Born between 1982 and 2000, the millennials, also known as Gen Y, now make up a full quarter of the U.S. population. That’s over 80 million people, and cumulatively they account for over $1.4 trillion in domestic spending annually.

Because many are saddled with far more debt than earlier generations, due to a larger rate pursuing higher education and the hefty student loans that path often entails, they currently spend less than their Baby Boomer predecessors in general — with one notable exception. They spend far more on healthcare than their parents did.

“For millenials, wellness and fitness are an investment in how they feel and a signal to others about their lifestyle choices.”

The typical Millennial household devotes 6.2-percent of its overall spending on health and wellness. By comparison, their parents only spent 3.5-percent on health products and services when they were the same age. Rising healthcare costs are partly responsible, as is the adoption of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which drastically reduced the number of Americans without health insurance.

How millennials spend their health dollars also differs somewhat from the Baby Boomers. For example, millennials spend less on preventive treatment and more on urgent care visits. A PNC Healthcare survey found that more than half of millennials will delay healthcare (but not wellness or fitness) because of the cost.

For millenials, wellness and fitness are an investment in how they feel and a signal to others about their lifestyle choices. Their healthcare spending, by contrast, is typically unplanned and purchased as needed. Hence, they spend more than Boomers on things like healthy diets, supplements, and do-it-yourself health monitoring programs like apps and wearable devices

With such a large and growing body of influential consumers to court, health brands have been aggressively investigating how to appeal to Millenials. Here’s what you need to know:

Choose Your Channels Wisely

Consumers across the board are more jaded about traditional advertising than ever before, but millennials take things a step further. The McCarthy Group found that 84-percent of millenials simply don’t trust traditional ads. Instead, they rely on social proof from their friends, families, social networks, and customer reviews and testimonials.

“Millennials are five times more likely to trust a social media platform sponsored by a pharmaceutical company than Baby Boomers are.”

They don’t fall for appeals that lack authenticity, they skip ads on TV and block them online, and are generally skeptical about anything that their own social networks haven’t vetted. They are particularly wary of televised ads, but far more receptive to online channels than older generations. They grew up and feel at home online, and have more familiarity with and openness to online advertising.

Source: PatientPop 2019

Harris Poll found that millennials are five times more likely to trust a social media platform sponsored by a pharmaceutical company than Baby Boomers are, and according to PatientPop, nearly three-quarters have looked online for information about a doctor, dentist, or other medical care provider.

Don’t Hard Sell

Their skepticism of advertising all but rules out intrusive and aggressive appeals for their attention or healthcare dollars. Instead, brands should pursue a long-term, gradual process of building a mutually beneficial relationship.

Over the course of sharing information, answering questions, anticipating and responding to their needs, health organizations can win converts from the millennial generation, even brand loyalists.

Millenials don’t want to be shouted at; they want to be a part of a conversation. Almost half post images and videos online that they created, and 84-percent say that user generated content influences their buying decisions.

“Millenials don’t want to be shouted at; they want to be a part of a conversation.”

Leading health brands like the Mayo Clinic and DaVita routinely share user-submitted content on their social networks, such as stories of positive outcomes, to prove they value their audience’s input.

Whereas their parents’ first inclination might be to seek out a health professional to answer their medical questions, millennials turn to a variety of sources. A survey by Kantar Health reported that just 41-percent of millennials consider physicians the best source of health information. At far greater rates than Baby Boomers, millennials do their own health research online at sites like WebMDHealthline, and MedicineNet.

Put Your Values on Display

For older generations, choosing to transact with a healthcare brand is often a simple question: do they have what I want at a price I’m willing to pay? Millennials, however, are far more likely to ask questions about the beliefs and conduct of the brands they choose. Questions like:

  • What does your healthcare brand stand for?
  • Do your actions reflect your messaging?
  • How do you treat your employees?
  • How are you making the world a better place?
  • Do you put people before profit?
  • What can I expect from the entire experience?
Source: FutureCast 2020

Half of millennials say they are more willing to buy from a brand that matches their value system. Nearly 40-percent say they would even pay more to do so. Furthermore, a study by Edelman reported that 60-percent of millenials are “belief-driven buyers” that will actively boycott a brand that doesn’t act in accordance with their values.

Health brands are particularly well suited to promoting a message about their values. They aren’t just making widgets or selling entertainment, they truly are a force for positive change in the world and for individuals.

Make It an Experience

Blame it on Google, Amazon, and the other tech giants, but millennials have grown accustomed to getting what they want quickly, with minimal fuss, around the clock, and around the world. The customer experience has been streamlined by mobile devices, robust analytics, and always-on digital platforms.

The health brands succeeding today are investing in improving their own customer and patient experiences by:

  • Simplifying their websites to make navigation easier and information more available
  • Building apps with human and AI chat features to answer basic questions and accelerate response times
  • Translating complex topics into easily digestible content like infographics and explainer videos
  • Soliciting feedback via online tools and platforms like SurveyMonkey and TrustPilot

The digital economy has made transparent which brands are succeeding at creating meaningful and rewarding customer experiences, and millennials are even more likely than older generations to check online reviews about the organizations they are considering doing business with.

Health brands are quickly realizing they aren’t immune to this trend, and are putting new emphasis on meeting and exceeding expectations with a consistent brand experience.

Go Mobile

For a cohort that is often called the digital natives because they grew up in a world that was always connected, the millennials are, perhaps surprisingly, not equal opportunity users of digital tools. In fact, one in five doesn’t even own a computer!

“Millennials have grown accustomed to getting what they want quickly, with minimal fuss, around the clock, and around the world.”

That doesn’t mean they aren’t online, however. 92-percent of them own a smartphone, and they spend three or more hours daily on their devices. Every aspect of their lives is mediated by mobile platforms. Everything from shopping to banking to interacting with friends and family happens on that small screen in the palm of their hands.

This development means health brands need websites that aren’t just responsive to different devices and generally mobile-friendly, but mobile-first. Additionally, they should be pursuing outreach via apps like meal planners, wellness checkups, fitness trackers, online classes, sleep monitors, and patient information portals.

The Takeaway for Health Brands

The millennial generation is quite different from their predecessors. They are more skeptical of traditional advertising, less open to older channels of communication, and more resistant to aggressive promotional tactics. Don’t talk at them; engage them online, share your expertise and guidance, and ask for their input to create a dialog.

Millenials are also the most value-based consumers perhaps ever. That is equally true when it comes to health brands, which should be doing the hard work of figuring out just what they stand for and how they are helping people, and then proactively sharing that story throughout their marketing.

Lastly, millennials are demanding their health brands deliver the same digital capabilities and elevated customer experiences that they get everywhere else. Invest in seamless, consistent, and mobile-first interactions that fit into their lives. For millenials, the old ways of marketing just won’t move the needle. Health brands that expect to win their trust and patronage have to adapt to our new realities.