Susan Chritton, author of Personal Branding for Dummies, said of branding:
"Think about the game of darts: You have to aim in order to hit the board. (If you let your darts go without aiming them, you probably won’t be very popular.) If you hit the board, you score. And if your aim is very good and you hit the bull’s eye, even better!"
Writing a medical practice blog requires that you have a solid understanding of who your audience is. How do you define your audience? You create bull's eyes known as personas.
How to get to know your audience
In the world of inbound medical marketing, your audience is probably patients, though it could also be other healthcare professionals or consumers of medical supplies and equipment.
However, you cannot hope to identify the interests and needs of your audience and what they need from you without first knowing who they are. What they need should always be the foundation for determining what content you write.
Examining your current patient demographics is one way to define your target audience. But demographic data, by itself, can lead you down statistical rabbit holes. You are not, after all, in the business of serving numbers. You are in the business of serving patients.
Using the persona as a tailored "bull's eye" for knowing your audience can be infinitely more effective as a tool of inbound marketing to attract new patients to your practice.
What is a persona?
You probably recognize the multiple terms already used to describe this concept. Marketing experts refer to them as buyer personas, marketing personas, patient personas, reader personas, etc. More or less, what they are referring to is your target audience.
Unlike other related marketing concepts (target market, market segment, market niche), the persona definition provides a multidimensional likeness of the fictitious person who best represents a specific population at which to aim your blogging dart.
A persona is shaped by the basic demographics, typical behaviors, common goals, and motivation related to a specific group of people. Think of it as an archetype, or a character sketch.
Breaking it down: let's build a persona
A pediatrics example
Let's say you run a pediatrics practice that serves a large population of adolescent patients. You may wish to reach out to a market segment of "young athletes."
But what do those "young athletes" in your patient base look like? What do you know about their healthcare needs? What obstacles prevent them from getting care at your practice? How can your clinic ultimately be the one that best serves their needs?
"Young athletes" is too general a segment to be meaningful when brainstorming future content for your blog.
It will be necessary to "drill down" to discover just who, among these potential patients, is most likely to have problems you can provide solutions for.
In addition, you may have other considerations that are specific to your specialty. For instance, people under the age of 18 are (usually) not in charge of making medical decisions or judgment calls about the medical necessity of services. That would be taken care of by their parents, who also (though not always) provide them with insurance (which has its own requirements), all of which impacts healthcare decisions.
So let's drill down some more. Redefining "young athletes" as "parents of young athletes" further boils down the segment to a more specific persona. But don't stop there. Keep drilling.
Maybe it's not just "parents of young athletes."
Maybe it's "mothers of young athletes."
Maybe it's "mothers of young athletes who participate in extreme sports."
Maybe it's "mothers of young athletes who are snowboarders."
Maybe it's "mothers of young female athletes who are snowboarders."
Maybe it's "mothers of female athletes age 12 and above who are snowboarders."
Maybe it's "mothers of female athletes age 12 and above who are competitive snowboarders."
Maybe it's "mothers of female athletes age 12 and above who are competitive snowboarders in Colorado."
See how specific you can get? Granted, this example takes the persona to the extreme; it may not be necessary for you to drill down this far.
But imagine how huge the differences would be between the marketing segment known as "young athletes" and the final persona created above! Blog posts for the former would be, of necessity, radically different in content when compared to blog posts written for the latter.
Drilling down a marketing segment to identify a specific persona definition helps your blog "brand" in a couple of ways:
The persona makes you more aware of your patients' wants, objectives, and restrictions. For instance, the persona above may be concerned about the risks of local marijuana use in teenagers. After all, it's available and legal in the state. Teen snowboarders, by the very nature of their activity, are bound to be more independent and less supervised while training for this extreme sport. If marijuana is more easy for them to access, and local news suggests it's a problem, this could be a public health concern that the pediatric clinic could address in multiple ways in its blog.
The persona determines relevant blog content to better serve present and future readers. Using the marijuana awareness example, a pediatric practice could generate a number of "products" to serve their blog readers, such as:
informational blog posts on teen marijuana use to empower and educate parents
entertaining and viral videos, animations, or memes that relay a customized "just say no" message to their patients
related podcast or television interview transcripts
newsy blog posts to amplify current teen drug use issues at the community level
Suddenly, by using personas in medical blogging, a dialog might appear that wasn't there before. Multiple posts stand to generate an ongoing conversation, even interaction between the people represented by the persona and the practice itself. In addition, such inbound marketing efforts may also establish the clinic as a local thought leader on the subject.
Ultimately, it's the consistent message (and the social sharing of it) that will lead to more patients. Some may come because they need the services you offer, but some may come simply because they trust your apparent leadership, expertise, or advocacy.
Now, imagine doing all this without personas. In the case of the pediatric practice, a stand-alone, one-time "say no to drugs" blog post targeting "young athletes" simply cannot be as effective, not in the media-saturated world we live in.
How to use the persona to better know your audience
After you create a persona based on thoughtful analysis of typical behaviors, local influences, basic demographics, and careful assumptions about your patients' healthcare needs, ask yourself:
- What kind of dialog do they want to have with a healthcare provider? Some patients want open communications, while others prefer to interact only as necessary through patient portals
- What kind of language will they be most comfortable with? Determine the range of health literacy practiced by your patients and use language that is helpful to the least literate in the group
- What constitutes their "pain points?" Do your patients struggle with making appointments because of logistics? Are they limited by Medicare requirements? Are there cultural, physical, or language barriers to address?
- How will they best be able to use your services? Do you have referral channels, durable medical equipment contracts, urgency care options, social workers, or other adjunct services to meet their needs?
- How are they most likely to discover your practice? Are they users of social media, or are they more likely to respond to mail correspondence? Do they use email? Do they read local newspapers?
- Where are they most likely to be found in social media? Facebook is popular for some, but for others, Twitter or Pinterest or YouTube are their favorite web locations for hanging out.
- What information sources are they most likely to consult when they have healthcare questions? Will they watch videos? Downloading ebooks? Listen to audio recordings? Or will paper handouts do the trick?
The answers to these questions will further refine your personas in a way that strategically shapes future inbound marketing decisions.
How to bring the persona to life
We can now start to really envision what this person who represents this persona looks like. We can then better identify what scares or limits them the most, and anticipate how we might meet their future needs. Time to bring the persona to life! Here's how:
Write a 100-word definition that shares who they are, what they want, and how you can help them. Here's a start:
"Vigilant Victoria wants her teenaged daughter, a competitive snowboarder in Colorado, to know how to practice abstinence when it comes to using marijuana (or to help her daughter to stop using marijuana). Our practice can populate our blog with posts tailored to the interests of Victoria so she can be empowered, informed, and motivated to help her own daughter to make healthy, drug-free choices while training for competitive snowboarding. This can include calls to action that encourage her to bring her daughter in for drug counseling, should problems arise."
Name the persona to make it personal. In the case of the snowboarder's mother, we called her Vigilant Victoria. Sounds corny, but you instantly know who this person is.
Look for an image that best resembles the persona so you can give them a human face
Ultimately, the prize that comes with building the persona is a focused and consistent message that will bring more patients to your practice. Over the long term, these personas will contribute to one of the most important elements of your inbound marketing strategy: your brand.