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SONY DSCI was fortunate enough to attend the 2010 World Innovation Forum and hear some of the greats including Biz Stone and Seth Godin, but this description on purchasing habits paraphrased from the session “Innovation and Healthcare” by Michael Porter really grabbed my attention. The following is from a combination of my handwritten notes and some reading around the subject, so take with a massive pinch of salt.

When discussing how to make health care more accessible to more people by bench marking a retail experience Michael described how habits had changed over the last sixty or so years.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, if they experience pain in their elbow will go to their doctors. “Hey Doc,” they’ll say, “my elbow hurts.” The doctor will examine the offending joint, diagnose the issue and suggest a course of action.

Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976 will go to the doctor and say “Hey Doc, I think I have tennis elbow”. The doctor will examine, diagnose and suggest a course of action and if the Gen X’er doesn’t agree they’ll get a second opinion. They are characterised by an increase in skepticism over the previous generation. But also currently hold the position of being the most highly educated generation, although this isn’t likely to be the case for too much longer.

Generation Y, or the Millennials, born between 1977 and 1994 are likely to go to the doctor and say “Hey Doc, I have tennis elbow, and you need to write me a prescription for Acetaminophen” They are the generation that truly embraced the information age, have less brand loyalty and demonstrate more flexibility than the previous generations.

Generation Z, those born after 1995 are the ones to watch, they are likely to go onto WebMD, self-diagnose and order their pain medication online, after reading the reviews and getting the best deal.

So how does this affect the channel? Well, whereas we are currently engaged in conversations with the Boomers and Gen X decision makers who are educated, knowledgeable and know what they are talking about from experience, more and more decision makers are coming from a generation that has been shaped by a rapid change in technology with no barriers to accessing information.

They are less interested in getting a single opinion but will come to the conversation armed with an incredible amount of research on their problems, whether it’s tennis elbow or a hosted call centre solution.

The trick therefore is to ensure that the value they are presented with in that conversation is not just based on price, but on answering questions that they had perhaps not thought of, challenging their perception of what the problem is, and indeed the way to solve it. Using a deeper understanding of the value solution that you offer that a simple web search won’t reveal.