When most people think about direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, their minds don’t go directly to therapy or mental health services.
But that’s just what BetterHelp offers. As an online portal, BetterHelp connects individual consumers with online counseling and therapy services. Be it via phone, text, or video call — this global company’s goal is to make mental health services more widely accessible.
However, in 2018 — around five years after the brand was founded — it received a slew of negative publicity, stemming mostly from YouTube. Users made allegations of false advertising, unqualified counselors, murky Terms & Conditions, and paid positive reviews.
And while BetterHelp never admitted to most of the allegations, they did make some changes post-controversy to inspire more consumer trust. However, a recent brand partnership with rapper Travis Scott in the wake of the Astroworld tragedy again has consumers questioning the brand’s intentions.
So, how did BetterHelp grow into the largest online therapy platform in the world? And what can you learn from BetterHelp’s journey? This deep dive will discuss.
BetterHelp’s Road to Success
Source: SQD Info
BetterHelp was founded in 2013 by Alon Matas and Danny Bragonier in Mountain View, California.
After facing some real challenges finding professional reliable counseling services that fit with his schedule, Matas was struck with an idea — what if therapy could be made more accessible by taking it online?
Teaming up with Bragonier, the duo established BetterHelp with the goal of assisting those facing similar challenges in life. As a web-based therapy and counseling portal, BetterHelp allows users to interact with licensed counselors and therapists in a multitude of ways — which is one of the reasons it’s deemed more accessible than traditional therapy.
From the private online message board to live chat to phone and video calls, BetterHelp is available 24/7. And the official BetterHelp mission?
“Making professional therapy accessible, affordable, and convenient — so anyone who struggles with life’s challenges can get help, anytime and anywhere.”
In 2015, BetterHelp was acquired by Teledoc Health Inc., an international telemedicine and virtual healthcare company. However, the brand maintained its name post-acquisition and did not make major changes to its offerings — which is not something you see every day.
To be fair, BetterHelp seemed to have found a winning formula. According to a 2021 article from Maastricht University, there are many reasons for this, as “online mental health services have, undoubtedly, some convenient advantages over traditional therapy.” The article expands on this point, stating:
“First, it is much easier for many people, especially in rural areas, to access online services than to contact a licensed therapist. Additionally, such services are often more affordable and can be quickly cancelled at any time.
“Lastly, as mental health issues, to some extent, remain to be stigmatised in some parts of society, some patients might feel more comfortable to communicate anonymously with a therapist over the internet than talk to a licensed therapist in person.”
However, this winning formula does have some weak spots — though they’re not unique to BetterHelp, per se, but to online therapy in general. First, there’s the fact that many insurance companies won’t cover online therapy, leaving users to foot the bill themselves.
Next, there are extensive privacy issues to contend with — as the internet isn’t always the easiest place to maintain confidentiality, a staple of quality therapy. And finally, many have pointed to online therapy’s inability to treat more serious mental health issues.
While BetterHelp does state in the T&Cs that the “platform is not designed for use” in cases concerning suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or the harm of others — this doesn’t necessarily stop individuals with serious problems from trying to use the platform as their main treatment option.
Additionally, it’s important to note the nuance of what BetterHelp offers. As the Maastricht University article points out, the company itself is not directly providing users with therapy, but connecting users with “trained psychologists, therapists, or clinical workers with at least three years of experience.”
They are, in essence, just a portal — facilitating connections between private individuals and independent therapy providers. They aren’t responsible for the actual services provided by each therapist or counselor — which is where things get a little tricky.
Around 2018, BetterHelp ran into some trouble thanks to an extensive influencer campaign run mostly on YouTube.
The brand teamed up with popular YouTube creators like Philip DeFranco, Elle Mills, and Heath Hussar to run promotions for their service. These influencers often spoke of their personal experience with BetterHelp and lauded the brand’s offerings.
However, their recommendations were deemed misleading by many viewers — not to mention financially incentivized. The influencers in question made reference to the “professional” experts available on the platform — without touching on the nuance earlier discussed.
This resulted in many people feeling duped by the partnership’s promotions, which then led to a lack of consumer trust in the brand itself.
In an article for Polygon, journalist Julia Alexander reached out directly to Matas for a statement to address these issues — in which the BetterHelp founder shared:
“We have a whole team that makes sure every provider we bring to the platform is fully licensed and in good standing. Providers who apply are required to provide proper licensure documentation, proof of identity, and references from other licensed practitioners who have worked with them.”
Matas further explained that they “show the full licensing information for each provider to make it easy for users to do their own due diligence on their counselor. The Terms and Conditions document typically provides the legalese that defines the extent of liability and mitigates legal risks associated with such platforms.”
Since this issue was brought to light, BetterHelp has changed the wording of their T&Cs to “more closely (match) the vetting process” they now conduct. And as Maastricht University points out, this issue was mostly “an indicator of a wider issue: influencers promoting goods or services for their own financial prospects.”
Going forward, BetterHelp has a responsibility to its customers and consumers everywhere to properly vet any influencer partnerships and ensure that the promotion falls in line with their offerings — both legally and ethically.
In the process of recovering from its somewhat tarnished reputation, BetterHelp made some smart moves. In 2019, the brand funded an extensive study by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute — which found BetterHelp to be “as effective as face-to-face therapy.”
