Customer segmentation in healthcare engagement - Addressing the missing link


Published 26 November 2019

Customer segmentation is not just the domain of marketers and brand leads - it's application is highly relevant to healthcare engagement and comms.



Rob Gallo
Global Communications Consultant & Digital Transformation Advisor, United Kingdom

It has happened often enough whilst working with clients or collaborators on new engagement work. Before commencing the work the question is asked,“does your team have access to segmentation of your customers and stakeholders?”

This is not something encountered exclusively in smaller organizations. Whether the client is a function of a larger healthcare company (HR, Compliance, Medical, etc) or an NGO, the answer is often the same. The frequency with which we are start new work, with no accompanying prioritization of audiences or segments, is now a sort of new-normal.

Good customer segmentation and mapping is the bedrock of all good marketing/comms campaigns. The benefits of sound segmentation are clear. In summary: Meet needs better, apply resources more effectively.

Healthcare professionals from non-marketing functional roles are leading with their own communication drives/initiatives – the B2B or B2C segmentation study is (too often) the missing piece.

Charities have certainly understood the importance of donor segments - see a useful resource link here (The Money for Good framework, helping charities think more deeply about segmentation with this excellent guide/resource).

There often isn’t the time or resource to dedicate to audience segmentation – an area often the domain of marketeers and data researchers. The topic usually is out of scope.

Assuming the funds existed, the (other) challenge for healthcare professionals working within a larger company is that the initiation of new segmentation work, can set up a potential conflict with in-house research/marketing teams (over methodology, ownership, but not only). Taking the short-cut route, by doing your own by hiring a consultant to conduct a ‘quick and dirty’ segmentation study, can often mean that it gets shelved or never used.

I’ve seen team overcome these obstacles, but understandably sometimes it can seem ‘too hard’ and the important step of segmentation is bypassed altogether.

Of course, brand managers and heads of marketing within the Life Sciences have excellent segmentation strategies and methods for delivering insights. However, is the discipline and learning that comes with good segmentation shared widely with other functions within the same company, leading to a culture of research and insights?

Comms, Public Affairs, HR and IT (in Healthcare) all nowadays have their own marketing/comms strategies – but often (and this is a gross generalization) they end up using different methodology to that of the marketing team’s.

Some of the Patient Journey Mapping used by healthcare leaders (to better understand how patients interact with a hospital or health system throughout their care journey) are the best I’ve seen. Yet, a journey map cannot replace basic segmentation – both are needed.

Perhaps other consultants are less concerned than I am – after all, a client missing basic segmentation insights only leads to more work that the consultant can invoice. Problem is, segmentation is a journey – the entire in-house team needs to travel on it together. Outsourcing can speed up that thinking, but it is not a substitute

You're closer than you think

A lot of healthcare professionals are already collecting the basic data to develop an in-house segmentation model. Even if your team were to develop the most basic grouping of ‘drivers’ - this at least forms the basis of a working hypothesis (which can then be validated through one’s work).

  • Who are our priority customers/audiences (what quantitative date exists)?
  • What drives/motivates them?
  • Where are they, how do we reach them (what channels)?
  • What content is relevant to them?


Segmentation is something that must live within an organizational team. It is a live document, that needs to be updated, kept relevant etc. It’s also a piece of work that informs all engagement activity. In companies I’ve worked in, there is sometimes a segmentation ‘keeper’ the go-to person who keeps the segmentation study up to date. As the keeper-role is shared, so to is the expertise.

We're all marketers now

This is one way to put it. Given our personal use of social channels, we’re all PR practitioners too. Real segmentation is all about insights. Done correctly, it guides all activity, and reduces effort/expense, and can energize teams behind a purpose.

It is a discipline that can be learnt and applied to everyday communications decisions.

Nothing can beat excellent insights and commissioned research – there is usually a cost associated with this. Yet the early beginnings of segmentation needn’t be lengthy or costly.
Some of it can be down in-house, via desk research and speaking to customers/stakeholders.

Reviewing existing customer groupings, and then challenging the classification and ask, “How else can we view these groups; what are their needs; what is motivating them?” is a fruitful way for a team to arrive at an understanding of potential ways to group your audiences.

When and if you decide to bring in an agency to help you tidy the whole thing up and apply some quantitative date - your team will be in a far better position to brief the agency, be a better client, ask the right questions.

Working as a team working with a home-cooked segmentation of stakeholders can lead to better evaluation of campaigns/initiatives, and it becomes a method for validating results/goals in real-time.

And is far better than flying-blind with no segmentation at all.