Department Focus: Marketing--Who Needs the Boomers?

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Well, you do. But marketing to the next generation of healthcare consumers might not be a bad idea, either.

Enough about the baby boomers, already. Yes, they’re a crucial segment of the healthcare market that drives the most profitable service lines. But what about teens to 30-somethings? They’re starting families, they’re looking for primary-care physicians, and they’re probably not yet loyal to any one provider. And they’re going to need cardio, ortho and oncology services eventually. Shouldn’t you target part of your marketing efforts toward this group to expand your customer base and build brand loyalty?

The answer, of course, is that it depends. If you’re trying to grow your maternity, sports medicine, bariatrics programs, or emergency services, maybe. But when it comes to marketing to the media-savvy and somewhat cynical members of Generations X, Y, and Next, there are some pitfalls to consider.

A losing strategy
In a perfect world hospitals would have the resources to go after every demographic, says Chris Bevolo, a partner in GeigerBevolo, Inc., a branding agency in Minneapolis. But many healthcare organizations are barely holding on to their market share--the youth market isn’t likely to save them.

“Forty is the magic number where people start thinking about those things, when health starts becoming part of your awareness,” Bevolo says. “But even then, it’s hard enough to get people to pay attention to provider healthcare. The younger you go, the more that’s the truth. If you have limited resources, you should start at the level where they actually would need you.”

“Healthcare isn’t in the top 50 things that a 28-year-old thinks about as a consumer,” says John Luginbill, chief executive officer of The Heavyweights, an Indianapolis-based ad agency. “That is an empirical fact.” Unless you’ve got an unlimited marketing budget and have no desire or need to prove ROI, he says, marketing to a younger audience is a losing strategy.

On the other hand …
The marketing landscape is shifting toward new media. Even boomers are online. In five years, Luginbill predicts, new media will be standard. So you might as well start getting ready for it now.

That’s what the marketing team at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford in Palo Alto, CA, is doing. Although the 272-staffed-bed hospital’s primary audiences are referring physicians and parents, it also reaches out to its young patients in a variety of ways. From podcasts to teen ambassadors, the hospital offers a host of child-friendly events, programs and activities. Of course, the hospital wants patients and families to have the best experience possible during a difficult time. But the efforts also build a community of brand champions who spread the hospital’s message via word of mouth.

“We have done a really thoughtful evaluation of what tools best speak to these target audiences,” says Sarah Staley, director of news and communications. “Adolescent health-specific services--those are the main portfolio where we do step outside of our norm.”

The transitional professionals
Communicating with children and young adults might seem like a no-brainer for a hospital that specializes in caring for them. But it can work in other settings if done with an eye toward strategy. St. Mary’s Medical Center, a 403-licensed-bed hospital in the crowded San Francisco market, decided opportunity lay in a demographic no one else was targeting.

Research showed families and the elderly were leaving the city and that the number of “transitional professionals” was growing. Young and upwardly mobile, these 20-somethings are focused on their careers and peers while placing a premium on convenience. A humorous campaign promoting St. Mary’s fast ER care seemed the perfect fit. Young adults might not think about healthcare much, but when they do need care, they want it to be fast and convenient. “They’re also smart consumers,” says Ryan Riley of Mortar, a San Francisco-based PR and advertising agency that created the campaign.

 “We were tying to do something that was personable, approachable, energetic and youthful,” Riley says, “The tongue-in-cheek tone resonates with them. It also did wonders of cutting through the clutter.”
—Gienna Shaw

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