Targeting your audience and personalisation

Targeting your audienceSince everyone is different, you need to target particular groups and tailor your service, messages, format and language to fit their needs.

PIF’s Toolkit and best practice guidance share key steps and useful resources that will help you understand and meet the needs of your target users.

A 2014 study for National Voices found one of the single most important things you can do to improve patient information and to increase its impacts is to provide individuals with specific, tailored information and education.

This was also highlighted in PIF’s Case for Information report, which found that patient information has the greatest effects when it is tailored (as far as possible) to reflect an individual’s particular needs, preferences and circumstances, throughout their ‘patient journey’.

Before starting a project, it is useful to ask and answer the following three questions:

  1. What are your objectives?
  2. Who are you trying to reach?
  3. What is the problem from their perspective? (Or “why should they care about what you’re doing?”).

Until you can answer the third question you stand a very small chance of achieving your objective.

Understanding your audience through user research and involving them in co-production will enable you to do this and ensure your programme is as effective as possible.

Everyone is unique

It is always important to know your audience, even in everyday life – what your best friend needs and wants most is likely to be very different to your parents. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said ‘always remember you are unique, just like everyone else’.


Segmenting allows you to offer something more appropriate to each group rather than a ‘one size fits all approach’


Everyone is unique, but due to resource constraints you are unlikely to be able to tailor your products individually for everyone. Therefore, it is best to group similar or like-minded people together into segments.

The audience can be segmented in different ways, such as on need (or different levels of risk), personal characteristics (e.g. sex and age), past behaviour and their motivations.

Segmenting allows you to offer something more appropriate to each group rather than a ‘one size fits all approach’.

Sometimes you may only target one or two groups and sometimes you will need to address all of them, but your product is likely to be at least slightly different for each group.

Customer insight

Customer insight also allows you to understand as much as possible about your audience. The basis for the segmentation is just one type of information you will want to know about your audience (e.g. if risk, i.e. the amount people smoke, was used to segment the audience you will also need to understand what their needs and wants are and how they think).  There are three main ways to gain deeper insight into your target audiences: desk research, stakeholder research and primary research:

Desk research

As a starting point, there is often a huge amount of pre-existing research and information that will help to profile your audience and to understand their attitudes, current behaviours, barriers and motivations to change. This information comes in varying quality ranging from the gold standard peer-reviewed evidence to information that has been published by other agencies or organisations about their experiences, known as ‘grey literature’. Although this may not be as rigorous as peer-reviewed literature, it is often more practical and may give very useful insights into what has been tried before and what works on the ground.

Stakeholder research

Don’t forget to talk to stakeholders and possible ‘delivery partners’ to get their views on your target audience.  For example, if you are trying to target families with young children from lower socio-economic groups it may be useful to talk to Children’s Centre managers or other community groups working with the families. Although a stakeholder’s perspective will be ‘second-hand’ it is often a good starting point and the stakeholder may be able to put you in touch with members of the target audience. This is particularly useful if your target audience are an excluded group who may be distrustful of cold contacts.

Primary research

There is often no substitute for new research conducted with the exact audience you wish to reach. Primary research does not need to be expensive. And it is often unnecessary to commission expensive quantitative or ‘statistically significant’ research as this is likely to have been done before. If your resources are limited, use primary research – focus groups, interviews, mini-surveys – to gain specific insight into your target group. This can be particularly useful if you’re trying to reach a group in a specific geographic area (to understand their particular needs or access to services, for example) or to gain truly current information (e.g. 18 year old girls will respond to different channels today than they would have done 10 years ago).

Tailor your programme

Everything in your material needs to reflect your target audience – the language, the images and the channels.

The words you use need to be those recognised by your audience. For example use the ‘common language’ flu, rather than the appropriate acronym or scientific name (e.g. swine flu rather than H1N1).

The channels you use must be accessible and acceptable to your target audience. This is particularly important when ensuring your information can be used by disabled people, but can have a huge impact whichever group or community you are targeting.

It is not just how you convey your messages that should be tailored for the audience, but also the messages themselves. For example, effective messages to 18-24 year-olds about the benefits of cutting back on alcohol are likely be different to those aged over 65, to reflect their different priorities.

Decision aids are a growing approach to providing health information, and are based on this principle of tailoring information. They are designed to encourage patients to identify and evaluate relevant information in accord with their own values and situation. Patient decision aids are a means of helping people make informed choices about healthcare that take into account their personal preferences.

Digital formats generally, such as apps and interactive web pages, make it possible for information producers to enable their users to tailor the range of information they access.

Involving your audience

Co-production can help ensure that all elements of your product and service are informed by your target audience. In co-production members of your target audience are actually involved in creating the product and the messages. This can be through workshops, surveys and one-to-one interviews. The earlier you involve your target audience and test your product, the sooner you will identify if the route you have chosen will work.

Money and time spent on understanding your audience at the planning stage will be returned many times over in the effectiveness of the final programme. You can find out more information on our User engagement and involvement web page.

Key Points

  1. Understand the key characteristics of your audience
  2. Where appropriate, segment your audience into different target groups
  3. Understand the ‘journey’ of your users
  4. Tailor and/or personalise information to the specific needs and circumstances of the user
  5. Provide health information in a choice of formats, informed by user involvement
  6. Where appropriate, provide information at a range of detail and complexity levels

Featured articles

Ask About Medicines

Ask about Medicines was a campaign which ran from 2003-2009. Its mission has been to achieve lasting change by working with partners to encourage better communication between people and their health professionals and change expectations so that asking questions about medicines becomes the norm.

Acknowledgement: Helena Ball andJohn Isitt, Resonant Media
Page last updated: 3/2/2018