The life-defining events that shaped a generation of millennials – people aged 18 to 34 – include corruption scandals stretching from Enron to Lehman Brothers, the Columbine shootings, the September 11 attacks and a War on Terrorism.
These experiences may explain the preferences young people show for dystopian literature and film. They may also explain the soaring popularity of positive psychology courses, meditation classes and mindfulness seminars on college campuses. Millennials, we are told, wish to reach beyond the grim concerns of their age and achieve happiness. What's more, the proliferation of mind-body institutes at major universities suggests that millennials who choose medical careers increasingly draw a link between mental well-being and physical health.
Happiness and health
Until recently, talk of happiness, health and the millennial mindset has been a matter of anecdote and conjecture. But a new online study titled Adult Millennials and Health, conducted by Allidura Consumer, GSW and Harris Poll in May and June of this year, puts data behind the hypotheses. When analysing responses from more than 3,500 millennial teens and adults, as well as genXers and baby boomers, we found that almost all millennials (97%) place a premium on happiness and a similar, overwhelming majority (95%) say that health is paramount.
Linking health and happiness at the very tip of the value pyramid has profound implications for brand marketing and communications. And it involves just two of the many data points in our survey that can help marketers push beyond hunches when engaging with this influential demographic. As the creators and most vocal advocates of the quantified-self movement, millennials aren't just interested in measuring their vital signs. They want to improve them. In the survey, 49% say they participate in intense national exercise regimens such as CrossFit, P90X and Insanity. And as we explained, just behind Body there is Mind.
Mastering the mindset
No one denies there are challenges in defining the millennial mindset. Yet we know it when we see it. If Pokémon cards were ever your playground currency…If you can name every character on Friends… With ellipses like these, dozens of light-hearted quizzes on social media can tell you just how millennial you really are, based on shared cultural inputs and proclivities.
37% of millennials sometimes self-diagnose with health problems that they do not have
We know from our survey that anxiety occupies a central position – especially with regard to health. Only 42% of all millennial responders actually consider themselves healthy. Of those living in urban areas 73% say they worry about access to healthcare But that doesn't mean they trust medical professionals. In fact, the hulking healthcare system of the US, with its confusing cost structures, isn't a go-to destination even for those who worry about their health.
For this cohort, the question seems to be not who can help me, but what can help me. In the survey, 71% said they are doing everything they can to stay healthy. Yet a majority (62%) said they see healthcare professionals only when something is wrong. In contrast, among boomers, such reactive care-seeking was favoured by just 34% of responders.
In any broad consumer survey, it's hard to find a single unifying theme. Nevertheless, in the study, it's clear that the most robust affirmative responses converge around happiness and staying healthy, with a do-it-yourself focus on preventive health.
What does this mean for brand marketers? Just as millennial consumers are taking more responsibility for their own health, they expect more from the companies and brands vying for their attention. With so many purchasing choices available online, in stores, locally, nationally and around the globe, brand loyalty does not come easily. It is based on trust.
The survey suggests winning the trust of millennials means showing them the company shares their broader view of what it means to be healthy and well. To deliver a branded health message that resonates, companies must identify the shared values between a brand and its core consumer. They must analyse what, exactly, the brand stands for, and whether it makes a meaningful connection to valued social or economic trends.
Apple, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and other major brands have forged these connections by participating in a campaign called (RED). Founded in 2006 by Bono and Bobby Shriver, (RED) has generated more than $250 million for the non-profit Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Right now, the Global Fund's spotlight is on Ebola. Clicking on a (RED) link from any associated webpage takes you to video and e-petition calling on world leaders to end the Ebola epidemic. In the video a succession of grim celebrities stare uncomfortably at the camera with a tagline: “This is what waiting looks like.” The effect is disturbing. And, remarkably, the video feels quite at home with a (RED) link to a shopping site for affiliated products. With each purchase, 50% of the profits flow to the Global Fund.
42% of male millennials say that seeing a therapist is essential or important to leading a healthy life
In campaigns of this sort – not new, but they are evolving – transparency and emotional currency count for everything. Millennials, as digital natives, are expert researchers and fact checkers. Statements, contexts, bills of sale and balance sheets are easily vetted across the consumer's peer and social networks to expose anything trumped up or sensationalised.
Transparent and true
Hewing to transparency, veracity and social well-being, each company has the opportunity to chart its unique path. The fast-food restaurant Chipotle hits the mark with a button on every webpage that says “food with integrity”.
It talks about treating animals with dignity before spotlighting its employees. The pharmacy CVS entirely extinguished tobacco sales and changed its name to CVS Health. The company set an example others will be forced to follow. To the marketer of health products or services, all of this argues for taking time to educate a diverse mix of expert and peer health influencers whom millennials trust, aiming for a message that is genuine and human.
This isn't a generation you can impress with scare tactics like the sizzling eggs in the “this-is-your-brain-on-drugs” PSAs. Instead, it's one that thinks of physical health as intricately connected to mental health. It seeks brands that speak equitably about health and wellness in a social setting, unbound by physical borders and unbiased by wealth or privilege. The humility behind this quest is to understand what's normal for any group of individuals and to create solutions that benefit them.