Why Customer Personas Matter

Frank Cutitta

I’ve spent much of my life in the media business trying to define the audiences that our editorial products were targeting. The reason was very simple: Advertisers were looking to share their messaging with the audiences most likely to buy their products.

In the go-go days of print publications (those things called magazines), the audience research was pretty simple compared to today’s standards. A survey was mailed out to a reliable sampling of subscribers who would rate how they meshed with the buyer profiles advertisers were looking for. The more progressive publishers would do this surveying by phone.

Evolving Audience Research Methods: From Print to Digital

Fast forward through the massive media industry transformation — from print publishing to digital media and now to performance-based data models — and the notion of an audience profile obtained via mail and phone surveys is laughable. They’ve been replaced by tools that track user engagement online or in apps, driven by cookies stored in readers’ Web browsers.

Sophisticated algorithms now triangulate a variety of engagements across media and e-commerce platforms to develop profiles from which programmatic (automated) advertising is delivered. If you’re shopping for a pair of hiking boots on Zappos, you can almost certainly expect to see suggestions for hiking boots in an ad on Facebook.

Before the ad exchanges became more user friendly, I once researched and eventually purchased “My Little Pony” toys for my toddler nieces, and for months received every variety of baby toy and pony advertising that one could imagine.

However, B2B Persona Research is A Different Beast

Unlike consumer marketers, business-to-business marketers have the challenge of creating purchase personas through much less sophisticated and reliable means. The sheer number of influences involved in the purchase of an enterprise-wide deployment makes a “My Little Pony” scenario very challenging to accomplish.

This customer persona marketing challenge is not limited to selling products or services. The need to define personas within an enterprise is just as critical as pinpointing the cash-carrying customers in the marketplace.

Every website or seminar related to enterprise IT strategy makes some reference to the ongoing need to develop a better understanding of “the businesses.” A key to this is the ability to develop a deep understanding of personas serviced by the IT organization, well beyond using LinkedIn to view their profiles.

I use the example of Georgia Department of Community Health’s (GDCH) healthcare provider personas (seen in the headline image above) to illustrate the exhaustive effort some enterprises put into understanding their internal customers. Challenges to developing personas like these include:

  1. The time and resources required to develop such a sophisticated profile. GDCH partnered with Georgia Tech to build the personas and the incredible detail related to each.
  2. In cases where internal personas are developed, they tend to be based on job title or function, as opposed to the complex needs that the business partner has in the enterprise. GDCH takes great pains to detail the “motivations, concerns and frustrations” that these personas experience on the job, as well as tracking their organizational and personal dimensions on a slider scale.
  3. Arguably, the final and greatest challenge to developing internal or buying personas is the outlier. I’ve worked on a number of projects in a variety of segments where the personas seemed to map very well with what I experienced on the inside and the outside. But upon further exploration, “shadow personas” were found that fell outside the more obvious norms. These personas had a dramatic effect on such areas as innovation, communications morale and purchase, creating a dead end to our other work.

So if developing customer personas is such a complex and involved process — especially in the healthcare industry — why both?

Why Personas Are Critical For Effective HIT Marketing

A deep understanding of customer persona marketing (your customers, employees and beyond) can be incredibly helpful in delivering better, more productive solutions in the HIT industry — whether it’s the right ad at the right time or an IT service that meets everyone’s needs in their own way. It might be a challenge to develop, but certainly worth the effort to try.

In the healthcare industry especially, purchasing decisions are often made by committee, so the personas you need to target will have wide and varied goals, challenges and concerns. You need to understand and respond to these concerns in your advertising, or risk sending out the wrong message. To put it simply: if you don't understand the buyer collective you're speaking to, you won't be able to speak to them in a way that resonates.

Need help understanding your HIT buyer personas? HIMSS Media can help. Contact us today to talk to one of our experts.

About the Author

As head of our Center for Content Analytics, Frank builds "weapons of mass discussion," aka, compelling content that buyers can’t resist. He’s launched media and data companies in 95 countries, served as global CEO of the International Advertising Association, and was named one of the top 40 influencers and innovators in media. Frank also teaches graduate courses at Northeastern University, and, if you ask nicely, will offer you some of his homemade beef jerky.

More Content by Frank Cutitta