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Data-Driven friendships: Understanding your audience to create relationships through content

Recently, we looked at how great content can turn awareness into relationships: Campaigns that create awareness are just step one. Content that builds enduring relationships must follow, or the full ROI of creative ad campaigns will be left on the table. It’s a vision for truly personalized marketing seen through the lens of friendship development, which we all know how to do almost without even thinking about it.  

Yet executing that vision as a hospital or health system seeking to develop enduring relationships with patients can be perplexing. Where to begin?  

First, move beyond traditional audience definitions 

Personalized marketing both creates new touchpoints and leverages existing ones with identified audiences across the customer journey. What happens at those touchpoints? What is the audience’s experience in each of those encounters? To answer those questions, you need to know your audience very, very well. Because by definition, great content is about your audience, not about you. It’s about their needs and concerns, their preferences, their lives. Address those topics, and they’ll come to you to learn how you can help meet their needs. 

But who are “they”?  

In our experience, health system marketing teams don’t spend nearly enough time answering that question. Audiences tend to be defined as, for example, “women age 25+.” Why is that a problem? After all, that definition would capture women during their childbearing years. And that’s an important moment to begin a relationship with them given that women tend to be loyal to the hospital where they gave birth and go on to make healthcare decisions for the rest of their family (children, partners, and their own parents) for years to come. This approach even has a name: life-stage marketing.  

What this broad definition of an audience doesn’t account for, however, is that women 25 and older are not a monolithic group. There’s vast variety in their demographics, interests, behaviors, and healthcare needs. Without distilling the definition of your audience further than stage of life, you cannot build authentic relationships that are sustained, like friendships, through understanding and empathy. You wouldn’t talk to your childbearing cousin the same way you’d speak to your 60-year-old aunt, would you? 

Next, use data to understand and segment your audience 

So, how do you paint a finer portrait of your audience? With data. Data-driven insights lay the foundation for authentic, personalized connections through content. Become hungry for data sources that will fill in the details about your audience. Whether from anonymized clinical or claims data, social listening tools, consumer segmentation methods, or other tools, a diversity of sources will deliver insights about your targeted audience that allow you to personalize content for them. 

Start with the clinical specialty or service line you represent. Returning to the typical health system audience of women 25 and older, let’s select a service line that caters to these women’s health needs—say, breast oncology—to demonstrate how data can be used to segment these women into smaller groups.   mom holding baby

Clinical staff can help provide data and insights that reveal, for example, that breast cancer is a completely different journey for women under 40 than it is for older women. Women under 40 aren’t yet getting regular mammograms. Many of them have young children and may even be breastfeeding. As a complement to conversations with clinical staff, you can leverage web analytics or a social listening tool for a deeper understanding of the types of questions and concerns women under 40 with breast cancer may have: Will I still be able to breastfeed after surgery? Can I have more children after chemotherapy treatment?  

Your IT or data analytics teams can help you take the next step. EHRs and claims are rich sources of data for building and defining audiences when de-identified and aggregated. Consumer segmentation tools like Experian MOSAIC, Epsilon, or Salesforce Audience Studio allow you to further define your audience by household income, marital status, number of children, geographic location, job type, attitudes toward health, brand preferences, and more. Paired with clinical insights, these tools can help you identify three to four specific cohorts within a larger audience and deliver insights about their values, level of healthcare literacy, and preferences for channel communications.  

Now, you’re ready to create great content because you understand your audience’s lives, concerns, and values. You can develop messages that will respond to their concerns and will resonate with their values. You can also deliver those messages in the content formats and channels most likely to reach and engage them.  

Focus your efforts 

Focusing on the following areas will help you gain the deepest possible understanding of your audience: 

  1. The context of their lives: What is your target audience’s household like? Who do they care for and listen to? Consider, for example, if women under 40 have young children as well as aging parents who require more attention. How does that experience shape their need for information and support? 

  1. The problems they’re trying to solve: What barriers do they face when accessing care? Women taking care of young children and aging parents may be too busy to even think about getting a mammogram. A young woman without health insurance is less likely to get an early breast cancer screening, even if she has a family history of the disease.  

  1. The ways they communicate: Does your audience prefer to hear from their doctor via email, text, or old-fashioned snail mail? Or are you more likely to connect with at-risk women under 40 via your health system’s app?  

  1. The people and organizations they listen to: Influencers are typically defined by metrics like number of followers. Instead, think of influencers as the people your audience listens to, and take a deeper look to understand who they are. For women under 40, for example, that’s likely to be their peers: moms’ chat groups and other digital and in-person social circles.   

  1. The places they live, work, relax: Consider their habits and preferences in work, communities, shopping, traveling, leisure, and entertainment. Your audience of women approaching their 40s may be moving up in their careers and purchasing homes—they may be working part-time or be full-time moms with tight budgets.  

Defining your audience and segmenting it into smaller groups, and deepening your understanding of them, is a continuous process—just like an evolving friendship. It doesn’t end with “Hello,” but rather requires ongoing exploration. Going back to the data at regular intervals to understand what may have changed in their lives, or what has triggered their interests, ensures that your content always responds to their circumstances and needs. That responsiveness enables you to build enduring relationships in which people move from awareness to conversion, then loyalty and trust. 

In our next exploration of relationship-building content, we’ll share more content marketing principles and how to put them into practice. It’s not hard. It’s just being friendly.

March 30, 2021
Nothing beats a good old-fashioned conversation.
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