Recognizing the complexities of segmentation

Editor’s note: Nicola Vyas is the senior director of Healthcare Research Worldwide. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “The Complexities of Segmentation and Targeting in the Pharma Industry.”

Segmentation can be one of the most powerful tools for launching targeted and impactful communication strategies, but the unique interplay between patients and health care providers provides a dilemma: Who are we really targeting and how do we help our clients align their strategy to capture the differing perspectives of two very different customer groups? 

In addition, we often need to navigate the issue of small sample sizes and need to carefully consider our analysis approach and focus on understanding and bringing to life the segments in the context of statistical tools designed for much larger data sets.  

As if this wasn’t challenging enough, the health care industry continues to develop more rapidly than ever, driven by technological advances, demographic shifts, changing patient expectations and evolving regulatory landscapes. This transformation is reshaping how health care services are delivered, accessed and perceived. So, whilst drug development still takes time, products are entering into an increasingly competitive and changing landscape.  

So, how do we develop intentional communications campaigns that can shift behavior in this challenging landscape, while also standing the test of time?  

Recognizing behavioral biases and attitudes 

While it is important to identify your customers in the real world by capturing factors such as practice setting and prescribing behavior, we know that attitudes fundamentally inform behaviors and, while behaviors can change based on the landscape, attitudes are less likely to change over time. Therefore, the most effective way to understand how to target customers in the health care space is by segmenting populations based on attitudinal factors and then overlaying behavioral and demographic factors.  

In addition to asking respondents about their attitudes, it is also critical that during analysis we uncover behavioral biases which help define each segment. Key questions and statements can be fed into the questionnaire design to assess these biases. This approach uncovers the beliefs driving observed behaviors so that you understand how to effectively communicate with your customer base, while also allowing you to identify your segments in the real world.  

Capturing perspectives: Exploring the patient and HCP experience

A key outcome of a good segmentation is understanding how to optimize HCP and patient interactions to ensure successful use of the target product. In a world that is shifting towards more personalized care and greater patient involvement in decision-making, exploring both patient and HCP segments is essential for understanding the implications of how different HCP and patient segments interact with each other. Incorporating questions into both the HCP and patient questionnaires to allow for integrated analysis of both segmentations can help produce more robust and actionable segmentations. This will enable you to generate strategies and tailor communications for interactions between specific HCP and patient segments, ultimately fostering stronger relationships and trust.  

The value of recruiting a representative sample

Sampling the correct audience is the foundation of a resilient segmentation. It seems obvious to say, but it is more challenging to have an actionable and accurate segmentation if your analysis is conducted on a subset of the actual population. While any market researcher knows that some populations are easier to reach than others, convenience should not stand in the way of achieving a truly representative sample. Simply adding demographic or psychographic quotas such as race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status can go a long way in helping you balance out your sample. You may also need to consider if your survey is accessible to the entire target population. Simple changes such as allowing caretakers to assist patients who struggle with survey completion and ensuring your survey is available in multiple languages can have a large effect on ensuring broad representation from your target population. For example, in the United States, 42 million people speak Spanish as their first language and offering the option to complete a survey in Spanish can simplify completion for many.  

Digital behavior: How patients and HCPs are using social media platforms and tech

Finally, we know that strategic application of a segmentation requires an understanding of the most effective channels for targeting patients and HCPs. To best achieve this, it is important to understand the digital behavior of your target population. As social media is now a key source of information for many, capturing how patients and HCPs interact with and perceive these platforms is crucial to understanding their experiences.  

In addition to capturing the platforms and resources people are using, it is also important to understand how and why they are using them. For example, do they simply like to read through posts in a Facebook group? Or are they regularly interacting with others by posting and commenting?  

Beyond social media, digital technologies such as telehealth, online pharmacies and patient portals now also provide patients with access to health information and tools like never before. These platforms impact how patients perceive and communicate with their health care providers and understanding perceptions and use of these platforms builds a more complete picture of how to optimize provider-patient interactions to maximize the success of your brand.  

Creating resilient segmentations

In a world where dynamics can easily shift from one day to the next, we need to reconsider how we can build modern-day segmentations that are resilient enough to retain their value, inform strategy and shape targeted communications. Through thoughtful sample design, future-oriented survey development and evidence-based behavioral science, we are better able to access the reality of both HCPs and patients to provide actionable recommendations which can shape the future of products.