How to Build a Healthcare Brand for Millennials (and why you must)

computer used for healthcare marketing 2019

The Core Concept of Branding Is Positive Differentiation

A brand is the total experience that a customer has with your product, service or company. Many medical practices, hospitals and other healthcare resources have, until recently, misunderstood —- or simply dismissed—the MILLENNIAL GENERATION.

Definitions will vary, but the Pew Research Center provides the most authoritative characterization as “anyone born from 1981 to 1996 (ages 24 to 39 in 2020) is considered a Millennial.” (Also, sometimes referred to as “Generation Y.”). That’s a demographic group of better than 83 million people.

For some time this demographic group was pictured as lazy, narcissistic job-hoppers…a generation of Americans mostly stuck living at home with their parents. From a healthcare branding perspective, it’s a challenge to convey a meaningful brand promise when the millennial audience feels they are “entitled,” they lack persistence, or they lack empathy for others.

But that distance has changed rapidly and dramatically. Millennials are an established and growing influence in society and the workplace. Once considered unreachable, millennials are the nation’s largest and most influential generation of consumers. Let that sink in for a minute.

Our clients often ask our help in building a world-class branding message that connects and convinces the vitally important millennial demographic. Here’s a description of this target audience, their value system and what they demand in exchange for brand loyalty.

Millennial Dominance – Key Demographics in Size and Influence

The value system of millennials is unique and distinctly different from that of the familiar Baby Boomers. The overall spending projection for 2020 is $1.4 trillion (with a “t”). And, with that leverage, millennials can make or break your brand right now.

Collectively, this influential group is the largest living generation among the US population. That’s roughly 25 percent of the entire American population base. Because of its dominant size, the spending, purchasing and influencing activities of millennials are changing previously-held, traditional expectations.

For some time, millennials and the healthcare industry tended to ignore each other. Hospitals and major practices generally avoided the challenges of reaching a bad-reputation cohort. Their traditional branding, marketing and advertising remained focused on the steady and familiar stream of patients…mostly baby boomers.

Millennials on the other hand—being generally young and healthy—previously had little need for doctors…except, perhaps, infrequently for urgent or maternity care. Cost-sensitive millennials wanted to avoid the expense, and not be thought of as “unhealthy.” But, now that the oldest millennials are approaching middle age, healthcare marketers can no longer afford to ignore the elephant in the room.

Most of this group—88 percent—live in metropolitan areas. Almost half—40 percent—have become parents. Nearly 35 percent of millennials hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and a similar percentage are homeowners. [US Census Bureau and Pew Research Center]

The older slices of this group are now well into adulthood and their buying power is strong and growing. What’s more, they are reaching an age when personal health issues become more common and can be more serious. [Read More: Healthcare Branding: Answering the All-Important “Why You” Question.]

Rethinking Healthcare Branding to Resonate with the Gen-Y Mindset

Building brand loyalty with millennials begins with understanding unique attitudes and expectations. Millennials have expectations and demands that are not shared by older generations, so a fresh start in rethinking is the best approach.

For an insight into shaping your branding message with a strong millennial appeal, here are six vitally important characteristics and attitudes of this group. Millennials:

  • Expect outstanding customer service
  • Look for cause-driven, more-than-money business
  • Expect strong value and are cost-conscious
  • Operate with immediate, “right now” expectations
  • Are always connected, tech-savvy, “digital natives”
  • Expect fast and accurate information

Millennials value (and expect) outstanding customer service

“Be a yardstick of quality,” to quote Steve Jobs about brand building. “Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Millennials prize the unique, positive experience above things.

In their world, a positive patient experience builds loyalty. A negative customer service experience is enough for nearly three-quarters of millennials to change brands. [ICSC data]. Conversely, 60 percent of millennials remain loyal to the brands they purchase [Forbes]. Further, positive customer experience is more likely to be shared than negative ones.

Is your website intuitively quick and easy to find helpful information? Do you have a “customer support” system to interact with millennials with fast and accurate responses? Delivering an exceptional positive patient experience—in person, online, email and by every channel—must be a primary focus for building brand loyalty.

Being cause-driven or standing for more than money is significant

About half of millennials are willing to buy from a progressive company if their purchase supports a cause or is cause-driven. They prefer brands that appreciate and reflect their personal values, and sometimes they will permit a premium in the price. Frequently, they want to find “something special” in a brand, perhaps a business or relationship that has higher moral standards or “more meaning.”

Giving back to the community is personally important to them, and they expect the same thing from brands they like. One source reports that better than 80 percent of millennials surveyed expect companies to support charitable causes. The business of healthcare is a compassionate endeavor. Virtually every doctor, medical practice or hospital will have the foundation for a cause-driven branding message.

But an important word of caution here is that any commitment by the brand must be real, and one that can be demonstrated by example or actual company actions. What makes your work in healthcare standout from the competition? What are the core values of the business, how are you improving the world, and how can you present this story convincingly to the public?

Millennials are cost-conscious and expect strong value

This group wants to know healthcare costs in advance of treatment. Cost transparency and accurate, good faith estimates are important influences. They especially don’t like unexpected or surprise bills, according to PNC Healthcare data. Better than 40 percent of millennials ask for and receive good faith, upfront estimates. It’s their nature to compare provider prices. It’s a critical influence factor in their decision process.

