Leveraging Four Distinct Patient Archetypes to Drive Engagement

In the healthcare industry today, patients are empowered. They are more informed than ever before. Recent multi-channel advancements in technology allow patients to know what they want and need, before any interaction with a brand takes place. And while marketers increasingly recognize the necessity and value of patient engagement, they often struggle with how well they know their customers and lack the ability to create a personal connection.

Consumers engage when they feel a genuine, emotional connection to a favorite brand. Outside of healthcare, marketers routinely build this connection by using human insights as the foundation of a deep, personal understanding of their consumers. For example, the music streaming service Spotify provides recommendations to its users based on listening history, new releases from artists whom they follow and songs recommended by friends. Harrah’s uses not only behavioral data captured through their casino rewards program, but also their understanding of customer needs and preferences to create personalized experiences, for example, extending an offer to a special event to console a customer who just had a losing streak or allowing top spending customers to skip hotel check-in lines. However, within healthcare, many marketers today are still defaulting to a one-size-fits-all solution, which limits personal connection.

Unlocking and Activating Patient Behavior by Understanding Patient Archetypes

A basic understanding of unique patient characteristics can enable marketers to create stronger connections between patients and their brands. To develop this understanding, we analyzed over 15,000 patients across 10 different chronic and acute conditions (e.g., from migraines to metastatic breast cancer), and found that four “patient archetypes” emerged, regardless of condition.

The archetypes are defined by how proactive patients are about their health and how in control patients feel over their health.

The first archetype is the Proactive and Controlled. These patients take extra care to learn about and manage their condition and as a result, feel they are more in control than their peers. The Suffering but Determined are also proactive about managing their disease but are struggling to control it. The Passive and Defeated have let their condition get the best of them. They feel they are in worse shape than their peers but don’t do much about it. Lastly, the Unburdened and Independent are lax about managing their condition but still feel that it is under control.

Now, imagine a marketer who is seeking to drive increased patient acceptance of a new prescription medication for migraines. In the absence of understanding these patient insights, the marketer might offer a standard set of messages and a single suite of patient support programs. However, with a simple tool that identifies each patient’s archetype, engagement can be made more relevant and personal across a patient’s entire brand experience.

Archetype 1: Proactive and Controlled

First, let’s consider the Proactive and Controlled migraine sufferers—those who maintain a positive attitude, despite their fair share of debilitating migraines. They know they are doing everything they can to manage their condition and feel their efforts are paying off. They know that for their medications to work, they need to adhere to them. And they consider their relationship with their doctor to be a partnership.

These patients need to fully understand a new treatment before deciding to start it. They are not the patients who want the bare bones, benefit-oriented messages. Instead, they expect detailed information about a new product, such as its mechanism of action or a comparison of key product attributes versus their current migraine treatments. To receive this content, they may be interested in registering for ongoing brand communications, which in turn provides an opportunity to tailor communications even further.

Archetype 2: Suffering but Determined

The Suffering but Determined are doing all they can to manage their chronic migraines but still feel the impact—whether it’s the physical strain that the migraines impose, or the emotional strain caused by anticipation that their next migraine may strike at the least opportune time. They experience a significant amount of stress from their condition. However, they still continue to keep up with their current treatments and visit the physician, often in hopes of finding a better treatment.

Given their relentless push to do more for their condition, these patients will want to hear how effective a product is. They will also be receptive of peer-to-peer programs with patients who have found success, for example, with the Proactive and Controlled. Dialogue between the two groups can enable an exchange of tips and tricks for how to manage migraines when they strike and provide general emotional support.

Archetype 3: Passive and Defeated

The Passive and Defeated migraine sufferers simply feel overwhelmed. Either they’ve tried all they can to no avail, or they’re just resigned to the fact that they will be lifelong sufferers. Their chronic migraines have a major impact on their lives, but they are not motivated to put much effort into treating them. In turn, they see their doctors less frequently and are often wary of introducing new medication into their routines, particularly if these treatments introduce new side effects.

These patients may be a difficult group to activate, given their reluctance to try new medications and engage with their physicians. However, by pointing out recent advancements in migraine management and showing success stories with a new product, they might be willing to give it a chance. They will also value patient assistance programs and adherence support that help minimize the burden imposed by their condition and treatment regimens.

Archetype 4: Unburdened and Independent

Finally, the Unburdened and Independent are only affected minimally by their condition, taking the “c’est la vie” attitude toward migraine management. These patients do not see their physicians often. They likely either don’t take medication at all or are content with over-the-counter treatments. At most, they have a prescription treatment on hand but haven’t bothered to see if there’s anything better in the market.

Since these patients already feel in control—despite the little effort spent managing their migraines—they will be less receptive to most new treatment options. As a result, a marketer may be wise to simply deprioritize these patients. However, if a product provides added convenience for these patients, messaging that emphasizes this benefit may catch their attention.

No Excuses

Clearly, deep consumer understanding is best developed for each brand based on its own business objectives, customer base and unique situation. However, lack of resources or time to devote to developing insight at the brand level is no excusefor defaulting to one-size-fits-all marketing. A patient who is fully proactive and in control of their condition has very different needs from one who is not. The overarching patient archetypes defined above can and should be used to forge a connection that unlocks and activates more personal engagement between a brand and patient over time.


This article originally posted on PM360.

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