They've been called the most social-media savvy generation, ardent individualists, and dreamers who seek fulfillment in ways their predecessors can't fully understand.
Depending on how they're defined -- and there's no consensus definition -- millennials are the nation's largest living generation. The U.S. Census Bureau millennials as those born between the years 1982 and 2000, numbering 83.7 million. Healthcare marketers are finding new ways to reach this group, focusing on their priorities and targeting the communications channels that have the most impact.
Millennials are a distinct generational category because of their openness to a range of different types of media. Though they are seen to be a digital-first generation, analysts note that what actually sets them apart is their openness to multiple channels.
"Compared to any other age group, whether it be Generation X or baby boomers, millennials are open to many different sources of input," said Jenny Cordina, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey who works on healthcare issues.
In addition, Cordina said, a much smaller proportion of millennials have access to a primary-care practitioner compared with other population groups. As a result, they look to their providers much less often for medical advice than previous generations, seeking information from a variety of sources, including their insurers, websites and trusted contacts. They are also much more likely to look to social networks to share information about their health. Cordina said that any marketing campaign needs to go beyond just digital.
To healthcare marketers, millennials are seeking a sense of authenticity.
"For the greatest generation, they did what the doctor told them to do. Baby boomers would research things, but millennials are looking for something completely different," said Mark Shipley, a healthcare marketing strategist and CEO of Smith & Jones, a marketing and communications agency focused on hospitals and health systems, noting that millennials seek inspiration, connection and convenience.
Only 41% of millennials said they view a doctor as the best source of health information, compared with 68% of respondents from other generations, according to a new survey of 2,400 adults by GHG / Greyhealth Group and Kantar Health. And 30% of millennials consult blogs and message boards for health information, compared to just 13% of non-millennials, the survey found.
Millennials also are craving content that is helpful or entertaining rather than a straight sell, Shipley said. They are also more likely to be receptive if the messaging aligns with their values as well. They want to feel a sense of community by sharing their thoughts and reviews on social networks; and their desire for convenience translates to use of nearby services with minimal wait times.
As a result, marketers agree that an effective healthcare marketing strategy for millennials is one that fosters ongoing communication.
"There's been a shift from buying credibility to earning it," said Mario Muredda, president of Harrison and Star, noting that messages to millennials need to be constantly evolving.
Social media, particularly Instagram, is being increasingly used in healthcare marketing. A recent example is an FCB-led campaign for Teva's emergency contraception pill, Plan B-One Step. The #perfectlyimperfect campaign brought Dr. Diana Ramos, obstetrician-gynecologist, together with MTV stars Carly Aquilino and Nessa Diab on a tour across U.S. college campuses. Female college students answer a quiz on emergency contraception and post a photo of themselves with a friend on Instagram with the #perfectlyimperfect hashtag, with the goal to break down social stigmas associated emergency contraception.
"Millennials are the newest group to contraceptive use," said Martha Suarez, senior vice president and group managing director at agency FCB. "They skew higher in unintended pregnancies, and the goal for the brand is to address the lack of knowledge of this product."
Suarez adds that having a presence on the most relevant communications channels, in this case Instagram, was crucial.
"We have to fight to get into their environment, even if that means their Instagram feed on their phone," she said. "We can't expect that market to come to us."