to us changes hugely from country to country. Some countries love a testimonial or a heartfelt personal story from a member, whereas other countries will lap up the science and statistics. So we really have to listen again, it's all about listening to those groups of people and those audiences and understanding what really resonates with them.


LBB> In what ways has Headspace developed as a company since you joined in summer 2018? 


Caroline> In the last couple of years, I’ve seen a stretching and flexing beyond meditation within the product. So for the first, 7-8 years we were an eyes closed guided meditation product led by Andy. But now, you can listen to different sleep casts every night with nonlinear storytelling to put you to sleep. We also have two ex-Olympians that run move mode which allows you to work on your body and your mind at the same time. We have focused music which is a curated list of music by our chief music officer, John Legend. And then we've got our daily show The Wake Up. So that's just four examples of ways that our content has really expanded beyond where we started. 

You can also now get Headspace outside of the app which I've always been really excited about, giving access to Headspace at different moments in people’s day. Radio Headspace, our podcast series, has over 8 million downloads so far. We're launching a TV series in January, which is super exciting and again, a way for people to tune into Headspace at a different time in their day from the comfort of their sofa. This time last year, we also kicked off our live events, which was Healthy, Happy America, to bring the Headspace experience to life in real life, city by city. COVID has obviously put a stop to any live events for the foreseeable but it’s another way for people to experience Headspace outside of the app. 

Lastly, Headspace started off with Andy, but now we also have our female voice. We have new experts and new teachers coming into the product. So again, really expanding to offer Headspace through different voices, different points of view, but always with that authentic expertise that we've built ourselves on.


LBB> And how have advances in tech helped shape and enable the brand to do bigger and better things?


Caroline> The way that we initially built the product was very much centred around Andy being in the studio recording his guided meditations. Whereas now, technology allows us to create really high quality content in so many formats with anyone from anywhere. So I think that's just loosened up the restrictions around the kind of quality and breadth of content that we can have in the app. 

The experience within the product itself is getting more and more personalised too, and that will continue to evolve over the next year. And then there's this really wonderful live connection that we felt with our members when we did live meditations and webinars on Instagram throughout the pandemic. Technology has allowed us to connect more regularly and possibly in a more meaningful way with more people.



LBB> What have been some of the biggest challenges that the brand has faced in its time, and how did it overcome them?


Caroline> I think the first one was just the whole subject of meditation and caring for your mental health. It has always been perceived to be for hippies and for monks, and ‘not for me’ - not for the masses. So the first barrier really was to overcome that stigma, and make meditation feel accessible which we achieved with our brand tone. 

The other challenge was how to simplify meditation for the masses. Instead of people thinking that they have to go off to a monastery for 10 years to do it properly, we thought about how we could put it in their pocket for a few minutes a day. 

When we first started, we invented a category - we were the only meditation app. And now there's over 4000, so our challenge now is to continue our leadership position and keep redefining the category by offering a better quality service and letting our authentic expertise shine through. We want to remain the  first brand you think of when it comes to meditation and we want to keep our trust.

LBB> Can you tell us a bit more about the branding and messaging, how has this developed over the years?


Caroline> It's always been an orange dot and it always will be an orange dot. And that colorway and that simplicity will remain. I think it was born out of going against all of the expected cliches of the world of meditation. So you think of landscapes and sunsets, you think of rain dripping on leaves and people with their legs crossed and eyes closed. All of these cliches actually make meditation less accessible and more strange to people. So we make Headspace simple, joyful, and with sense of humour. We have a very strong illustrated and animated style that really allows us to stand out from all of the other meditation apps out there. 

LBB> What are Headspace’s plans for the future and what are you most excited about achieving next?


Caroline> We have a lot of exciting projects coming up over the next couple of months. Big brand partnerships, business announcements, celebrity entertainment launches and product evolution. It’s a lot of work but also a lot of excitement for the new year. This time of year is really important for Headspace because people are making New Year resolutions and they make plans to look after themselves. Headspace can play a meaningful role in that. This has been a long hard year for everyone being stuck at home, so please do make sure you consider looking after your mental health. Take breaks and take time for yourself whenever you need.

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