Thriving in a Digital World: Marketing Strategies for Independent Pharmacies

Drug Topics Journal, Drug Topics April 2022, Volume 166, Issue 04

Cut through the online noise with these digital marketing tips for your independent pharmacy.

So much has changed over the past few decades in how we consume media. The advent and proliferation of social media, subscription-based news outlets, and the ubiquitous presence of the internet have created an ultrafragmented audience for anyone marketing a product or service. Amid all this “noise,” it has become increasingly difficult to know when, where, and how to get the attention of potential customers.

Do I need a website and social media, or is only one sufficient?

The functions of a website and of social media platforms are different. Independent pharmacies should have both to ensure adequate information about the business is available online.

Which comes first? Creating a social media account is less involved but building a website allows for a compre- hensive digital storefront—a home base if you will—and provides a destination for all other messaging to point. Many free builder tools (GoDaddy, Wix, and Mailchimp, for example) provide easy- to-use templates for simple websites. Good sites will include a welcome message to visitors, bullet points on what sets your business apart from other pharmacies, contact information, a clear photo of the building, and an introduction to your lead pharmacist. Remember, people want to do business with people, not “brands.”

Once your website is in place, social media begins to serve an important function. No matter which platform you choose, social media is a terrific way to add personality to your brand and connect with your audience in a more con- versational way. Facebook and Twitter provide simple avenues to disseminate health care news and updates in a timely manner. With social media, your audience will want to talk to you. Be careful not to provide any diagnostic health care advice or individualized feedback to a patient on social platforms. Keep those conversations between you and patients inside your pharmacy.

How do I choose the right social media platform?

First, identify your customer. If you’re located in a bustling college town, you may be successful with a presence on Instagram or TikTok—but in a market with an older audience, TikTok may be an unwise choice. Most businesses should at least have a Facebook page; consumers tend to use Facebook to find simple information like store hours, location, and information on promotions. A Facebook page also provides a consistent opportunity for businesses to interact and maintain a presence with potential customers.

What’s next?

Identify your objective before you start. Determine what you want to accomplish in 1 year, then break that down into smaller pieces. Are you looking for new patients or customers, or would you like a higher spend in your store from existing patients? Are you hoping to expand point-of-care services or frontline retail options to generate more revenue?

Each of these goals requires a different marketing approach. Review and assess your progress toward the goal on a monthly or quarterly basis. Don’t wait until the end of the year to “pass” or “fail.”

Decide on your primary message. What is your brand promise? What sets your business apart from other pharmacies? Marketing materials must be consist- ent and include your main message. Each touchpoint with your customers contributes to your pharmacy’s unique voice in the marketplace, and this rein- forcement helps build a clear, consistent reputation across your audience.

Delegate marketing responsibilities. Build the effort into standard daily or weekly pharmacy operations. Whether you choose to do the work yourself or with staff inside your pharmacy, or you contract with a third-party marketing agency, consistency is key. Inconsistent marketing efforts are rarely successful and typically end up being a waste of valuable resources. Choose someone who has an existing interest and ability to engage in these activities regularly to handle the duties.

Start small. Choose simple, measurable initiatives to get started. Once you get comfortable with your public messaging and learn what can be measured, expand from there. Ideally, work up to having 2 or 3 channels activated in 1 marketing campaign.

My budget is limited. How do I know this is working?

In our current age of technology, there are so many tools available to measure the effectiveness of a campaign, especially on social media. Marketers can measure clicks, views, shares, and comments to see what type of content resonates with the audience. Most marketing platforms include tools built into their systems, making these metrics highly visible and easy to understand. Once you have insight into the content that is driving the most response, it becomes easier to identify where to allocate resources most effectively.

Think outside the box.

The most cherished characteristics of an independent pharmacy are the personal service and relationships built between staff and patients. To build on this foundation, pharmacies can and should be asking satisfied patients for positive online reviews. Many consumers consult the internet before choosing to do business with a company. If your pharmacy has an abundance of happy customers recommending your store online, that is a great way to cultivate testimonial “marketing” without spending anything.

Be your best advocate.

A small business should never be the community’s best-kept secret. Every marketing initiative is a conversation with 1 individual at a time, even when communicating to a much larger audience. The enthusiasm that brought you to—and that keeps you going in—the independent pharmacy space is what makes you special in your community. Communicate your passion in an authentic, consistent way and you will be primed for success.

Ginny Langbehn is director of marketing and corporate communications at American Associated Pharmacies (AAP), one of the nation’s largest cooperatives for independent pharmacies.