Generally, most millennials, nearly 80 percent, consider healthcare to be pricey or too expensive, and they look for strong value. Alternatively, according to PNC Healthcare, more than half of the individuals surveyed will simply delay or avoid treatment due to costs.

Millennials operate with immediate, “right now” expectations

They’ve been described as the “drive-through generation.” The ever-present influence of the Internet has always delivered instant answers, fast facts, immediate news, on-demand entertainment and collective opinions and attitudes. Thus the millennial mindset has been shaped to expect a prompt response to their needs and interests. The millennial attitude about healthcare is that research and answers are quickly and easily available from a range of reliable resources.

Millennials consider their time to be important. Thus, they expect a healthcare provider to respond quickly…nearly immediate appointments, for example. Consequently, they may prefer an “urgent care” resource. They look for guidance in their selection via online reviews. Branding-related information needs to deliver authoritative answers that are quick/immediate, helpful and resonate with the individual’s value system.

This audience is tech-savvy and always connected

The Internet is a lifelong experience that shapes attitudes and opinions, and influences purchase decisions. As one source put it: “Millennials might as well have had [the Internet] in their baby cribs. Many of them haven’t known anything besides web surfing, text messaging, social networking world we live in now.”

This group spends three to five hours online each day, mainly via tablet or smartphone. And when new technology appears on the scene, millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be an early adopter. Better than half (54 percent) of millennial purchases are made online. But before making a purchase, some 40 percent of millennials research reviews, testimonials and online comments.

Information and interaction with healthcare providers and hospitals need to use tech methods (apps, responsive websites, physical/digital crossovers, social media). This cohort routinely handles personal affairs online already. Many healthcare matters fall in the same category for millennials, provided that it is easy, quick and convenient to do.

Fortunately, this connection is virtually always on and reaches the target audience anywhere, everywhere and at any time. They love social media and networking and use it for news, information, social interchange and entertainment. Most importantly, they seek advice, reviews and ratings when on healthcare topics. The popular social media channels (such as Facebook and Instagram) are primary options in your healthcare branding toolbox. For effective branding, communications and reputation management, use both organic and paid content.

Use your audience’s branding, advertising and marketing channels

Traditional communications methods of the past are not likely to do well with millennials who spend more time online than watching TV. Being constantly online identifies one popular channel option, but, unfortunately, only a few millennials find online advertising to be credible. What’s more, this group is likely to reject intrusive ads—better than 60 percent routinely use online ad blockers, according to Anatomy Media.

A vital consideration for millennials is being “relevant.” They “are receptive to online advertising that is restrained, targeted and relevant.” Online content—that relates to their needs and values, and is thoughtful and authoritative in nature—is useful for most millennials (over 80 percent) in making purchase decisions. Although being “always connected” is a plus in many ways, it’s a challenge to properly shape your branding message. Millennial Marketing reports that better than half of this audience tends to purchase generic brands over name brands.

In their provider selection process, about 40 to 50 percent of millennials are influenced by online reviews (Healthgrades, Yelp and others), as well as testimonials and the comments of others. The “care and feeding” of your online reputation is vital to communicating the proper brand message, attracting new patients and positively influencing their view of a doctor, medical group or hospital.

It’s easy to bask in kind words and comments, but the immediate opportunity is to quickly and positively respond to less-than-positive reviews. Whenever possible, a prompt remedy will work to correct a situation. And when that’s not entirely possible, a timely response is useful acknowledgment of the concern and demonstrates an open willingness or awareness of the question or issue.

The Branding Message for Millennial Values

The Millennial Generation has become the largest, strongest and most influential healthcare audience group. This cohort has surpassed the once-dominant, but still significant, Baby Boomer group. Creating a truly unique brand and branding promise in healthcare for this unique mindset and value system is both a necessity and a challenge for hospitals, group practices and medical offices.

Effective branding in healthcare is about the entire experience and relationship that the business has with the audience, the people it serves daily. Brand distinction sets you above the competition, makes you memorable to this discerning consumer group, and impacts and guides their decision process and selection at the time of need.

[For more, read: Your Brand Isn’t What You Say – It Is Who You Are.]

Effective branding communicates to the tastes, attitudes, and sensibilities of the buyer, not the seller. In some instances, this may require a top-down cultural commitment. Effectively communicating a brand message requires the engagement of all the people throughout the organization. It is the doctors, staff, employees—everyone—who, through their attitudes, actions and public contacts, deliver on the brand promise.

The overall Success Equation is: Winning Brand Loyalty delivers Strong Buying Power. This is a complete online communications circle. Millennials don’t want a one-direction lecture, they want to actively participate in a dialog. Well-established healthcare brands such as Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, Cleveland Clinic and others, actively encourage patient-originated content, reviews, comments and contributions—all of which builds and maintains trust, bonding and loyalty.

We can help you as we have with many healthcare clients. Call us today. Our number is (800) 656-0907. Let’s talk about building a world-class healthcare brand for the millennial generation.

[Additional Reading: Brand Loyalty: Why it Matters for Your Healthcare Practice]

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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