What Millennials Are Doing in the Face of Covid-19

And what brands should remember about this demographic

Illustration of a woman meditating
Millennials have a unique perspective on how they think about and take care of their health, and Coronavirus is only amplifying it. iStock
Headshot of Kelly Lundquist

When I wake up in the morning, I practice mindfulness and meditate in bed for about 15 minutes to ground myself. I then check my emails, double-tap a few photos on my Instagram feed, get out of bed, brush my teeth, do my (nauseously long) skincare, walk to work, make a homemade almond milk latte in my silicone carry away cup (again, to save the environment) and get to work.

If I ever start to feel sick, I’ll chug a kombucha from the local bodega in hopes that it will kill any bug in me. Despite my mom’s insistence, I loathe going to the doctor because I’d rather spend my money and time, well, anywhere else. More often than not, I end up in urgent care, proving my mother right once again.

But I’d be lying if I said Covid-19 isn’t making me question these habits and think about what else I should be doing to take care of my health. As if the nonstop news cycle isn’t enough, canceling my plans for SXSW and Coachella was a wake-up call.

Are all millennials like me? Absolutely not. But as a generation that has quickly grown into a key demographic for healthcare brands, we have a unique perspective on how we think about and take care of our health, and Covid-19’s emergence as an imminent threat is only amplifying this. Brands that can demonstrate they understand us, particularly in turbulent times, will have disproportionate success in capturing our attention, engagement and wallets.

Healthcare brands should consider new approaches to provide better education, prevention and treatment to help shift the current millennial approach to health.

Millennials make up one-fourth of the U.S. population (the largest single group) and half of the U.S. workforce. Despite active lifestyles, they are not necessarily confident in their overall health. For instance, although older generations are most at risk for Covid-19, recent data published by First Insight found 54% of millennials say that concern about the virus has already impacted their purchase decisions. Similarly, despite four out of five millennials perceiving themselves to be in “good” or “excellent” health, 54% still say they have a chronic health condition.

This may help to explain why, in 2016, millennial-led households spent 6.2% of their overall expenditures on healthcare. When Gen X and baby boomers were the same age, they laid out only 3.6% and 3.5% of overall expenditures on healthcare respectively. While this increase also can be attributed to larger forces such as the increase of healthcare costs over time and the Affordable Care Act requiring most people to purchase health insurance, this is still a dramatic difference. If we’re going to spend this much on healthcare, those brands should expect we will have even higher expectations for the experiences, value and results they deliver.

Healthcare brands should consider new approaches to provide better education, prevention and treatment to help shift the current millennial approach to health.

For one thing, millennials place high importance on their holistic health. According to Mintel, more than half of millennials see wellness as a journey, paying attention to activities such as staying hydrated, connecting with others, sleeping a healthy number of hours and growing intellectually. While these activities keep wellness at the center of millennials’ lives, many may barely be scratching the surface of their health when preventing various chronic conditions or staying healthy during viral outbreaks. These health realities might be ignored by millennials because of their self-perceptions of invincibility and image consciousness surrounding personal health.

Given their comfort with digital- and mobile-based solutions for so many other tasks in their lives, millennials have also sought out health resources that are available to them at the tap of an app.

For example, Oscar Health has a website and mobile app where patients can manage appointments, search for health issues, talk to doctors or talk to the Oscar Concierge team, which is there to answer any questions or concerns. In 2019, millennials occupied more than one-third of Oscar’s site visits, suggesting that companies like Oscar are keeping millennials away from traditional treatment settings. Concerns over Covid-19 will likely accelerate this trend, as millennial consumers seek remote telehealth solutions to communicate with healthcare professionals and receive treatment advice and care.

Efforts like Oscar’s can help establish trust, which is currently quite low among the millennial set. Although 81% are insured, when they’ve regretted making healthcare decisions, over one-third of millennials say it was due to not checking costs at various facilities and over one-fourth felt it was due to receiving bad advice from a healthcare professional. In fact, 42% of millennials say they trust Amazon, Apple or Google when looking for healthcare services over an insurance company or a traditional hospital or health system.

Given these realities, healthcare brands should be asking themselves how we can build more meaningful relationships with millennials, particularly as these relationships are tested as millennials age and as we confront new health challenges like Covid-19.

Pricing transparency is vital, as is treatment and testing transparency where traditional HCPs are open and honest about why they think specific treatments would work best and why they think specific medical tests are crucial to take.

Having websites or mobile apps where people can solely access their health records and appointments is not enough. These websites and apps must be user-friendly, all-encompassing and offer proactive communication, not including only one part of the health journey such as appointment scheduling. While outside the health category, recent communications from airlines during the escalation of Covid-19 are good examples of this. Brands like JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines have offered clear and timely communication regarding no change fee policies to reassure travelers and inspire confidence for future travel plans.

In sum, it’s time for healthcare providers to adapt their services to a digitally native user base that isn’t interested in doing things their parents’ way, even if mom is still almost always right.

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As the insights and data strategy lead across Havas Media’s healthcare portfolio of brands, Kelly Lundquist brings her diversified research and insights experience to the agency’s healthcare clients.