5 hospital marketers on how they reach Gen Z, millennials, Gen X & baby boomers

Americans' life experiences and consumer preferences vary greatly across generations, something healthcare marketing professionals need to understand in order to create strategic messaging to reach different age groups.

Below, five hospital marketing executives share tips on how they craft campaigns for different generations.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Jigar Shah. Chief Marketing Officer at Providence (Renton, Wash.). Healthcare is very personal, and the key to successful marketing is a relationship-based approach. This means using messaging to build and retain trust, meeting consumers where they are in their healthcare journey and giving them relevant, actionable information to make decisions about their care. 

Age segmentation is a part of that analysis, but not all. Other demographic and psychographic data, predictive analytics and direct input from the consumer, all help us know the consumer better and guide them in their journey. It’s also critical to deliver those messages through the right channels. 

Some of our channel strategies are intuitive. We know Gen Xers and millennials love text messaging. But we’re also challenging assumptions through experimentation. For example, there was some hesitancy when we decided to engage with baby boomers using social media, but we’ve proven boomers have high social engagement and are willing to share information with us through that channel. 

Essentially, the more we personalize the healthcare journey, the more likely we are to build a relationship of trust with our consumers of all age groups.

Christine Priester. Vice President of Brand at Advocate Aurora Health (Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.). We use sophisticated digital tools to personalize messages in our LiveWell app, emails, social media and other channels so consumers of different age groups see themselves reflected in the tone and content of the communication they receive. We also consider that people in different generations are at different stages of their health care journeys and adjust our marketing accordingly. 

Consumers in Generation Z need different kinds of services than baby boomers simply because they’re in different stages of life, and we offer each group messages about the kind of care they’re more likely to be interested in. It’s important, too, to reflect the diverse communities we serve in our marketing. Our efforts with more targeted messages are combined with our broader campaign to raise brand awareness, all in service of our ultimate purpose to help people live well.

Brian Deffaa. Chief Marketing Officer at LifeBridge Health (Baltimore). The shift from "patient" to healthcare "consumer" really reflects the seismic change taking place — "patients" are acted upon when treated; "consumers" gather information and make self-directed decisions. This approach mirrors the expectations of different generations and their comfort level with information (not just healthcare information); changes which mirror other parts of their lives.

Kary McIlwain. Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. We don’t change strategy to reach an audience — but strategy may dictate the audience we need. For example if we are reaching out to first-time moms for primary pediatric care, we will probably be targeting Gen Z and early millennials. If we are talking to high-end donors for a fundraising campaign, they will most likely be Gen X and younger boomers who are in peak earning years.  

Once we know to whom we need to connect, then that dictates how we go about making the connection. This changes radically for the various generational groups. Gen Z and many millennials are digital natives — extremely comfortable in the digital space for many of their communications and healthcare needs (telemedicine, online scheduling and bill pay, etc.). They appreciate shorter copy, more visuals and video content. Older generations are more comfortable with longer copy, a variety of media and may prefer in person to a digital healthcare connection.

John Englehart. Senior Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at Hospital for Special Surgery (New York City). We find that the fundamental HSS brand promise — better quality of life through better quality of movement — transcends all generations. Of course, media behaviors vary. Less obvious are generational differences in how quality is judged, which is why we tailor a chemistry of rational support including esteemed awards, searchable patient-submitted stories (nearly 3,000 and counting), and a tool that helps consumers compare reliability between providers.

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