One of the issues raised by skeptics of the service was whether or not “multimodal digital therapy” could be truly effective. By partnering with a respected institute like the Berkeley Well-Being Institute, BetterHelp was able to restore some of its lost credibility — even if they were footing the bill.
More recently, BetterHelp entered into a high-profile brand partnership with none other than international pop star Ariana Grande. In June 2021, the singer announced that she would be sponsoring up to $1 million in free therapy for her fans. And in support of World Mental Health Day, Grande teamed up with BetterHelp again in October to give away another $5 million of free therapy.
In this case, it seems that BetterHelp learned from its previous mistakes, and instead of portraying the therapy platform as a cure-all, Grande’s promotion was thoughtful and well-worded:
“While acknowledging that therapy should not be for a privileged few but something everyone has access to, and acknowledging that this doesn’t fix that issue in the long run, I really wanted to do this anyway in hopes of inspiring you to dip a toe in, to feel okay asking for help, and to hopefully rid your minds of any sort of self judgment in doing so!”
Here, BetterHelp is framed as a way for those interested in therapy to try it out and break stigmas — not as the fix for serious mental health issues. In this instance, BetterHelp seemed to have taken its previous missteps into account and worked to more accurately present its offerings to consumers.
However, most recently, BetterHelp teamed up with Travis Scott in response to the Astroworld disaster. Via the partnership, Scott is offering his fans a one-month-free promo to try out BetterHelp’s services.
While this may have seemed like a good idea at first glance — once again — BetterHelp may be repeating past blunders. True, Scott has made a public apology for the accident.
However, he failed to impress many people with the apology’s sincerity and faced further backlash.
During the YouTube issue in 2018, one of consumers’ main complaints was that the influencers chosen to promote BetterHelp were not being genuine and were profiting off of their followers’ mental health struggles.
While BetterHelp has confirmed that Scott is not profiting off of this partnership, we again have a situation with a celebrity that isn’t seen as genuine — which has a real impact on BetterHelp’s overall brand image.
Still, there’s much to be learned from this online therapy platform. Let’s dig in.
3 Lessons You Can Learn From BetterHelp
1. Take Your Time & Choose Brand Partnerships Wisely
In an effort to increase brand awareness and drive engagement, BetterHelp has partnered with some high-profile, influential people over the years.
Now, these partnerships could have been a great part of their strategy if executed properly — but, unfortunately, they often weren’t.
Chosen influencers ended up misrepresenting BetterHelp’s services and capabilities. And while that may have been a mistake on the part of the influencers — at the end of the day, it was up to BetterHelp to ensure that their brand was being correctly represented.
After all, it wasn’t the reputation of the influencers that ended up suffering, was it?
The Takeaway: When setting up a brand partnership, make sure to do your due diligence. Putting your brand image and reputation in the hands of another party is always risky — you have to make sure that they’re up to the task.
Brand partners need to be thoroughly vetted and you need to ensure that their values align with that of your brand. The last thing you want is for consumers to feel that the partnership is disingenuous or purely for profit — as may have been the case in 2018.
2. Don’t Misrepresent Your Products or Services
As touched upon in the previous point, it’s incredibly important that — as a brand — you don’t misrepresent your products or services. While it may be tempting to play up your USPs and really highlight all the good your brand can do, you also have to be realistic.
In the case of BetterHelp, they ended up misrepresenting their services via multiple different brand partnerships, and it did a number on consumer trust. Instead of seeing the online therapy portal as a reliable, reputable option, many consumers viewed it with hesitancy and skepticism.
The Takeaway: At the end of the day, you’re responsible for how your brand is presented to the public — no matter who is doing the talking. Make sure that, regardless of the medium, you’re in control of how your brand’s being portrayed.
If you purposely or inadvertently build up expectations too much, you can end up with disappointed, disillusioned customers. This is bad for important brand KPIs like brand consideration and preference.
3. Infuse Your Brand With Passion
In an interview with The Good Men Project, it’s clear that Matas is incredibly passionate about what he does. Making therapy accessible and more readily accepted in the public eye is personal to him — and that enthusiasm makes for a strong brand mission.
When asked how he came up with the idea for BetterHelp, Matas explained:
“Many people don’t like the way therapy is delivered, and when you add the challenges of cost, stigma, and convenience, they stay away from traditional face-to-face counseling even when they can definitely use professional help.
“Therapy can be life-changing and therapists can be extremely helpful but this resource is extremely unutilized. So I started to explore how technology may solve this problem.”
Matas isn’t alone in seeing an opportunity to solve human problems with technology, and his clear passion for helping people does lend some credibility to the brand.
The Takeaway: Consumers are looking to make emotional connections with brands. They’re searching for companies that share their values and understand their problems.
When you’re able to infuse your brand with passion, you’ll have a much easier time making those all-important connections.
While BetterHelp hasn’t had a pristine journey to its current success, it has been one filled with invaluable brand growth lessons. And to its credit, the brand seems to have learned from some of its past mistakes.
Ultimately, what is most important for any growing brand is to listen to consumers’ needs, wants, and opinions. Because when you know how your target audiences perceive your brand, you can make much smarter marketing decisions.
That’s where brand monitoring comes in — with access to reliable, accurate consumer data, you can refine your marketing strategy and get ahead of the competition.