Why Generation X plays a crucial role in healthcare marketing

In this episode of our popular Tips in Ten(ish) minutes video series, Kirsten Lecky, EVP insights and growth at WG Content, sits down with Dan Miers of SPM Marketing to learn more about crafting campaigns for Gen Xers.

Watch this 12-minute video and learn:

  • Why Gen X is the triple-threat generation 
  • How Gen X approaches healthcare decision making
  • Key practices to connect and engage with this generation

This video was recorded on October 29, 2021, before WriterGirl became WG Content.

Watch the video

0:00:05.7 Kirsten Lecky: Hi Dan, good morning. So thank you so much for joining me today. For those of you that don’t know Dan, he’s the Chief… Excuse me, the Chief Strategy Officer for SPM Marketing. I think most of you probably know SPM marketing, but for those of you that don’t, they are a full service marketing agency. I believe, and you’ll have to tell me Dan, but I think Modern Healthcare has named you an agency of the year, a best place to work. So in addition to being friends of WriterGirl, you’re a great group of fun, creative people doing very smart work in this space. So thank you so much for joining me today.

0:00:41.2 Dan Miers: Thank you. And you’re hired as our PR consultant.


0:00:45.1 Kirsten Lecky: Thanks. We’re here to do our tips in 10 minutes. So for the next 10 minutes, we’re going to get Dan’s expertise on communicating to Generation X in the workplace and those that are making healthcare decisions. I’m a Gen X, so I will be a little bit of a sounding board for Dan. I mean, a good place to start would be for you to just kind of give us an overview of the different generations that are making healthcare decisions today and what makes each one unique.

0:01:10.3 Dan Miers: Sure. Thanks so much, Kirsten. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this.

0:01:14.3 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah. So happy you’re here.

0:01:15.6 Dan Miers: This is a lot of fun. So when it comes to generations in healthcare decision-making, there are three generations that we primarily need to think about. The first is the oldest generation, the baby boomers. So these are people born between, or that right now are between the ages of 56 and 75 years old. And there’s about 70 million of them out in the population. Baby boom generation was the largest generation until a few years ago. The unfortunate reality is that there are fewer and fewer of them every day. So these are patients who are in like, call the fourth quarter of life and are using probably healthcare the most intensively that they ever will.

0:02:00.0 Dan Miers: And they also came of age in the ’60s and ’70s. The youngest generation that gets a lot of attention are the millennials. And so these are people who are between 25 and 40 years old. And they are the largest single generation in America right now, a little over 73 million of those people. And they’re just starting their healthcare journey. They’re just beginning to get married, start families and really deal more with healthcare for their kids than they are for healthcare within, for themselves. And they came of age in the 2000s, often people say like, this is the Facebook generation, although no millennial would tell you that they grew up using Facebook, but, you know, they, the first generation who really grew up with the internet as a staple part of their life. And then in between them, kind of the Jan Brady syndrome is Generation X.


0:02:50.0 Kirsten Lecky: The forgotten generation, right?

0:02:50.1 Dan Miers: The forgotten generation. Exactly.

0:02:54.6 Kirsten Lecky: Yes. I feel so neglected. [laughter]

0:02:56.9 Dan Miers: Exactly. Exactly right. And so, we’re between 40 and 55 years old and there’s only about 65 million of us. So we are definitely smaller than the boomers and than the millennials. But what is interesting is that it’s projected by about 2028, that Gen Xers will surpass the boomers in terms of the size of the generation as more and more boomers pass away. So increasingly, a more important generation. And what we like to say, and what’s important to think about the Gen Xers is that these are going to be people between their 40s and 50s who are just starting to bend the curve and in the prime of their healthcare consumption decision-making lives. And therefore these are people who are really thinking about healthcare for themselves really for the first time, seriously.

0:03:54.3 Kirsten Lecky: This generation too, also more of that sandwich generation, are they tending to care more for their aging parents and their children? Or is that more of the boomer generation?

0:04:03.7 Dan Miers: No, you’re absolutely right. And that is another very good…

0:04:04.7 Kirsten Lecky: But then that’s a complication too, in terms of what’s on their minds and…

0:04:08.6 Dan Miers: Precisely, one of my partners on this project refers to the Gen Xers as the triple threat generation because they’re making healthcare decisions for themselves, healthcare decisions for their parents. And we’re old enough that we have kids who are just starting their healthcare journeys and they’re turning to us for advice and information on how to make healthcare decisions as well. So in all three cases how this generation thinks influences healthcare providers across a wide spectrum of ranges. That’s really interesting, and I think one of the defining characteristics of Generation X is that during the time that you and I were in college was the time when women surpassed men in getting college degrees. And so not just the fact that there’s merely more women than men in the overall generation, but the role of women in the workforce and the role of women as business leaders is really driven by Generation Xers. And so people who are making decisions for their companies as well as decisions for their families are largely Gen Xers. And that’s an important thing to think about when you’re talking about health insurance benefits that a company might offer, policy towards healthcare and leave that a company might offer. Those are decisions that are being made more and more by college educated Gen X women than anybody else.

0:05:30.9 Kirsten Lecky: That’s interesting. And probably in homes where both parents work or both individuals work. And so there’s time constraints and things like that as well.

