Inflation-weary consumers are delaying healthcare. How brands can help.

First, it was the pandemic that disrupted the ability for consumers to attend to their healthcare needs. Now—just as patients started to tend to their health once again—raging inflation is keeping many away.

According to a recently released West Health/Gallup report:

  • “One in four adults are skipping care or medicine due to rising costs”
  • “Two-fifths are concerned about affording needed care in next six months”
  • “Women under 50 are disproportionally forgoing care and prescription drugs”

Rising Costs, Cutting Care

Conducted via the internet June 2-16, 2022 with 3,001 U.S. adults via the Gallup Panel, “a probability-based, non-opt-in panel of about 115,000 adults nationwide,” the survey found that “rising healthcare costs have compelled nearly four in 10 Americans in the past six months to delay or skip healthcare treatments, trim regular household expenses or borrow money,” according to Gallup. “That translates into an estimated 98 million adults having to take extraordinary steps to afford healthcare.”

Gallup said that although these trends are more common among lower-income households, the impact is hitting consumers across the income spectrum:

  • More than 50% of respondents from households making less than $48,000 annually said they cut “some spending.”
  • In households earning a minimum of $180,000, 19% said they have “pared back to pay for healthcare.”

Results indicated that women were disproportionately impacted—with 30% overall feeling the need to cut back on healthcare due to rising costs, compared to 22% of men. For women under 50, this was especially true—with 36% neglecting care needs due to high costs.

Additionally, survey results found that consumers who were trimming expenditures in other areas are “substantially more likely” to do the same when it comes to their healthcare needs:      

  • “Of those who cut back on utilities, 59% also cut back on medical care and medicine.”
  • “Of those who skipped a meal, 71% also cut back on medical care and medicine.”
  • “Of those who borrowed money, 60% also cut back on medical care and medicine.”
  • “Of those who drove less, 55% also cut back on medical care and medicine.”
  • “Of those who did any of the above, 51% also cut back on medical care and medicine.”

Reporting on the results for Gallup, writer Dan Witters noted that—due to 2022 contracts already in place—healthcare inflation is lagging overall inflation trends, but it is “likely to impact prices later in the year.” 

Which is something consumers may not be ready for—since only 3% of respondents cited healthcare as one of the services “expected to rise in price the most in the next six months.”

How Healthcare Brands Can Help

With overall inflation throwing a wrench in consumers’ plans to attend to their healthcare needs, it can be challenging for marketers to determine the best strategies to keep them coming through the door. 

But the results of two recent Horizon Media studies might help. 

A press release announcing the results frames the consumer quandary and marketing imperative like this: “Financial and social uncertainty—sparked by raging inflation, soaring housing prices, the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine—have become a reality for a majority of Americans and are expected to remain for some time, according to new studies by Horizon Media. What does this mean for marketers? They will need to respond quickly if they intend to not only stay relevant but ultimately survive in this change-is-the-new-constant environment.”

Horizon Media says the two reports, Inflation Nation: The Status of The American Dream and How Brands Can Help, and Guidelines for Brands in Uncertain Times: Understanding the Psychology of Uncertainty and Loss, “indicate that a new American Dream is emerging in which younger generations are reexamining their priorities and questioning traditional definitions of success. Economically, the average American consumer is now facing what the reports call ‘wallet lockdown’ and are increasingly forced to sacrifice ‘wants’ in order to ensure they can take care of their ‘needs.’”

“Millennials are increasingly coping with the notion that they will be the first generation who will not do better than their parents,” said Maxine Gurevich, SVP, Cultural Intelligence of Horizon Media’s WHY Group. “A revised American Dream has emerged on social media, one that deglamorizes the hustle to get ahead financially in favor of a simpler life.”

“Brands need to take notice to restore people’s faith through stability in pricing, an easy shopping and service experience, empathy for customers’ psychological outlooks, over-communication, and demonstrating their values to make a positive impact on the world – not just sell product,” Gurevich added. “CMOs need to pivot part of their metrics from getting lifetime value from consumers to giving their customers a valuable life.”

Key Insights for Healthcare Marketers

Although recommendations from the reports aren’t specifically geared toward healthcare marketers, the overall themes can be easily applied. 

Key insights from Inflation Nation: The Status of The American Dream and How Brands Can Help include: 

  • “Tailor messaging to psychological outlooks. Consumers’ optimism or pessimism about the future is key to how they perceive of and react to inflation.”
  • “Boost rewards. Brands can focus on rewards in some of the most painful categories, for example gas rewards for grocery purchases or bonus airlines miles.”
  • “Reward buyers with simple pleasures. With people sacrificing small joys in order to address pain points, brands can focus on rewards that deliver ‘simple pleasures’ like a product bundle that provides the tools and ingredients to cook an international-inspired meal at home.”
  • “Deliver frictionless deals. Not everyone has time for bargain hunting, and brands can leverage AI technology to help shoppers make smarter decisions by serving up reactive pricing that’s in line with their spending.”

Insights from Guidelines for Brands in Uncertain Times: Understanding the Psychology of Uncertainty and Loss include:

  • “Buyers want emotional support as much as they need price support. Brands need to demonstrate empathy and transparency.”
  • “Consumers need a narrative that reframes familiar prices into ‘gain stories’ instead of ‘loss stories.’”
  • “Customers are still looking for pleasure, gratification, and bigger picture payoffs, even in the face of difficult economic conditions. Brands need to give consumers a reason to engage beyond their core product or service.”
  • “Consumer attitudes about the future – are they optimistic or pessimistic – seem to have an overwhelming impact on how much psychological pain and price sensitivity they experience. Aligning with the views of these different segments, often for the same products and services, will be make or break.”

Commenting on Guidelines for Brands in Uncertain Times: Understanding the Psychology of Uncertainty and Loss, Sheri Roder, EVP, Chief of WHY Group described some of the dynamics involved. 

“By utilizing the science behind consumer psychology and behavioral economics, we can provide more actionable and effective avenues for brands,” Roder said. “The strongest strategies will be based on the subtle nuances of what drives people to act at a time when any action or spending seems fraught with uncertainty. How can a brand give their customers a feeling of control or lessen their uncertainty? How a brand responds today will reap tangible future benefits, as we know that people tend to value and stick with brands that they feel ‘get them’ and care about them.”

The full reports can be accessed here: Inflation Nation and Guidelines for Brands in Uncertain Times.

Contact us today to find out how we can help level up your healthcare marketing strategy. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you adapt to the evolving marketing landscape and ramp up your efforts, please contact us today.

Published On: October 18, 2022

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