Connecting with Generation X could make or break your healthcare marketing strategy.
They entered adulthood when flannel was the fashion and grunge rock ruled the radio waves. While many of them may have reluctantly waded into the conventions of responsibility, Generation X (Gen X) is now in the thick of the grown-up stage of life.
Raising families, taking care of aging parents and becoming well-acquainted with how the body changes through the years, adults born between 1965 and 1980 represent an important segment of healthcare consumers. However, this generation tends to be overlooked by marketing professionals, according to Alan Shoebridge, director of marketing for Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System and board member for the Society for Health Care Strategy and Market Development.
“About 10 years ago, those of us in healthcare marketing were becoming much more strategic with who we were focusing on as the best targets for marketing outreach,” Shoebridge says. “What I found frustrating was that so many of those conversations focused on what Millennials and Baby Boomers were doing, and very little attention was being paid to Gen X. To me, it was clear that Millennials were not ready for deep relationships with healthcare providers, and most Boomers already had very established relationships that would be hard to break. In my mind, the real sweet spot was people who were 35 to 50.”
Specifically, Shoebridge notes that because they are managing healthcare for themselves, their children and possibly their parents, Gen Xers are currently the most relevant target audience for healthcare marketers to address and will be for the next decade.
“In short, they are poised to make decisions and act,” Shoebridge says. “That will change gradually as more Millennials enter these life stages, but right now, we cannot afford to ignore Gen X.”
Who is Generation X?
Here's a snapshot of what some are calling The Forgotten Generation:
- Size: 65 million individuals
- Education: 35% have college degrees (the highest of the three generations)
- Media habits: 165 hours of TV each month, 7 hours of Facebook each week, blog enthusiasts
- How they bank: fans of one-on-one relationships, driven to manage debt
- How they shop: brand loyal, read peer reviews
- Influential events: The end of the Cold War, the beginning of the personal computing age, tendency to feel obscured by the Baby Boomers and Millennials
The Value of Messaging
Though the population of Gen X is smaller than that of Boomers or Millennials, this group outspends the other generations, investing in themselves as well as their loved ones.
“Targeting Gen X at their current life stage is essential for marketing many health services,” says Dean Browell, PhD, principal with Feedback, a company that specializes in digital ethnography to help marketing professionals understand their customers in a way that goes beyond data. “Consider that this is the generation that will be caregivers for the massive, aging Baby Boomer generation.”
To successfully connect with the Gen X cohort, Browell and Shoebridge—who have compiled their insights in a book aptly titled "Don't You Forget About Gen X"—recommend keeping these important rules of thumb in mind.
“This is a generation that does not just buy what an expert sells them,” Browell says. “They want to see that other peers have validated the services.”
Because this generation values the experiences of their peers, getting it right as often as possible through meaningful actions instead of fluffy words is important.
“If an experience is not positive, I do not think you will get a second chance to land them as customers or patients,” Shoebridge says. “If marketing promises do not match the actual experience, you will have a major disconnect. Your messaging cannot afford to over-promise and under-deliver with this group.”
Hospitals who are getting it right for Gen X, particularly choosy parents and the older Millennials who follow them, according to Browell, include:
Arkansas Children's—Investing in content and creative social media campaigns like the #100DeadliestDays.
Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital—Reaching Gen X through useful resources like the Healthy Parenting Podcast.
UNC Rex Healthcare in North Carolina—Delivers useful health information through consumer-centric channels like the Health Talk content hub.
“These facilities have taken the critical steps to really stop and listen, analyze, and take to heart what Gen Xers and older Millennials are saying,” Browell says. “They have distinctly different populations but have a similar issue in common—low-information and experienced parents with loyalties that are not cemented yet. They form decisions based on the consensus of peers, looking to reviews and discussions on demographic and condition-specific groups and message boards. And guess who is most prolific in those—who has been modeling behavior for years? Gen X.”
Now serving as decision-makers for their families and leaders of successful organizations, Gen X is one not to forget or discount as you build your next marketing campaign.
“Gen X is serving as an important bridge between the Boomers and the Millennials and will provide organizational continuity during the next 10 to 20 years,” Shoebridge says. “If you are not thinking about them, you are missing out.”
Expert Perspective on Earning the Trust of Gen X
"There is a myth of cynicism that is perhaps better described as skepticism. Gen X has witnessed the debut, promises and failures of so much—technology, politics, finances, etc. This leads them to always look for a second opinion, not trusting any brand until it proves itself to them. They also possess a desire to be incredibly well-informed. Once they make that decision, they will be very loyal to and honest with your brand.”
—Dean Browell, PhD, Principal with Feedback
NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated for freshness.
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