The Customer of Tomorrow

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By Dan Bobear (@dbobear)

For the last 12 years Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, a compilation of cultural touchstones that shape the lives of people entering college this fall. Born in 1992, these millennials or Gen Y-ers represent both present and future prescription and OTC pharmaceutical consumers. Every generation has unique characteristics, but for the class of 2014 who have never used a phone with a spiral cord and find e-mail too slow, their overall consumer and personal behaviors are quite different from those of previous generations. For pharma, this means rethinking the marketing strategy to tap into this demographic and build lifelong customer loyalty.

How is this generation different? For one thing, todays young people are living much of their lives online through social networks and chat rooms. They view their mobile devices and other communication technology as an extension of their online lives able to access their social networks from wherever they are.

Audience segmentation and targeted marketing is nothing new; pharmaceutical companies divide their audiences through such criteria as demographic, lifestyle, disease type, medication usage, etc. However, the youth market is often overlooked when it comes to direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug information, other than warnings about abuse and just say no campaigns. Its important to recognize that todays young adults are empowered in ways previous generations were not and pharma companies need to begin marketing to their future customers now.

Previously, reaching this demographic has been achieved largely through indirect contact targeting young adults through their mothers in family and parenting magazines. When doctors prescribed medications, parents were instrumental in influencing their children – regardless of age – to follow doctors orders. However, that model is now obsolete as todays youth is more empowered, information savvy, confident in their choices and overall, more educated than any previous generation.

To raise awareness and reach todays incoming college freshman while building customers for life, pharma companies should recognize the following:

Young adults are social consumers who trust their network. Social dialogue is a key element in how the younger generation gets and validates information. They are more likely to trust their peers and if marketers want to reach them, they need to find authentic means of inserting brand messages into social conversations. Then, extending that reach relies on identifying individuals who are considered “influencers, and encouraging them to generate buzz through their networks of friends.

Research shows that millennials are on track to be the most educated generation in history. These “knowledge consumers are far less likely to accept information on face value. Instead they expect rationale and justification. Pharma needs to acknowledge this and when talking to young adults, prepare to provide education around what specific medications do, how they work, why they are important and what consumers can expect from the brand or company.

Passive consumption is a thing of the past. While brochures and product inserts might work for older consumers, younger people are used to interacting with information through video games, handheld devices, mobile texting, instant messaging and so on. Driving brand engagement is contingent on developing and promoting interactive communications to get people involved in their own health care.

Instant gratification is essential. Phone conversations and e-mail is much too slow for todays incoming college freshman. Empowered to get information from wherever they are either through peer relations or online, the want-it-now-get-it-now generation expects information at their fingertips. Create engaging websites, portals, communities and credible brand ambassadors who can deliver on this expectation. Pharma companies should focus on bringing online content to mobile devices, enabling people to gain ready access to information.

Customers of the future are used to actively participating and collaborating with brands while relying on each other to discover new products, medicines and treatments. To engage college freshman and build customers for life, pharma needs to participate socially and find new ways to become part of this age groups brand rituals.

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