Millennials: The Next Big Wave

millennials, healthcare, By: David F. Zirkle, PhD

Have you ever had the experience while reading an article of a single fact jumping off the page?  I did the other day while reviewing a Pew Research Center report.  The article states that the U.S. Census Bureau now projects the “Millennial” generation (also known as Gen Y) to surpass Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation in 2015.  Millennials defined as individuals between the ages of 18 to 34 are projected to number 75.3 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Boomers.

Marketers often focus on Boomers due to their numbers and increased consumption of healthcare services.  However, as the Millennial wave begins to roll over the healthcare system, marketers will face new challenges to better understand this key consumer segment.

So what does this mean for healthcare organizations as they reach out and begin to engage the Millennial generation?  Let’s start with the obvious – Millennials are tech-savvy.  They have grown up in a plugged-in, instant access world – and they expect healthcare to fit into that mold.  Other characteristics of the group include:

System Failure – Millennials are more likely to view the entire healthcare system as dysfunctional and place blame on all the major players – government, insurance carriers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and providers.  This single finding drives most other opinions and perceptions held by Millennials.

Non-Traditional – Millennials are less likely to seek regular care such as annual checkups, routine screenings and self-exams.  They are also more likely to use non-traditional resources such as retail clinics, self-diagnosis and treatment, natural/organic remedies as well as advice from family and friends.  “DIY” is the preferred approach for this generation.

Holistic Health – Millennials are more likely to define health and wellness in broad terms and believe that work/life balance is as important as routine medical care in maintaining their health.  Millennials believe that a “healthy mind leads to a healthy body” – not the other way around.

Wired for Health – Millennials are more likely to use technology to record, track and manage their healthcare e.g. mobile apps, social media, online communities, wearable sensors, etc.  They have learned to collect and process vast amounts of digital information – and healthcare is no different.  Millennials also are more comfortable sharing personal health information with others in exchange for demonstrated value.

So what does all this mean? Must healthcare organization now keep a foot in both camps – aging Baby Boomers and younger Millennials?

  • First and foremost, dictating the “right” way to Millennials is unlikely to be a successful marketing strategy.
  • Successful strategies need to recognize that Millennials define and want to manage their health differently.
  • Connecting with information-savvy Millennials to provide self-help resources and tools to make informed decisions will be crucial.
  • Communication messages will necessarily differ from those used with Boomers to effectively attract and engage Millennials.

Finally, Millennials should not be viewed as a totally homogenous group of like-minded consumers – there are clearly segments that approach healthcare in different ways.  Several segmentation models have been developed to address differences within the large and diverse Millennial generation.  While largely untested, many healthcare organizations are beginning to explore these models as they develop their Millennial marketing plans.  A future article will review some of these segmentation models and how they are being used to engage Millennials.

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