Talkin' 'bout the Generations

by Shari Short


Talkin' 'bout the Generations

July 30, 2015

Some of you may recognize me. I am the one that stands up at pharma marketing conferences raising questions about target audiences; for example, how others are factoring in generational influences into their work. I always do it. Many times I am met with an essential blend of nodding heads, blank stares and some perplexed expressions. I don’t mean to baffle or stump anyone, I truly want to have this conversation. As a market researcher with years of experience in audience segmentation analysis, I am not advocating that we segment by generation; I am merely suggesting we factor it in—as we do with culture. We are exploring cultural competency in healthcare, why not generational.

Generational influences impact the way we learn and how we seek information. A study by Thomson Reuters Healthcare in 2009 established a guidance framework for how the four living generations interact with healthcare professionals and information.

As pharma marketers, I wonder how these generational differences affect compliance and adherence issues? Patient navigation? What about patient-physician communications? Better yet, are we considering the generational influences of healthcare providers?

Traditionalists (1925-1944) "Guide Me"

The “Greatest Generation” has loyalty to institutions that provided guidance in their lives. Their employers, government and family doctors had tremendous influence over behaviors and attitudes. Case in point, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” is generations away from today’s Doc in the Box experience.

Baby Boomers (1945-1964) "Engage Me"

The generation that wanted their own Oldsmobile launched the nonprofit organizational structure and while some watched Donna Reed, others ran singing through Central Park. If there was an institution or identity to engage them for improvement or enlightenment—they were game.

Generation X (1965-1984) "Educate Me"

The nation’s first latchkey kids thrived off their independence and individuality. This generation tends to be more skeptical and discerning in their consumer choices and wants extra assurance that their healthcare teams are education partners in their ecosystem. This generation, although no stranger to email, has the highest rates for calls to hospitals and health systems due to ongoing need for more information.

Millennials (1985-2005) "Connect with Me"

This generation gets a lot of press so it’s important to understand why they won’t necessarily react to the same marketing messaging and tactics as others—healthcare or otherwise. Although one may think the “connect” is for technology, it’s actually truly about connection. This generation wants to be part of the process, the community and the solution to problems. There is an expectation of inclusion but it’s supported by a desire to improve. Physicians that include the patient’s perspective in their care plan will do well with millennials, but they also had better be available by email or text.


There are so many ways to consider how this guiding construct can inform marketing messaging, program planning and service provision across the generations. Especially when considering digital tools, it’s critical to look not only at utilization but also attitudes towards these resources.

At ARK, we help our clients answer the same question and turn their brand promises into digital platforms and programs. And you won't believe how many ways we know how to do it.

Shari Short is the Director of Research and Strategic Content at ARK Media and recently learned a better way to tie her shoes.