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The Relative Merits of Non-Boomer Customers

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, April 29, 2008

To be honest, I’m a little sick of the Baby Boomers. And because we’ve been talking about the impact they’ll have on the healthcare system for so long, I thought it was high time to change the subject. That’s why I set out to write a story about the ways that healthcare marketers can reach out to younger generations of healthcare consumers. Earn their loyalty early on, I figured, and you’ll collect the dividends down the road, when they need more than annual physicals, help losing weight, treatment for the occasional sports injury, maternity services, or a referral to a good pediatrician.

I based my theory on a tactic that the Apple computer company has employed for years. There’s a reason the company was so aggressive about getting their products into elementary schools across the country: They wanted to get those students hooked on their products, ensuring future sales.

Hey, it worked for the tobacco industry.

But my theory as it pertains to healthcare marketing didn’t hold water with most of the sources I talked to for the story, “Who Needs the Boomers?” (The subtitle hedged a bit: “Well, you do. But marketing to the next generation of healthcare consumers might not be a bad idea, either.”)

In a perfect world, hospitals would have the resources to go after every demographic, Chris Bevolo, a partner in GeigerBevolo, Inc., a branding agency in Minneapolis, told me. But many healthcare organizations are barely holding on to their market share—and the youth market isn’t going save them, he added.

Others agreed that the so-called “blue skies” approach is a difficult one, especially for hospital and health system marketers, who are already working with limited budgets and, quite frankly, some skepticism and confusion from other departments about what it is, exactly, that they do.

There are some hospitals trying it, including St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, which is going after a demographic they call “transitional professionals.” But they’re not just doing it because it seems like a good idea or because they’re sick of the Baby Boomers. There’s a real strategy behind their marketing efforts.

So my story about generations x, y, and next didn’t turn out exactly as I thought it would. It’s still an interesting topic—it’s just that no one can afford to market to future healthcare consumers to the exclusion of the current ones.

As it turns out, Apple’s '80s-era marketing strategy didn’t turn out exactly as they thought it would, either. It still enjoys a stronghold in the education market, and sales are on the upswing, but various studies and pundits suggest the brand is not as sticky as the company once thought. Adults who had Macs in their classrooms 15 or 20 years ago aren’t necessarily buying them today. And the company still has a relatively small share of the personal computer market in the U.S. despite those clever ads, a couple of i-crazes, and one of the strongest name brands in retail.


Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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