Who Is the Chief Medical Officer of American Households?

Women are more likely to be responsible for healthcare-related decisions, but brands are missing out

Inspiration meets innovation at Brandweek, the ultimate marketing experience. Join industry luminaries, rising talent and strategic experts in Phoenix, Arizona this September 23–26 to assess challenges, develop solutions and create new pathways for growth. Register early to save.

Both men and women think about health a lot. Not surprisingly, though, how they think about it and how they think about health for the other gender, is completely different. As a result, women are taking on the unofficial role of “chief medical officer” within their families.

This year, our agency conducted an independent study into the healthcare perceptions of people under the age of 45. When the data was compared by gender, the results were clear: Ultimately, women are significantly better at identifying health issues and priorities for both themselves and for men. While men overlooked reproductive health and hormone regulation as priorities for women, they also overlooked prostate health for themselves.

There are a few implications that come from this reality. As “chief medical officers,” women are more likely to be responsible for healthcare-related decisions and activities, such as scheduling and attending medical appointments, managing medications and making health and wellness purchases on behalf of their entire family.

Regardless of your product, if you aren’t marketing to women, you are missing a key element of your audience. Here are ways to keep these “chief medical officers” in mind for your next campaign. 

Be inclusive of lived experiences

It is important to have a team that reflects your brand’s audience, so if you want to communicate with women, women must be a vital part of the marketing team. Particularly, a team that includes women of color.

Women of color can be disproportionately affected by the chief medical officer role, and statistically face more challenges in the pursuit of quality healthcare for themselves and their families. To successfully connect with these family chief medical officers, brands must communicate authentically. No one can fully understand those challenges unless they’ve experienced them, so make sure your marketing team has the lived experience consumers can connect with. 

Keep the accessible and informative

In addition to being active social media users, findings show women are also likely to use it as a tool for advice. Social media influencers are a common source for women making health and wellness choices.

Develop social content and campaigns with chief medical officers in mind. Consider the mothers, sisters and daughters who take care of their families, and create content that resonates by promoting messages of well-being for themselves and their families. 

Additionally, be careful and intentional about the information you share. The health and wellness industry has a track record of profiting from women’s insecurities and, as much as social media can be a place for empowering content and information, it is also home to a lot of misinformation and potentially dangerous pseudoscience (looking at you, Flat Tummy Tea). 

Women have historically been taken advantage of and dismissed by the healthcare industry, so if we want women to stop searching for snake oil, we need to build healthcare systems that truly take care of them. The first step is ensuring accurate, helpful information regarding themselves and their families is easily accessible.

Acknowledge the key decision-makers

As the primary purchasers in the home, and the maker of most medical decisions, it’s safe to assume that women will be the ones buying most of your products, even if they’re for men.

Let’s look at an example from a different industry, partly because it’s more fun. The legendary Old Spice Guy was born, not on a horse, but out of the insight that women were the ones who bought deodorant for the men in their lives. So, target a good share of advertising at them. Hello ladies, indeed.

Don’t just offer a pat on the back

Being a chief medical officer is not an easy job. For the women carrying this responsibility, it takes a mental and emotional toll. Messages anchored in empowerment go a long way.

Consider tailoring a campaign towards acknowledgment and empowerment, but don’t just offer them a pat on the back—push for support. Challenge the stereotypes that pigeonhole women into these unofficial roles. Promote shared responsibilities to ensure that decisions related to health and well-being are made collaboratively within families. Encourage men to have a better understanding of their family’s healthcare needs. 

The chief medical officer is an important job within a family and the health and wellness industry. Even if your brand is not for women, there is likely a woman choosing whether to purchase it. Don’t forget about her.