Gen Z: The untapped audience

Sales & Marketing
Gen Z

The pandemic had a huge impact on where and how people seek out medical information and advice, with a large percentage of people becoming far less likely to follow a more traditional route of speaking with their GP. In a post-Covid world, and now exacerbated by cuts and strikes, this situation has remained. Alarmist media reports of an NHS in crisis undoubtedly make people both wary of receiving treatment, and conscious of avoiding over burdening.

People are now far more likely to rely on online authenticated websites, social platforms, and forums, than to try to secure hard-to-come-by, face-to-face GP appointments. Alongside this, the trust in the NHS to deliver high-quality healthcare has fallen, particularly among Gen Z and younger audiences, largely due to the incredible pressures NHS staff have been enduring over the past three years and increased backlog of patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite incredible affection for and gratitude towards the NHS, reasons for this decreased trust range from frustration with the challenges in getting a GP appointment to dissatisfaction – particularly amongst women and young people, not feeling listened to or engaged with by healthcare professionals. Whilst the NHS still ranks highly as a trusted source of information, general public satisfaction with the service is at an all-time low. 

The NHS also has a communication barrier to entry with a huge section of their audience. Gen Z’s preferred method of communication is social media, and yet the NHS primarily communicates via phone and letter. Gen Z now make up over a quarter of the global population, and so understanding how and when they want to be communicated with is vital. 

Pharma’s role in reaching Gen Z

So, what does this mean for the pharmaceutical industry? Arguably, this landscape has created huge opportunity for businesses to step forward and help fill the online information gaps where the NHS isn’t visible. Whilst not negating the role of the NHS, nor their natural partnership and synergy, pharma arguably can help an overburdened service; delivering quality, well-informed information and services to the public. This is backed up by an adult in-patient survey by the King’s Fund, which found that public satisfaction with the NHS had fallen to a 25-year low. Just 36% of people are content with the NHS, across all ages, income groups, sexes, and political spectrums. 

For pharma businesses themselves, this opportunity can help them keep ahead of audience behaviour and digital usage trends, so that they know where their audience is looking for trustworthy information and how they can provide it. There’s space and opportunity to be a trusted source of information in places the NHS doesn’t reach. Self-diagnosis via social media is on the rise, especially with Gen Z using TikTok in large numbers to find out information about mental health. Clearly, not all the information available is accurate or trusted, and so pharma companies and other healthcare providers can be shown to dispense trusted healthcare advice as the public becomes more trusting of pharmaceutical companies, private health providers, and other non-NHS sources of information. Self-diagnosis is not just about information gathering, it’s in some cases about taking action, too, with a worrying trend developed for Gen Z actually buying medication based on self-diagnosis. 

Health on the public agenda

Where once health and the workplace were not easy bedfellows, there is now far more acceptance and, indeed, encouragement for employees to share and raise health needs. Today, many employees expect their company to play a meaningful role in keeping them healthy. This provides another opportunity for pharma to open up conversations with those in charge of health and wellbeing in the workplace. There is an opportunity again here to be a trusted healthcare voice in places that the NHS doesn’t reach. The NHS isn’t able to adapt fast enough, and access can be difficult. Pharma businesses can step in to help fill information gaps with trustworthy, helpful, and digestible content online, that speaks to their audiences where they’re looking for information, and in ways that they want to engage. 

Audience-first approach

Pharma companies need to ensure that they are taking the time to ensure they understand what people’s health concerns are, what information and help is needed, what they are really asking for, and how they want to be communicated with. Using data-led solutions to ensure marketing and content promotion efforts are measurable and effective is key. In pharma, personalisation is critical to success. While advertising regulations for pharma are multi-layered, providing the correct guidelines are followed, there is nothing stopping brands from leveraging a full suite of digital platforms and channels, which they know have the potential to engage their most valuable audiences and provide them with the information that they are actively seeking, or would have a high propensity to be interested in. Social platforms don’t need to be intimidating. Testing interacting on these platforms in paid partnerships will help reach audiences and engage where they are. Podcasts offer another route to engaging across audiences, with their reach and engagement grown at a staggering rate over the past few years. With health now a prime genre, and podcasts generating fantastic levels of engagement, pharma brands could capitalise on this. 

Trust and authenticity

Huge responsibility comes with the privilege of information sharing on the internet. Accurate and informed medical information provided by pharma will help build trust and awareness of pharma’s role, giving people options. With Google prioritising EEAT content (experience, expertise, authority, and trust), pharma businesses are at an advantage. Offering credible, expert, balanced, accurate, and reliable information - targeted right - is critical for audience trust and engagement. Ensuring that your business is visible and able to answer potential customer questions is important. 

Using the right tone of voice, considering the context in which people are asking these questions, is also important. Empathy and speaking their language are essential, especially when so many women report being made to feel dismissed or invisible or not listened to. So, too, with Gen Z increasingly searching for mental health diagnosis information on social media.


The NHS will continue to lead in healthcare information and ensuring that the pharma industry and the public support this as much as possible is essential to the health of the UK. However, due to enhanced pressures, time and financial constraints, as well as environmental and societal shift in needs and demands, the NHS is falling short. Communicating trusted and accurate health information online, beyond, is essential and must be a focus for pharma businesses. Ensuring that your teams are educated and equipped to understand what information people need, where they want it, and how they want it communicated, is key. Providing trustworthy, empathetic, and up-to-date information to people who need it, where they need it, should be the focus for pharma in 2023 and beyond. 

About the author

Maria BainMaria Bain leads the Audience Intelligence team at iCrossing UK, working across the agency’s client base to provide audience data and insight to shape consumer-centric digital step change. She has 10 years’ worth of experience working with global brands on large-scale social engagement and omnichannel activation campaigns for GSK, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer, and Sanofi.

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21 April, 2023