0:05:41.5 Dan Miers: That’s a really interesting point. One of the great defining characteristics of Generation X is you probably had this experience somewhere around 1980 was where the lines crossed where households had just the father working versus a two-income family. It was right around 1980 when more households had both parents working than just the dad working. And that was very symbolic of the change that was growing up and how you and I experienced life by seeing both of our parents work and having to be more fend for ourselves when we got home from school and kind of being raised on that and influencing how we approach our problems going forward as adults.

0:06:21.2 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah, so we’re managing careers, we’re managing our kids, we’re managing our home, we’re managing our parents, we’re managing to have hopefully some personal free time and hobbies in our life. So we’re a busy generation it sounds like.

0:06:37.3 Dan Miers: Absolutely.

0:06:37.9 Kirsten Lecky: A lot going on. So what are some key practices that you would suggest then? I think we’ve kind of touched on them, but if you had to summarize like some best practices or some recommendations in terms for healthcare marketers to communicate to us, to our generation.

0:06:53.8 Dan Miers: Sure. So there’s one bit of setup and then I’ll jump into that. First is there’s great research that was done that shows that if you think about the span of your life and you’re going to spend $100 on healthcare in the course of your life, by the time you turn 40, you’ve only spent about $20. So the first 40 years of your life, you just don’t use a lot of healthcare. And then by the time you hit age 65, you’ve spent about 50% and then you spend the rest after you turn 65. So in that period between the ages of 40 and 65 is when you’re really making a lot of those important decisions about healthcare, like you’ve never needed a cardiologist before. You’ve never needed a gastroenterologist before, whatever it might be. So you’re starting to make those decisions in that time. And that’s one of the reasons Gen X is the most important generation to be thinking about right now, because once you hit age 65, you’ve got doctors, you’ve got relationships, you’ve been dealing with things for years.

0:07:48.9 Dan Miers: And so if I’m a healthcare marketer, really hard to get somebody who’s 65 years old to change their doctor, to change the health system that they have a relationship. There’s too much inertia built up. So in that 40 to 65-year age range is when you’re really going to make those connections that are going to be important to the physician and the health system for years to come. So that’s one of the reasons Gen X is so important right now.

0:08:13.8 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah.

0:08:16.2 Dan Miers: So how do you connect with them? Remember, this is the first generation that’s really the self-directed healthcare consumer. If you think about your parents, my parents, my grandparents, they never challenged their doctor’s advice. There was no internet where they could go and look things up on their own and research things on their own. Gen Xers came of age with a skeptical attitude about the world around them and the ability to do a lot of research and form their own opinions. And so apply that to the healthcare market. So the first thing we would say is that Gen Xers research shows they’ll respect your authority as an expert, but don’t expect them just to take your word for it and blindly do what you say. So they want to see the data. Gen Xers are expressly interested in, “Show me the proof. You say you’re the best. Why are you the best? You say that you’re a good choice for me. Why are you a good choice for me? Give me that information and let me form my own opinion,” which is unique to Gen X.

0:09:18.9 Dan Miers: And the other thing that they would say is, “Oh, and by the way, don’t expect me to just take your word for it. I’m going to talk to other people.” So the other thing that we give advice for is Gen Xers love reading reviews. Gen Xers love collaborating with peers and hearing from peers. So like testimonials from like patients. If I needed surgery for knee replacement, I want to see a 54-year-old runner who’s had that operation. I want to talk to them. I want to hear their story. So they want to see those testimonials as a way to validate what they might be thinking about themselves. What I would say is this generation also is interested in healthcare marketing. This is the generation that came of age with healthcare marketing. We think pharmaceutical marketing didn’t exist for our parents’ generation, healthcare system marketing. So it is valuable to them. It is one way that they get information. And when we do research around this, they tell us that advertisements for hospitals help me make decisions.

0:10:24.1 Dan Miers: So there is a reason to market to them. And they are using all platforms. We still watch television. We still read newspapers. We still consume offline and online media in almost equal populations. And so in terms of tactically, it’s good to market to this population. And it’s good to use a full spectrum of media channels to connect with them.

0:10:45.3 Kirsten Lecky: Yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, we’re consuming content in every facet of our life. And I always use the expression, human beings do business with human beings that they know, like, and trust.

0:11:00.8 Dan Miers: Exactly.

0:11:00.9 Kirsten Lecky: And we have to get to know each other and then we have to like each other. And then ultimately, we’ll earn each other’s trust. And it sounds like the Gen Xers are very much of that thinking. It’s let’s get to know each other and let’s… I really want to feel like I like you and then maybe I’ll trust you. And we were all latchkey kids too, a lot of us were. So we have maybe a little bit of that, like, independent kind of skepticism. We were fighting the world on our own for a long time. [chuckle] So using that approach in terms of how we make health care decisions too seems like it makes a lot of sense.

0:11:31.9 Kirsten Lecky: So our 10 minutes have already flown by. So we’ve covered some really good information here. If anyone has any questions, we’ll be sure to leave Dan’s contact information in this posting so you have that if you want to reach out. Mine as well. So we’ll be happy to jump on any call or answer any other questions. But thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

0:11:53.4 Dan Miers: Thank you. Thank you so much, Kirsten.

0:11:55.0 Kirsten Lecky: Thanks.