RXDM STORYCAST EP06: Personas in Healthcare Communications for Pharma Marketers

RXDM STORYCAST EPISODE #06: Personas in Healthcare Communications for Pharma Marketers

Let’s talk about your customers. Do you know who they are? Of course you do. You have a list of customers in a sales database, right?

Not so fast. Let’s take a step back to consider the entire customer ecosystem. Sure, you have the customers who purchases your product. They have names, locations, and account numbers. But what about the entire ecosystem that surrounds that purchase? Do you know who they are and what their needs will be?

Let’s talk about healthcare personas and what this strategic tool can do for your brand marketing. First, let’s start with a definition of personas. This one I found in UXMag.com, where they offer the following definition:

A persona represents a cluster of users who exhibit similar behavioral patterns in their purchasing decisions, use of technology or products, customer service preferences, lifestyle choices, and the like.
UXMag.com “Personas: The Foundation of a Great User Experience

Essentially, there is a “person” inside every persona. And if you’re a pharma brand marketer, you want to make sure you’re crafting brand stories that will matter to the person in that persona.


Personas for Stories

So why do you want personas? The first and most important reason is that you need to understand the behavior of your customer before you can expect them to change their behavior. Marketing is about changing behavior and it takes different strategies and tactics to influence behavior change in real humans.

For example, the content you’ve created to position your brand to a doctor is going to be different than the content you create for a patient. That’s a basic, 101 interpretation of personas.

What if you were to drill down a little more into the persona. Would you position your brand story differently to doctors based on 10 years in practice? Would you make adjustments for physician age or region or type of practice?

These are basic questions that will drive your brand storytelling. As I’ve noted in previous posts, the “story” is not the autobiography of your brand. The story is about the user. It’s about how your brand may solve a person’s healthcare needs, so they can continue with their personal user journey.

The content you create needs to be relevant in tone, voice, reading level, and any other significant factor that is part of the user’s decision process. You can tell them about your features and benefits, but that may not be the only variables in their decision process.

That brings us back to the importance of personas, specifically to speak to the person making decisions about your brand.


Unwrapping the Personas

During the brand strategy process, there is a point where you inevitably talk about your customer and what the brand means to them. As part of that organic process, the team will usually discuss messages that are important to their decision process.

If you could freeze that moment, you’d have the perfect opportunity to create personas. This is the moment where teams can begin to create a profile that will drive all of the creative assets and the tactics to deliver the message. But all too often, the team moves from strategy to target users and directly into messaging.

Let’s consider a different approach. You know that there are multiple decision makers in the brand cycle. Your messaging will need to actually reach them for them to make a decision. How will you get your content and messaging in front of the user? Is your user going to be accessing content from a desktop computer at work or from home on a smartphone? Through a browser or through an app?

In healthcare, there are always multiple influencers and decision makers. Personas can help guide the decision-influencing strategy for each type of user in the healthcare ecosystem. Each stakeholder will be looking for different information about the same product, so it is crucial to research what information they will want and how they will be accessing it.


Research and More Research

Everything you do to generate personas will start with some kind of research. For some brands, secondary market research may be sufficient to outline certain persona targets. For example, how many people have the condition, where do they live, how old are they, what kinds of digital channels do they use, what devices do they prefer? Do they cluster in certain regions? How long will they be on treatment and where will they go to get treated?

Certain products and personas require more than the data collected from secondary sources. Depending on your product and the category and the actual life cycle of the brand, you may be adding primary market research. Primary market research can help uncover critical insights that will help your brand to create richer insights and generate more focused personas.

Going back to the beginning, does your sales team already have a relationship with the healthcare professionals who will prescribe this treatment? If so, have you documented their insights? Have you had any sort of surveys or interviews with the target patients or caregivers? Have you noticed any patterns that confirm what you already knew or challenged it in some useful way?

Primary research can add multiple dimensions to your thinking. Be sure to leverage the intelligence and insights inside your organization from sales teams to medical information departments. Primary research can and often will extend far beyond your conference room, especially if you connect directly with patients and advocacy groups for insights.

