10 myths about millennials and their healthcare habits

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Drew Train turned 18 in 1999, which puts him at millennial ground zero. Now 36, the president and cofounder of ad agency Oberland says perspective has had a profound impact on how he sees and creates healthcare marketing — and that it has more to do with favoring hip-hop over grunge or comfort with computers.

“People don't understand how skeptical my generation is, and how we are always going to scratch under the hood,” he says, adding it isn't just about the way millennials view doctors, medicines, or pharma companies. “It means we have a lack of trust in ‘the man,' in general. We demand transparency.”

Train and fellow millennials who work in and around healthcare marketing believe more assumptions are made about their generation than about any other demographic.

Some are true, to some extent: they do expect everything from communications to health data transmission available at the swipe of a screen. But many others, they claim, are distorted.

Here are 10 myths these plugged-in professionals say it's time to bust.

1. Myth: We are fundamentally different than other humans.
Reality: We're just people. Really.

“The motivators of behavior for a 20-year-old can be the same for someone who's 50-plus,” says Ben Greenberg, 24, strategic planner, social sciences at McCann Health. “It comes down to who you are as a person.”

Greenberg says McCann's Truth About Age study backs that up, but millennials “are still perceived as the lazy generation that is married to our phones. I'm wondering if people will still think about us that way when we're 60.”

His plea? “Throw out the numbers in your segmentation so you can create a new type of connection with your customers.”

2. Myth: We don't think much about our health.
Reality: We give it high priority.

“Millennials are aging at the same rate as every other generation. Because we prioritize health so much more, we're increasingly active and engaged in healthcare,” says Derek Flanzraich, 30, CEO and founder of Greatist, a millennial favorite that reaches 10 million to 15 million unique visitors each month.

See also: Millennial staffers at agencies seek work-life balance and strong supervisors

More and more, he says, millennials are “interacting with the healthcare system as caretakers as our parents age.” This creates a major opening for healthcare brands — but few have taken advantage.

3. Myth: We're social media lemmings.
Reality: We're experts in credibility.

Some healthcare marketers think millennials “are so enamored by social media influencers that they'll believe anything they see,” says Dana Cormack, 29, consumer health specialist at Allidura Consumer, part of Syneos Health. “Partnering with social media influencers is a valuable tactic, but the omnipresence of influencer content means millennials are savvier and more discerning about content.”

To that end, Cormack believes health and wellness marketers should strive to work with influencers who aren't oversaturated, and that the content those influencers are sharing “tells a transparent and relatable story in terms of scientific product benefits and how the product fits into the millennial lifestyle.”

Cormack suggests marketers quit tossing around phrases such as “crowdsourced” or “user-generated content.” “Millennials trust our friends, but we also need credible expert advice,” she explains. “Remember — we were the first generation to learn in school which websites to trust and which to ignore.”

4. Myth: We're technology-dependent.
Reality: Technology, especially social media, makes us more efficient.

“People love to say we are lazy and want to take the easy way out,” says Maureen Healy, 23, art director at FCB Health. “We just use [tech] to do things faster. Social media gives us the chance to see more ideas and come to our own conclusions.”

Healy says this tech should power smarter health marketing. Two campaigns she admires: Plan B, for its clever use of social to educate people about emergency contraception, and blood cancer charity DKMS' Casting for A Hero, which leverages millennial love for Comic Con. “These are relevant and simple.”

5. Myth: We're healthy.
Reality: Chronic illness is a fact of life for millions of us.

Obesity, depression, diabetes, and autoimmune disease are widespread among millennials. And while many of those ailments emerge in young adulthood, marketers persist in using imagery such as blissful yoga poses or gleeful bike rides.

“I hate when I see an ad for a rheumatoid arthritis drug and it shows someone running through a field of daisies on a sunny day,” says Marlajan Wexler, 36, author of the popular LuckFupus blog. “My friends with lupus can't be in the sun and don't feel like running through daisies. Pharma companies have come a long way, but there's still much to do.”

6. Myth: We mistrust doctors.
Reality: We'd just rather try something else first.

“Most millennials turn to consumer-focused solutions first,” Flanzraich notes. “When it comes to preventive health, we're more likely to try an app, click an online ad, or listen to word-of-mouth suggestions before we'd consider anything from a healthcare provider or insurer.

“The most compelling health brands manage to speak with us, not at us. They're designed to build trust and comfort. And they're built with the consumer and user in mind first.”

But that doesn't mean millennials are prescription- or treatment-resistant, Train cautions. “If we're sick, we want to get better.”

7. Myth: We're happy campers.
Reality: Kind of. We also have more anxiety and depression, and want to hear more about mental health.

Train, who sits on the board of New York's National Alliance on Mental Illness, says many millennials felt pressure to perform at an early age.

As a result, they aren't just more prone to mental illness — they're more open to hearing about it. “They want to talk about behavioral health, stress, and suicide prevention. They want to talk about peer-support groups,” he says.

8. Myth: We're shallow readers.
Reality: We're super-searchers.

“There's an ongoing misconception that because millennials are, on the whole, healthy, they're not well-informed about their diagnoses or about health insurance,” says Rebecca Kaplan, 31, public affairs and social media manager of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. But with a chronic and complicated illness such as inflammatory bowel disease, they quickly become experts, both in filing insurance claims and reading up on the disease.

“Reaching them better means using the right mode of communication, including social media, podcasts, blogs, and more newsy approaches,” Kaplan says.

Wexler agrees, adding, “Google is our best friend. We are beyond taking a pill just because the doctor suggests it. We're going to find lots of information before we make decisions.”

See also: What millennial women expect in the workplace

9. Myth: We love brands with a heart.
Reality: We do. But we also know when you're full of crap.

This generation invented the Pinocchio emoji for good reason. When companies such as Pfizer try to paint themselves as benevolent corporate citizens for “donating” pneumonia vaccines in developing countries, millennials are quick to call BS.

Through social media and their preferred news sources, Train notes, millennials learn “what Doctors Without Borders is saying about [Pfizer's] pricing practices. So don't try to tell us you're the good guys.”

10. Myth: Millennial patient groups are angry, demanding, and unrealistic.
Reality: We just want to be part of the conversation.

Wexler, with some 10,000 followers across social media, says many marketers believe patient communities are made up of “people who want a cure for their disease yesterday, or expect to get drugs for free.

While that may be true of some, Wexler believes “for the most part, we're realists. We understand Rome wasn't built in a day and that it takes a long time for drugs to be developed, tested, and approved. We just want the patient voice to be heard. We want to be treated as humans — and to feel better.”

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