TMA Gets Personal with Personas

Vivian Swertinski

Texas Medical Association (TMA) is the nation’s largest and most powerful state medical society and is recognized as a thought leader among medical associations. With over 49,000 physician and medical student members across the state, TMA serves a very large and diverse audience.

Like most organizations, TMA has A LOT of member data and is adept at using the data for segmentation purposes. Analyzing member data is valuable, but TMA wanted more! They wanted to obtain a deep, empathetic and predictive knowledge of the audience they serve. They had questions that needed answering and they were ready to take a strategic approach to finding the answers.

How do we determine what messages will best resonate with various member types?

Do we really know who all the member types are, and what they uniquely need and want?

How do we make sure we don’t inundate members with every type of message?

TMA embarked on a journey to really KNOW their audience through persona development. They utilized Informz Consulting Services to guide and coach them through the persona identification and documentation process. I sat down with Sylvia Salazar (Director, Membership Development), Lena Banks (Director, Marketing), and Debra Heater (Communications Project Admin) from TMA to document their team’s persona development story.

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Vivian Swertinski, Informz: Why was persona development a top priority for TMA?   

Texas Medical Association: We really wanted a strategic approach to determining what messages are sent and to whom. We capture a lot of information on our members and it really came down to not wanting to inundate members with every type of message. Whenever we got in a room to strategize we would always revert back to using demographics. We would segment by age and other profile data. To find true ways to market and communicate to our members appropriately we knew we needed to get down to the nitty gritty of who our members really are. We had already started hyper targeting our audience using demographics, so it was a progressive step to go a little further to include their emotions, their behaviors and their lifestyle.

VS: You stated that TMA attempted to create personas in the past. Just curious, what challenges did you face that put the project on the sidelines?

TMA: We had too many cooks in the kitchen! We brought in a lot of different people with many different points of view. When you put that together with an abundance of data, it becomes challenging to boil it down to something that makes sense and is directional. Also, we didn’t really have a process or structure to get from point A to point B. To sum it up, it was too much data, too many people and no process to follow.

VS: How was persona development different this time around?

TMA: We assembled a small core team with one or two representatives from membership, communications, marketing, member services, and data management. The people in the room represented every part of our member lifecycle which really helped narrow down our focus. As a team, we had clarity on what really mattered and why. This time around we had the help of experts to guide us through and help us make sense of the data. We had structure, process and were committed to following it through.

VS: Describe the moment when you discovered the distinction between TMA’s physician personas.

TMA: It was truly an ah-ha moment when we realized that “practice setting” was the key data point that distinguishes our members in terms of behavior, needs and how they interact with us. A physician working as a sole practitioner or in a small practice group has very different challenges, support systems or lack thereof, and very different motivations than a physician working in a large hospital or medical school. We had looked at that data point in the past but hadn’t taken it far enough to see that it does make a true difference in how they interact with us. It was a relief to know that this made sense and was the right conclusion. Even in the after process work of building out the member lifecycle, it’s been invigorating to know which lane we are supposed to be staying in.

VS: Creating personas involves both head and heart data. Getting to the heart of a persona is usually the fun part of the process and it’s also where insights and opportunities shine through. What was that process like for TMA?

TMA: For this part of the process, we purposefully included representatives from all member service areas such as our field consultants, sales and advertising, education and conference management. We got everyone together and talked through the heart of our persona. We literally used post-it notes and solicited everyone’s input. We defined the physician’s key responsibilities, needs, pain points, motivators, values, goals and mindset. As an organization we greatly benefited from hearing each other’s perspective. Through the process we received buy-in from each functional group represented. We also want to point out that having the Informz team onsite during this meeting brought credibility to our work and helped facilitate the discussion. It really made a difference to have you here guiding us.

VS: You recently had an opportunity to interact with your members at a recent TMA physician’s event. Were you able to validate the persona definitions that the team created?

TMA: We were really excited, and a bit fearful that we were going to hear something that didn’t line up with what we had created. It ended up being so validating and every time they said something that we had written down, we looked at each other and smiled with relief. The conversations were unprompted so we were hearing them say things in their own words from their own experiences.

We had nailed it! It was a great feeling of accomplishment to know that we got this right and we could check this key initiative off as done.

VS: What are your immediate plans for putting persona insights into action?

TMA: We already identified areas on our website where we have content gaps. We either don’t have content or we aren’t giving them the right information or enough of the right information. We can be better about addressing what we know they need and making content easier to find. The personas help us be more strategic in our messaging. We’ve already started a member service campaign. It’s ironic that with all the data we have we actually identified a data gap. By making data capture modifications we’ll be able to identify personas in the early part of the member lifecycle.

VS: What advice would you give to others?

TMA:  Stay focused on what your key goals are. Make sure that you have the right group of folks in the room to give you a full picture. Getting outside help was key to our success. We tried this on our own and couldn’t get off of square one. We could not see the tree because of the forest and needed someone to ask the right questions and keep us on track. If you need help you should get it. It’s worth it!

VS: Thank you, Sylvia, Lena and Debra for explaining your process for developing personas.

Learn more about how to get personal with personas here.

Defining your Target Audience with Personas

About the Author
Vivian Swertinski

As the Strategic Services Manager at Informz, Vivian partners with clients to maximize their digital marketing efforts with customized strategies leveraging the Informz marketing automation platform. Outside of work Vivian enjoys shopping, boating and volunteering her time to help disabled individuals in the community.