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Mind the Gap: How the Generations View Their Health Differently

By Eric Mann | May 31, 2017 | Rally Health

Just as each generation has its own soundtrack and cultural references (cue “The Breakfast Club”), every age group has a different view of what it means to stay “healthy.” That was the top takeaway from our most recent Rally research, which led us to define three key health and wellness generations, and develop ideas on how best to engage with each one.

The Selfie Generation: Highly attuned to personal lifestyle and curated online lives, millennials want to feel good and look good. Being healthy for them doesn’t just mean “not sick” — it’s a daily, active pursuit.

The Sandwich Generation: Caught in the middle, Generation Xers are often looking after the health of their aging parents as well as their young children, not to mention struggling to eat better, exercise more, and get more sleep.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Generation: Baby boomers want to live longer even as many are managing chronic ailments such as obesity and high blood pressure. For them, staying healthy means avoiding a health scare like getting cancer or having a heart attack and, most important, getting the most from their life.

These are just some of the topline takeaways from our focus groups. We’ll be taking a deeper dive and looking at how to help the different groups overcome the barriers they perceive in our live webinar on June 15. I’ll be hosting the event, along with Joanna Jones, head of research at InterQ. Reserve your spot now!

We’re not the only ones to have studied these generational attitudes about health. Looking at other research beyond our own focus groups, we see some other fascinating trends that will surely shape the health care industry in the years to come. These include:

Generation X as health influencers: Precisely because they are caught in the middle, taking care of their parents and kids, nearly three-quarters of Gen Xers identify themselves as the chief health decision makers in their families, according to a study released this year by Greyhealth Group and Kantar Health. What Gen X wants from health care is more transparent, more immediate, and more actionable communication, the researchers say.

Millennials want on-demand health care: It’s not surprising that the generation that has grown  up with Uber, Amazon, and Netflix is impatient when it comes to getting health services. They’re frustrated by long wait times and the hassle of getting appointments — so much so that 13 percent of them have gone straight to the ER because they couldn’t see a doctor (compared with 10 percent of Gen X-ers and 6 percent of baby boomers), according to a study coauthored by GE Healthcare Camden Group and Prophet. Millennials think digitally, rely heavily on social networks for information, and gravitate toward convenient, self-serve options for health care.

The middle-aged aren’t aging so well: Rally data shows that boomers are less stressed than Gen Xers or millennials, and despite age-related diseases, they report feeling healthier compared with their younger counterparts. Unfortunately, the next generation of seniors may not be as well off. According to a study released last year by the United Health Foundation, compared with the current senior population when they were middle-aged, the next wave of seniors smokes 50 percent less, yet has a 55 percent higher prevalence of diabetes, a 25 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and a 9 percent lower prevalence of very good or excellent health status.

What does all of this mean for benefits leaders? It means that you can’t expect to fully engage employees when designing and promoting wellness programs without accounting for these key generational differences. Strategically and tactically, this nuanced approach will require segmenting your audience so that the message is specifically tailored for each age group’s needs and goals.

You will need to invest in list management tools such as marketing automation software, or find a partner or agency who can take advantage of the available technology to do this. These tools should help you create and maintain up-to-date lists of your employees, segmented by age and interests, as well as optimize delivery across the channels that resonate most with each user group (social media versus texting versus email newsletters).

While successful segmenting may require better technology, how you speak to the generations in your audience could be as simple as crafting email subject lines designed to motivate each group differently.

For example, while marketing incentives to lose weight, an email for millennials might say “How to look great this summer.” Meanwhile, the subject line for the Gen X crowd might read “Get the stamina you need to keep up with your kids.”

At Rally, we believe that modern health marketing requires a data-driven approach. What’s the first rule of marketing? Know thy audience. The first rule of modern marketing? Decisions involving your message, marketing materials, and distribution channels should all be driven by your data.

Want to get to know your audience better? Join our webinar as we break down how each generation approaches health, and what your programs should be doing to stay relevant. Sign up today.

Eric Mann heads up marketing efforts for our key partners. He has more than 20 years of technology and health care marketing experience, leading browser marketing for Netscape and product marketing for Oracle Health Science.

Eric Mann
Rally Health

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