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Behind the Buzzwords Patient Personas are Powerful


Pharmaceutical Executive

Big, bold, blustering buzzwords are as much a part of the digital marketing landscape as the innovative, enabling technologies that spawn them. New techniques, even new spins on old techniques, demand new terminology.

Peter Houston

Big, bold, blustering buzzwords are as much a part of the digital marketing landscape as the innovative, enabling technologies that spawn them. New techniques, even new spins on old techniques, demand new terminology.

Nine times out of 10 the labels are way more impressive than the concepts they describe, but I recently came across a buzzy new phrase - complete with trademark symbol - that intrigued me: Direct to Persona Marketing™.

The word ‘persona’ immediately takes me back to classroom discussions about Shakespearean heroes and helpers, villains and victims. I did not know this, but the word comes from the Latin for a theatrical mask.

It eventually came to mean the part played by an actor, framing the idea that although many different people might carry a part, a collection of defining characteristics should be common to every performance. Persona marketing builds on this notion - smart marketers know that their target market can be described by a clearly defined collection of beliefs, values and motivations. Embody these common characteristics in one archetypal persona and you create an ideal target to aim your messaging at.

My journalism teacher taught me this technique very early in my writing career. Every time I set out to write a piece about international business, I would consult Claude the mythical Belgian executive and imagine exactly what he would want to know about the story I was reporting.

One of the things that drew me to find out more about Direct to Persona Marketing™ was that it appears to deal with elements of the increasing criticism of Direct to Consumer marketing.

The mass market scattergun approach enshrined in traditional DTC marketing seems like an increasingly blunt instrument in these times of digital segmentation and targeting. Never before have the words of 19th century retailer John Wanamaker seemed more true; the Philadelphia man that invented the price tag figured out at the turn of the last century that half his advertising was wasted, he just didn’t know which half.

With audience tracking software and big data manipulation, the problem of wasted advertising budget has never seemed more solvable. One of the firms setting out to take care of Wanamaker’s conundrum for Pharma is Liquid Grids. The La Jolla, California, based firm is working with pharma, biotech, medical device and health insurance companies to deliver highly targeted digital and social media marketing campaigns to tightly defined patient personas.

Liquid Grid describes its mission as helping Healthcare to engage with consumers online, motivate them to adopt healthier lifestyles and more effectively manage chronic illnesses - no surprises there. Where it gets interesting is the use of social data to target marketing messages.

Liquid Grids monitors online healthcare dialogue through its disease-focused Social Health Intelligence platform. Analyzing data captured from social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blog networks, Liquid Grids leverages this analysis to generate consumer personas and, based on the personas created, generates ‘contextual and agile’ content that is placed across online media matching proprietary disease grids, with retargeting technology applied to serve advertising impressions.

If that’s all a little technical, try thinking about the last time you saw a pharma ad on TV. Assuming you didn’t switch channels immediately, the chances are the ad didn’t really engage you because you’re not one of a minority of people who suffers from the condition targeted. Now, imagine that ad had been delivered over social media, targeted specifically at you based on your fit with a patient persona developed from an analysis 650 million online conversations.

As consumers, we reveal vast amounts of our lives over social networks, information that is an incredibly powerful driver of search engine optimization, search engine marketing and social media marketing. Highlighting the trend for tech-empowered patients to search for, share and discuss healthcare issues online, Liquid Grids has set out to help marketers adapt, away from traditional ‘pay and pray’ DTC models to become very patient-centric.

The firm recently released three case studies to highlight increased engagement rates achieved through its Direct to Persona™ model. The studies document campaigns for obesity, cushing’s syndrome and autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. You can download them to read for yourself here.

Only time will tell if Direct to Persona™ makes it beyond buzzword status to become an established marketing approach. But as it get ever more expensive to play the mass-market DTC numbers game, building targeted messaging against multi-layered, data-driven patient personas has to be worth a closer look.

Peter Houston is former Group Content Director for Advanstar Pharma Science. He is now an independent media consultant and founder of

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