Understanding personas for healthcare

Martine Leroy|29th April 2016

In recent years, there has been a big shift in how pharma and healthcare companies approach the design and development of patient services. Something we’ve talked about a lot at Blue Latitude Health is the move toward customer-centricity and what that actually means in the healthcare and pharma context. Out of those conversations has emerged a need for more clarity around some of the tools used in the customer-centric design process.

In this article, Head of Insight Martine Leroy tackles one of those tools: the persona. Here, she breaks down for us what a persona is in the context of customer-centric design, and addresses some frequently asked questions about these and other tools used for improving customer engagement.


What is a persona, and how does it differ from a pen portrait or a segment?

First, let’s remember that personas, pen portraits and segments are all tools designed for a specific objective and that they need to be fit for that purpose. Additionally, the three tools are developed from the bottom up, which means they are grounded in customer-centric data and information.  

Simply put, a persona is an individual representation of a group of customers and their behaviours, attitudes, and context. It’s a tool that gives life to the customer by illustrating their everyday activities, frustrations, pain points, and motivations. Driven by quantitative and qualitative data about actual customers, the persona is a valuable tool and point of reference used to keep the customer at the centre of the design process.

Pen portraits and customer segments are also tools that are used in the design process to improve customer engagement, but they are generated differently from a persona. A pen portrait is one level above the persona – it is broader, and is considered an overview of who the customer might be and what they might do. The pen portrait focuses on general customer lifestyle or on their role, related needs, and actions.

A customer segment is designed to support targeted communications and marketing. We do customer segmentation to identify and summarise groups of potential (or existing) customers, focusing on what drives their behaviour. In pharma, we tend to develop physician segments based on their attitudes and prescribing behaviours, and also increasingly develop segments for other healthcare professionals (HCPs). In each of those segments might exist 2-3 different personas, HCPs who exhibit similar prescribing behaviour but who are driven by different motivations.

When should we use personas?

Traditionally in customer experience, the persona is the bridge between the knowledge that the organisation has about its customers and the designers who are developing a product or service for those customers. It’s used to translate customer needs into better, simpler functionality that exceeds customer expectations.

A persona is one artefact that an organisation generates on its journey from no knowledge about their customers to designing the right product or service for the right customer, and using the right channels for their context. It might be used as early as initial ideation sessions, when brand and design teams are considering what kinds of solutions would benefit the different personas most. It can also be used again in later stages, when testing and iterating the solution to check and validate the design for each type of customer.

Above all, personas are the tool we use to put customers at the centre of the business and to walk in the customers’ shoes while designing the products and services they will be using.

What is the benefit of using personas to the organisation? To the customer?

First of all, the more you know about your customers, the better you can deliver the right products and services, and the more successful the business. Personas have a clear benefit: they allow the brand and design team to focus their efforts and resources on solutions that will target the right customers, keeping their needs at the centre of the process.

Having personas also ensures that customer insight is not lost as the organisation moves closer to products and services. This ensures a seamless experience for customers, who will enjoy improved simplicity, functionality, and usability as a result.

In pharma, what this means is that HCP customers will be more engaged with the brand or service because it is more aligned with their day-to-day needs and expectations. It will fit more seamlessly into their context and information needs, much the way that consumer products and services do.

Ultimately, personas are a crucial tool to keep products and services aligned with the needs of stakeholders within the business as well as the needs of customers for a win/win solution. They are a crucial tool to deliver.

Where do I start if I want to create customer personas for my brand?

With insight, of course! What we mean by that is the gathering of qualitative and quantitative data and information about your customers to derive an understanding of their attitudes, behaviours, motivations, and pain points. This will include how they access information - what sources they use, what channels they prefer, how often they access it, and whether they can find it when they need it.

The most reliable and credible source of this kind of data is primary research that has been specifically designed and conducted for the development of the personas. This will also be the most expensive route to take up front, but by investing in this kind of insight at the beginning of the project, you can more efficiently focus your efforts in the design process, saving budget in the long run.

The least reliable and least credible source of customer information is tacit information that stems from business stakeholders’ views on customers. For example, a brand manager might say, “I know our customers really well, and I think that…”  Tacit information needs validation from research to be useful when guiding design that meets both customers’ and business needs.

The main thing to remember when developing personas is that the process for developing them should be methodical, driven by validated data, and replicable.

Personas are a valuable tool in the customer-centric design process, and in order to maximise their value to the project, they should be based on qualitative and quantitative primary research conducted specifically to understand the relevant customers for the project at hand. Personas are of great benefit to the business from an efficiency and planning perspective, and for the customers from a usability and relevance perspective.

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