Content Marketing

Guest Post: Stephen King’s Bestseller Secret for Marketing Personas


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The following is a guest blog post by Stephen Outten, content strategy manager for YourCareUniverse and also a speaker at HITMC 2015.

When was the last time you were a reader? Not of Seth Godin or Ad Age—I’m talking Jane Austen or James Patterson.

I bet the last book that hooked you featured a powerful character driving relentlessly toward—or against—a goal: a high-school sweetheart walking slowly down the aisle to the arms of another man or a near-soundless detonator counting down the seconds toward nuclear holocaust.

Powerful characters drive relentlessly toward or against a goal.

Like you, I’ve read my share of binge-worthy and bargain-bin fiction. However, the most important lesson I’ve gleaned from one of the many creative writing workshops I’ve taken can be applied to our day-to-day worlds of healthcare marketing:

A character is someone who wants. – Stephen King

What many of us forget is that, as marketing professionals, we’re also creative writers. Imagining and bringing to life a persona requires a creative process much like writing a fictional character. Sure, there are templates, best practices and feedback from the field, but when you distill writing marketing personas to its core, one simple truth remains:

A persona is someone who wants.

I’m not suggesting you replace the tools you currently use to build personas; rather, start at this core truth as a bestselling writer would, simplifying the motivations of your main character. There’s a popular saying I keep in mind when writing characters:

The opposite of death is desire. – Tennessee Williams

I also try to keep this in mind when I write personas, knowing that to write a persona who doesn’t desire—or who doesn’t have the appropriate desire—is to kill the persona. And perhaps more dangerously, to then endanger future messaging, collateral, campaigns, etc.

To create a sense of the whole character, we used a simple exercise in my favorite creative writing workshop. I’ve modified it here to suit our purposes. The beauty is its simplicity, so you must keep it to one sentence.


Example: The Patient Experience Officer is a 45-year-old woman who wants to fundamentally change how patients interact with hospital staff at every encounter.

To see detailed examples of how we used this persona process in multi-channel scenarios to launch our new health consumer site YourCareEverywhere, attend my #HITMC session on Friday, May 8, 2015, from 10:45 to 11:15:

Piercing Personas with Tools from English 101

Arm yourself with fierce competitive advantage by going back to the halls of higher learning—without the tweed elbow patches. A 2013 Emory University study demonstrated that people who read literary fiction benefit from a cognitive boost over people who scan Twitter or only read newspapers. In short, fiction readers have greater empathy and understanding of humanity than other types of readers. This session will combine the principles of this study with modern tools for persona building that will enable attendees to apply Swiss watch craftsmanship in an Apple Watch world.

About the author

Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson

Digital marketing pro, health care communicator, pianist, entrepreneur

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The Healthcare and IT Marketing Community (HITMC) is an extension of the HITMC conference that is the first of its kind event that brings together marketing and PR professionals from throughout the health care community. We strive to provide amazing marketing and PR related content that helps HealthIT companies and healthcare organizations  stand out amidst all the noise of the industry. If you’re looking to market to hospital executives, doctors, practice managers, patients, or other healthcare professionals, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the HITMC community!