The Millennial Mandate: How 'Generation Y' Behavior is Shaping Healthcare Marketing Strategy

Millennials are the most coveted demographic target group today among healthcare marketers. According to the Center for Marketing Research at UMass Dartmouth, millennials have a combined purchasing power of approximately $2.45 trillion worldwide. That is considerable clout, which is why brands and marketers continue to pursue this group.

Research shows that millennials don’t respond in any meaningful way to traditional advertising vehicles. The latest Makovsky Pulse of Online Health survey noted that millennials are increasingly using tools such as mobile health apps in the decision-making process. To successfully engage millennial consumers, marketers must meet them where they are most active: online and on mobile devices. 

Traditional Marketing Falls Flat

Millennials comprise nearly one third (29%) of the U.S. population, making them the largest and most diverse group in the country. While millennials’ and baby boomers’ view of healthcare might be similar – both are highly concerned about their healthcare – the way these groups are influenced is vastly different. 



Boomers are receptive to traditional advertising channels because that is largely what they are used to. They grew up reading magazines, watching TV and listening to terrestrial radio. The internet has not been ubiquitous for their entire lives; thus their receptiveness to traditional marketing channels is much higher than that of a millennial. 

Unlike boomers, millennials are less influenced by traditional marketing but are highly influenced by social media. According to a Harris Poll (“Millennial Mindset: The Worried Well”), millennials are five times more likely to trust a pharmaceutical company-sponsored social media platform than those aged 66 and older (31% versus 6%), and nearly three times more likely than those between 45 and 65 (13%). Comparatively speaking, social media does not resonate nearly as well among general consumers, with just 21% of respondents indicating that they trust it as an authority. 

Remember that millennials are used to consuming social content from their close friends whom they've opted to connect with, so it's important for brands to recognize their secondary role in these channels, and deliver content accordingly.

Another challenge indicated in the Harris Poll study is the power of word-of-mouth among millennials. A full 84% of millennials will trust the advice of a friend or family member over a professional. Millennials are also twice as likely as other generations to take action based on health advice via social media channels or online. That has powerful implications for marketers. 

Too many brands use social media like a megaphone, when in reality it should be more like a walkie-talkie. The brands that are doing it right are creating meaningful content, targeted to their specific audience segment and starting conversations. This gives brands an opportunity to further engage and expand the reach of the content, and have others share it as well.

The Millennial Value System

Authenticity is an important attribute, but it is especially important when appealing to millennials. Real people telling real stories and conveying a brand image that resonates with their values is a surefire way to engage with the millennial audience. Millennials show an affinity for brands that align with their own interests and principles, so marketers should employ values-based messaging to resonate with this audience. 

Marketers can also leverage experiential messaging to fit with millennials’ affinity for peer reviews. When making decisions on healthcare, millennials, more so than other age groups, look online for information, recommendations and reviews. Combining experiential messaging and online reviews with formal word-of-mouth referral programs can be a compelling way to capture their attention. 

For example, instead of a pharmaceutical company communicating the benefits of a new weight loss drug, consider a content marketing strategy that communicates tips and strategies to eat healthfully on a busy schedule.

An interesting segment of this group is millennial parents. More than 90% of new mothers are millennials, according to Goldman Sachs. If marketers want to engage with this particular segment, your research needs to go beyond household-level data, since a significant portion of millennials are not living alone. For instance, if two or more millenials live in the same household, and you’re looking at household data, then you’re missing a part of the puzzle.

The study of millennials is ongoing. As a matter of fact, Adweek and the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication joined forces in 2013 to create the PHD Creative Collective, a partnership that allows frequent and deep insight into the evolving behavior of millennials.

Four Actionable Takeaways:

1. Move away from the traditional marketing mix and develop a cross-channel brand presence, including social media and mobile.

2. Make sure your marketing language, brand identity and messaging are authentic and meaningful. 

3. Communicate how product and experience tie back to the brand promise and credibility.

4. Understand that millennials are somewhat of a fractured audience, and should be targeted by value systems, among other nontraditional data points.

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