How to Create Buyer Personas to Target Your Marketing

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Just today I briefly chatted by email with a new nurse entrepreneur who is building a business website and needs content, especially for the home page. In the course of chatting, she alluded to her target audience, which she characterized in terms of a broad group of people. Not to disparage this lady in any way (because she’s not a marketing expert; she’s an expert in a different field entirely, doing the best she can to bootstrap her new venture), but I want to use this as an example of the type of common mistake I see nurse entrepreneurs of all kinds make: being too general in defining their target audience.

Previously, I’ve touched on refining your audience – right down to visualizing your audience as an individual person, aka the “buyer persona.” Today I want to delve deeply into how to create personas – and why it’s the best thing you can do for your marketing efforts as a freelance nurse-writer.

What is a Buyer Persona?

buyer persona is a hypothetical ideal customer. (Sometimes it’s a hypothetical person you don’t want as a customer, but let’s save that aspect of things for a different newsletter.)

A buyer persona exists only on paper, but she is constructed with details from real clients or the ideal client you’d like to land. For content marketing nurse-writers like us, buyer personas often are businesspeople, since we’re selling our services to people in the business of healthcare. These people might be business owners (a doctor in private practice), a marketing person (think: content director for a large marketing agency), a CNO (if you’re planning to specialize in internal communications freelancing for hospitals and health systems), and so on.

However, if you’re planning to market your writing or related services directly to consumers (maybe you want to monetize a health blog, for example), then your buyer personas will be consumers: patients coping with a particular health condition, or new mothers, or weekend warrior men with worn-out knees.

Some nurse-writers will need to create personas for both business people (to market B2B services) and consumers (to market B2C services). That’s A-OK!

Why Buyer Personas?

When you create your website or other marketing materials, you should aim them at a very narrowly defined group of people. This often seems counter-intuitive to most new nurse-writers. Doesn’t it feel like it would make more sense to cast the widest possible net, in terms of garnering the most inquiries from prospective clients? Shouldn’t you set up your website to show that you can offer all types of writing to all types of prospective clients?

It may feel that way, intuitively, but it’s not the right way to go about it. Here’s why.

If you developed lung cancer, would you have your primary care provider treat it, or would you seek out a specialist? They’re both physicians, right? They hold identical credentials. But your PCP has a broad background in treating a wide range of illnesses, while the oncologist only focuses on a narrow spectrum of disease. So the PCP must be the best candidate to tackle your lung cancer treatment, right?

Obviously that’s not how it works in medicine. It also doesn’t work that way in freelance writing.

When choosing an oncologist, you likely would look beyond their base degree to review their other professional credentials. You would check their authority in the oncology space: Have they published? Are they advancing the research? Are they considered an expert on treating your specific type of cancer?

The people who hire freelance writers tend to employ a similar process. They look beyond your base credential (‘writer’). They want to know about your other professional credentials, in terms of the specific type of writing they need (e.g.: RN who writes healthcare content). They want to verify your authority as an expert in the specific niche for which they need content, such as whether you have experience producing white papers, or if your LinkedIn profile notes you as a ‘thought leader.’

‘Generalist’ writers just don’t stack up when being measured in these ways.

If a prospective client wants a nurse to write patient-facing cancer treatment information in the form of blog posts, then he or she likely will choose the nurse-writer with this specific combination of attributes, not a generalist nurse-writer who covers all things from pregnancy to vitamins, in articles and podcasts.

Moral of the story: To capture the best prospects, focus your web content and marketing materials on a very well-defined buyer persona (or personas). As an added bonus, you’ll still receive inquiries from prospects outside your main target audience. In commercial fishing, they call this “bycatch.” A well-focused website will garner you plenty of high-quality bycatch.

How to Construct Buyer Personas

Creating a buyer persona is pretty simple. And also devilishly difficult.

A buyer persona can be as simple as:

  • Karen

  • Female

  • Age 36

  • $72,000 per year salary

  • Office manager for a mid-size dermatology practice in Denver.

  • Lifelong career in healthcare; 8 years in current job

  • Two children: one a sophomore in high school, the other in 7th grade

  • Married to an electrician

  • Is responsible at work for creating the monthly electronic newsletter to patients and hates it because she doesn’t feel she’s a good writer, and she has trouble with the Mailchimp template every time, it seems like.