Of course, all of this is dependent on the time and budget available. Certain products will have a longer launch runway that allows for more strategic customer research. Other products may already be in the marketplace but facing competitive pressures that require strategic adjustment in any and all of your “5 Ps of Marketing.”


Structuring Personas for Action

There are many reasons for developing personas, but for me, it’s always been about creating the right content in the right channel for the right user. Great personas a rich with information and insights that helped me to know what kind of content needed to be created to help the strategic team to educate and motivate the target customer.

As you may know, I’ve been a copywriter and I’ve managed copywriting teams. Most experienced copywriters can scale their writing for different reading levels and different levels of experience. For example, the back-of-the-envelope standard for consumers is to write to a 6th- to 8th-grade-reading level. That makes sense in early stages of a healthcare user journey, particularly for an acute condition.

But what if we’re talking about a medical specialist? Would you write on that 6th- to 8th-grade-reading level for a healthcare professional who specializes in the condition your product treats? Furthermore, would you deliver brand content in the exact same physical or digital format to every healthcare professional?

There’s a whole lot of “it depends” in all of these answers. Basic personas outline the preferred channels and the target reading levels of your target users. This user-focused information is a huge benefit to the writers and designers responsible for creating your content.

Every brand team and agency partner has to figure out how to structure and design effective personas. I’ve always enjoyed working with “creative” personas.  These usually include a name, a photo, some background on the individual, and key insights into their health needs. I’ve seen personas fit on one page and others span entire slide decks. You need to find a format that works for you and your team, but you need to document your personas.

Well-researched personas include insights and personal touches from actual patients. It helps to understand what kinds of activities these patients may be unable to pursue because of their health condition. If the brand addresses one of these important personal or physical barriers, it is helpful to include these details and anecdotes in the personas. It shows that these are real people with real lives, and the information we provide should be valuable to them.

I appreciate when these personas include touches like a name, a photo, and other key details that make them feel like humans, not just a package of statistics. Quotes from actual patients and professionals add an extra layer of insights that help the team focus on the actual needs of the user. That can help the team focus on the content users truly want and need, instead of just a vague slogan about commitment or leadership.

Brand teams will often have a war room where these personas are tools taped to the wall, along with other tools like mood boards. These are designed to unify our copy, design, and other resources around a shared goal. Specifically, the person in the persona.

What does our customer want? Where do they want to be? What kinds of activities do they do? What kind of information will they be seeking about their condition and about our product? What can we do to address their needs, relative to our role in the treatment ecosystem?

Sure, I know I’m not looking at a photo and bio of the actual patient, but there actually is a real person with a real name who is going to be reading what we’ve created. We’re talking to humans in need, and that requires empathy and understanding.

Plus, when I’ve worked with large teams that weren’t always in the same room, it was useful for all of us to be talking about the same “Bob” or “Jennifer” as if we all knew them personally. In a way, we kind of did know them personally.

Personas help elevate statistics to a human level. They help unify the entire brand team and everyone that supports the team to rally around real people.

Personas nurture a level of empathy that helps your brand team to create effective materials that result in positive engagement and action by your target user.



For many reasons, this isn’t an exhaustive review of personas. Marketing personas are a large, complex, dynamic topic worthy of your attention, if you work in digital healthcare marketing. Rather, this is a snapshot into the concept of how personas can be used for healthcare communications.

If you are in the business of marketing storytelling, personas can help guide the stories, the channels, and the way you engage with your target audiences as real human beings. I hope you found this overview helpful. Be sure to check out other topics that we’re covering here at RX Digital Marketing for additional insights to drive your healthcare marketing.

For other great insights, check out Matt Balogh’s recent post “BLOCKCHAIN AND BITCOIN FOR DIGITAL HEALTH MARKETERS.” If you liked this post, be sure to subscribe to the podcast and share with your professional social network.

RXDM STORYCAST EPISODE #06: Personas in Healthcare Communications for Pharma Marketers

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