According to HubSpot:
"A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal
customer based on market research and real data about your existing
customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including
customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
The more detailed you are, the better."
Tony Zambito, leading authority on buyer insights, gave this additional take on the utility of a buyer persona in 2013 that we think is increasingly relevant in 2016:
"Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled)
representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish,
what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why
they make buying decisions. (Today, I now include where they buy as
well as when buyers decide to buy.)"
Let's dig in to how a medical practice blogger can best make use of the buyer persona.
Repeat after me: "Patients are buyers"
In the healthcare environment, physicians may still reel at the idea that their current and prospective patients are buyers or customers.
This is a longstanding area of discomfort for them, because old models of what it means to be a legitimate medical practice has made it taboo to talk about money as part of the patient journey.
Let's face it. In essence, buying is what they are doing... they are purchasing products and paying for services and procedures.
It doesn't matter if insurance is picking up the bill; ultimately, that patient is still footing that bill through deductibles, co-pays, or cash payment.
To gloss over this part of the relationship you have with your patients is to ignore one of the biggest questions to influence their decision-making process: How much will it cost?
Never forget this about your patients, because healthcare expenditures are an ongoing "pain point" for just about every patient you will ever see. These are the days of the ACA, and it's no longer safe to assume your patients aren't affected in some direct way by the costs of healthcare.
Your current patients are archetypal
Understanding the specific kinds of patients you already work with can do wonders for creating an inbound marketing strategy that can drive prospective patients to your practice.
By identifying the majority of the chief complaints and/or "pain points" that your current patient family experiences, you can prepare new content that reaches out to them, but also beyond them, to those who also share those realities and are in need of your services. We suggest a game of "20 Questions."
By building buyer personas that capture your typical patient, you broaden your understanding of these patients' needs in a way that can (and must) by extension include their loved ones in the conversation.
But first, how do you build a buyer persona? And how can you directly apply the buyer persona to a content marketing strategy?
How to build a buyer persona
Don't start or stop with a simple description of your preferred patient. You are not describing the patient as much as you are describing their needs, their obstacles, and their support system.
Healthcare problems that may be trending (either nationally or locally) can help drive this insight; so too can trends among patients when it comes to insurance claims, missed appointments, or aversion to certain kinds of therapies based on information circulating on the web. Relevance matters.
A dermatologist will see patients with a wide cross-section of chief complaints, such as acne, suspicious moles, aging concerns, and disorders of the skin.
Their buyer persona should center on the most common chief complaint its patient family has. If they see a lot of cases of skin cancers, tumors, and lesions, then that will be a priority foundation for building a single buyer persona.
Next, the dermatology practice must determine the obstacles between the patient with the mysterious mole and the relief for it (such as surgery) that the dermatologist can provide.
Pain points, in this case, are not about actual physical pain related to the tumor in question, but refer to the hurdles that each patient must overcome in order to get the care they need.
It may be that, in our fictitious dermatology practice, the number one biggest reason that patients don't have their moles checked is related to health literacy: they don't know the basic warning signs identifying those moles which may not be harmless.
The buyer persona, in this case, should center not only on the patient with the mysterious mole, but also on the chief reason why they haven't come in to see the doctor yet: they may not understand the importance of getting their moles checked or that urgency is important in treating cancerous, even pre-cancerous skin tumors.
A blog post listing the key identifiers for questionable moles would be the natural content that is born out of the building of this kind of patient persona.
Don't forget the rest of the family
Finally, a big part of any healthcare decision making depends a great deal on how much of a support system the clinic's patient family generally enjoys. Are there a lot of elderly patients? Might their age-related concerns be related to not making visits when it comes to mysterious moles? Do they have loved ones in their family who are advocating for them? Do they know how to prioritize a skin health and wellness visit to the dermatologist in the event an unusual skin marking surfaces?
The same could be said of patients under the age of 16; do their parents know the value of getting them in to see a dermatologist about questionable skin growths?
The dermatologist's buyer persona, then, could be not only about the buyer they already know—the elderly woman who doesn't understand the value of going in to see them about a new mole—but it could be about the same woman's adult daughter, who tends to advocate for her mother's health, but who may or may not share the same health literacy.
The influence this family member can have (positive or negative) on the patient can be extremely important.
The point is this: Regardless the kind of medical practice you run, it's critical that you identify not only the most common patient problems, but the roadblocks that get in the way of them seeking treatment, including the larger influence the patients' families may wield over their healthcare decision-making process.