Boom! A basic persona for a hypothetical buyer of your services, if you plan to specialize in digital content for dermatologists.

But one of the most difficult aspects of creating buyer personas lies in gathering the above information. How do you know how much a dermatology office manager in Denver earns, for heaven’s sake? You need this information to help you understand your buyers as thoroughly as possible, and also to target your marketing effectively. So the short answer is: learn how to conduct online research. For instance, for the above example I used a calculator at salary.com to find the median salary for a “business office manager – healthcare” in Denver. It took me about one minute.

As you gather details about your prospective client, include information like:

  • Name

  • Gender

  • Age

  • Income

  • Occupation

  • Length of time in job and career

  • Work challenges and goals

  • Personal characteristics (Single mother? Jetsetter? Sports aficionado?)

  • Hobbies

  • Where the person “lives” online (where they consume information: social networks, niche websites, mainstream media sites, patient forums, etc.)

  • Preferred types of media (digital on-page, print, videos, podcasts, etc.)

  • Where they live in real life (geographically speaking)

  • Preferred methods of communication (Email? Online form input? Text?)

The list can go on and on, to include as much detail as you want. Hubspot offers a nice template for creating a robust buyer persona.

Where to Gather Information to Flesh Out Buyer Personas

First of all, don’t stress about creating the most detailed possible buyer persona when you’re just starting out. Begin by creating a basic persona that includes information you know from personal experience and from widely available data.

Assuming you plan to write health content as a nurse-writer, use your noggin to think about who in your personal sphere might buy such services. You can use these individuals as the basis for a buyer persona. Maybe:

  • The head of a local health association

  • The marketing director of your largest area health system

  • A doctor you know in private practice

You already possess a ton of knowledge about health system hierarchies, so use that to your advantage when figuring out a hypothetical client. It’s a starting point.

Next, install Google Analytics on your website and review the results consistently. Google gives you a massive amount of detail about the people who visit your site, and you may be able to incorporate some of those details into your personas. Here’s a snapshot from my own Google Analytics dashboard that shows you the categories of information Google gathers about your web visitors. As you expand and analyze each category, you can find a good deal of information here.

Third, as you gain clients you can glean information about them from your business interactions. Personally, I always aim to cultivate relationships with clients, not just assignments. After all, we work in a relationship-oriented industry. The freelance writing world isn’t that large, so take care to nurture your professional relationships well.

As you get to know clients, you’ll learn details about them that you can add to your buyer persona. If you feel very bold, you even can ask to interview a client for the express purpose of building out a persona.

How to Use Your Buyer Personas

Now that you’ve constructed personas, what do you do with them?

You should use them to craft highly targeted marketing materials for your business. For example, when I decided to publish a blog for Hanes Healthcare Communications, I first constructed an editorial calendar that includes the topic for each post, the keywords to include, and the persona at whom the post is aimed. Two examples:

In August, 2019, I wrote a post called “Dear Plastic Surgeon, What’s the Point of Your Blog?”, which was aimed at the persona “Brenda – plastic surgery practice manager.”

Another post I wrote in August was called “Engagement is Not Dumb Luck: How to Craft Compelling Healthcare CTAs,” which was aimed at “Brandon – marketing manager for a large health system.”

I write different posts for different personas because Brenda’s job concerns are far different from Brandon’s, yet their interests overlap when it comes to the over-arching theme of the blog: how to write better healthcare content. By targeting these readers individually with my posts, I stand a better chance that one or both of them will check out a specific post, subscribe to my blog, and eventually contact me for help in producing content.

Bottom line: Before you create any piece of marketing content for your business, decide which persona you’re writing it for. This will help you attract more clients and achieve greater success as a freelance nurse-writer than trying to be all things to all clients.

Questions? Hit me in the comments!

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes BSN RN is known professionally as "the nurse who knows content." By day, she uses her nursing knowledge and creative writing acumen to produce content that drives results for clients. By night, she teaches other nurses how to achieve their dreams of a professional writing career. In between, she takes frequent breaks to drink Cosmos and walk her dog, Mitzi. Elizabeth lives in Albuquerque, NM. She has never met Walter White or needed Saul Goodman.

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