Then you can write blog posts to address these core buyer personas. By doing so, you not only serve their interests and potentially gain their trust, you can help them to learn more about how you can help them solve their problems in ways that can empower them to make proactive healthcare decisions.
Make them real: Name your personas
Going back to our dermatologist example, we've arrived at this persona: Grandma Eleanor, who may have mysterious skin problems she does not believe are important to her health and well being.
Or, if Grandma Eleanor is escorted by her adult daughter, Jane, then perhaps the buyer persona is not Grandma Eleanor at all, but Jane the Concerned, who is struggling to find ways to get her mother Eleanor in to see the doctor because she's noticed new and unusual moles on the surface of her mother's hands.
Whoever you believe is the chief decision-maker in this scenario will be the best target for building a buyer persona.
How to apply the buyer persona to your content strategy
Remember, the goal is to develop these buyer personas in order to better understand your patients' needs. From buyer personas, you can find tailor your content, be more confident in your brand message, develop new ways to help patients (via products, services, or procedures), and master the specific needs (behaviors and concerns) of different groups of patients in order to best serve them.
When you apply the buyer persona to your content strategy, you:
Give your content key focal points. Buyer personas help you outline topics for upcoming blog posts which address their obstacles to getting treatment and focus on the challenge of ignoring a problem or not getting it diagnosed or treated. When your inbound marketing message resonates with your patients, you know you've successfully personalized your content to appeal to them.
Deepen your understanding of your patients' needs. Buyer personas help you better understand all the influences that impact your patients' decision-making ability (such as cost concerns, time concerns, fear, lack of health literacy). Knowing these behavioral insights can also drive upcoming blog topics.
Give direction to your medical marketing endeavors. Buyer personas help you express in multiple channels the kinds of solutions you offer for treating the dilemmas faced by these patients. For instance, you may have free e-books to offer the caregivers of elderly patients who may not want to visit your dermatology clinic to motivate them to help their loved ones to be proactive about getting the care they need.
Establish your expertise. Buyer personas help to position you as an expert in the arena of care for your particular patient niche. Being specific in blog posts about both your most common patient problems and your array of solutions, on a regular basis, widens your sphere of influence.
Attract new patients. Looking closely at the needs of your current patient family is going to result in widening your base if you put your energy and focus into patient problem solving. Buyer personas are the prime starting point for achieving this.
Patients go online to find resources, information, and solutions long before they ever set foot in a doctor's office; you want to be the one they locate in a blog post discussing the problems they are facing (as well as sharing solutions).
The more these prospective patients encounter your helpful advice, the more inclined they will be to finally pick up the phone and call you when they reach that Zero Moment of Truth.
When you achieve these things, you are more likely to expand your patient family.
Mistakes to avoid
Don't just guess; back up your observations.
You can fall into the trap of just "imagining" patients into being... Don't do that!
Get a solid idea from your staff when it comes to the most common problems that have motivated your patients to get an appointment, then look at the numbers based on data you've collected on your current patients.
If that data supports your assumptions, then it's valid. If not, then you may need to rethink building an entire content strategy around those assumptions.
Don't use data just because it's there.
You can also become distracted by basic demographics like gender, age, family status, and more. Specificity is definitely important here, but don't get lost in data analysis, or you may never be able to identify a single patient persona. Always keep it foremost in your mind: Who is this person?
Remember, your archetypal patients aren't just a set of statistics, but symbolic of a whole group of patients in need of your help.
Don't go overboard.
Isolating three to five different buyer personas who represent the vast majority of your patients is going to be more than enough to assist your content marketing strategy. Remember, these are representations of a host of patients with common and shared concerns. This is not the time to identify every single type of patient you might have.
Don't rely too much on scripted questionnaires.
It's easy to turn to data collecting tools like patient questionnaires for information that might help identify your key buyer personas. Just remember... sometimes patients are going to answer dishonestly (either to hide something or to say what they think you want to hear, which may not be the truth).
Looking at this data is useful, to a point... but don't forget the Big Picture and why you are building buyer personas in the first place, which is to help you acquire a focus for generating content to serve your inbound marketing efforts.
Your medical practice blog content should truly be an extension of what your clinic can do to help patients solve their healthcare problems.
By generating key buyer personas, you can easily identify those problems as well as construct solutions that can help your current patients as well as attract new ones.
This is the point of medical practice marketing: to unite patients with the services they need, and which you provide.
Buyer Persona Institute
Content Marketing Institute