Modern marketing approach in pharmacies, from both sides of the counter

modernmarketing approach in f+pharmacies featured image


Pharma marketing was always innovative and one of few to be copied and imitated by other industries. It is a sensitive mix of research, strategy, tactics, sales skills, ethical promotion and customer relations. Marketing approach in Pharmacies is like a two sides of the coin, Pharmacy Managers and Pharma companies are on different sides of the counter, but their objectives meet each other, with the patient as the main link and main focus.

What ho! sickly people of high and low degree
I pray ye all be warned by me;
No matter what may be your bodily ills
The safest and quickest cure is Beecham’s Pills.

They are admitted to be worth a guinea a box
For bilious and nervous disorders, also smallpox,
And dizziness and drowsiness, also cold chills,
And for such diseases nothing else can equal Beecham’s Pills

They have been proved by thousands that have tried them
So that the people cannot them condemn.
Be advised by me one and all
Is the advice of Poet McGonagall


William Topaz McGonagall has been widely hailed as the writer of the WORST poetry in the English language. His audiences threw rotten fish at him, the authorities banned his performances, but his books remain in print to this day, and he’s remembered and quoted long after more talented contemporaries have been forgotten.

Although “The McGonagall poem” is from the 19th century, it shows us that tendency of some pharma companies to choose worst copywriters for their advertisements is a two-century tradition, not a 21st-century heritage. But hey, after two centuries, we are still talking about it?! Damn those marketing people, again we did what they wanted us to do!

In the period when McGonagall was writing his love poem to laxative pills, pharmacy just started to evolve as a separate science from medicine. Not so long after that, the 20th century brought faster pharmaceutical industry development, the role of the pharmacy and pharmacist changed thru different eras, and marketing played important role in each.

marketing in pharmacies the pharmaceutical care era development

What is Pharmaceutical Care?

Hepler and Strand introduced term pharmaceutical care back in 1990 to describe the change in the focus of pharmacy practice from products and dispensing to ensuring the best therapy management and patient safety.

Changing the focus of practice from products and biological systems to ensuring the best drug therapy and patient safety will raise pharmacy’s level of responsibility and require philosophical, organizational, and functional changes. It will be necessary to set new practice standards, establish cooperative relationships with other health-care professions, and determine strategies for marketing pharmaceutical care. “Opportunities and responsibilities in pharmaceutical care,” 1990 Hepler & Strand

Principles of Pharmaceutical Care developed by APhA shows that it requires both individual and organizational change.

The pharmacist need to further develop or acquire new skills and knowledge, especially in communication, customer relationship, data usage, therapy management and process personalization. At the same time, organization (no matter on the size, individual or pharmacy chain), need to develop proper data collection system, organize efficient documentation and transfer of information, data security, quality system, assessment procedures, etc.

But taking care of patient’s needs, not just filling the prescription, isn’t it what pharmacist are educated for, and isn’t this Pharmaceutical Care just one “forgotten skill” that pharmacists need to revive in the collective memory?

What happened in the nineties to initiate the switch from Clinical to Pharmaceutical Care era?

Let me tell you a secret (but don’t share it outside social networks), patient centricity and Pharmaceutical care did not happen in the nineties by coincidence, it was those marketing guys that did it.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole” Theodore Levitt

Customer relationship management was always present in the companies, but massive customer data collection did not become a big thing until the end of the eighties, not because people did not think about it, but because that process was too expensive. The era of personal computers at the end of the eighties provided a much better way to manage the customer and market data. This initiated first major step toward true CRM, first as Sales Force Automation software’s, and with internet revolution, everything was in place to develop CRMs as we know it today.

The sudden availability of valuable customer data made some wheels rolling in marketing people brains, and although it may start with the decision to go for more detailed segmentation, it for sure ended with customer centricity. Well, it cannot be anymore segmented than an individual approach.

Beginning of 1993. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers introduced the one-to-one marketing concept, also called relationship marketing or customer relationship management. One-to-one marketing concept means “being willing and able to change your behavior toward an individual customer based on what the customer tells you and what else you know about that customer” (OMG!, add some kids to this concept, and it sounds like marriage!).

In 1993, Michael Hammer and James Champy in their book “Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution,” introduced customer centricity as organizational structure. This triggered regrouping jobs from rigid business divisions too much more flexible and internally linked positions. Long story short, now you know who to blame for multitasking.

Fast forward to the 21st century and Phillip Kotler introduction to Holistic Marketing concept. Although some say this approach is just combination of already known concepts (Internal, Integrated, Relationship, and Performance marketing concepts), the true value of the Holistic concept is not in what it combines, but how. Holistic Concept teaches us that marketing is a live thing, just like digital era we live in. And while we think that customer centricity in the holistic world means one-to-one communication, it turns in a millisecond into the many-to-many discussion. Whatever feeling is triggered with your customer in that centric one-to-one communication, it instantly goes online to millions (and the stronger the feeling is – positive or negative, more viral is the “share”).

So what is the future of the retail pharmacies and can they be cured by high repeated doses of marketing?

Let’s try to paraphrase Professor Levitt famous quote “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole,” and customize it for pharma industry:

Patients don’t want to buy medicine, they want relief.

There are ten main types of entities to be marketed, so where does the statement from above fits to these entities? Marketer markets all entities, with different intensity depending on the industry and brand, with customer data and customer point of view in the center of each entity.

How does it look in the case of the Pharmacy? In the table below you can see an example of how the marketing of each of main entities can be used in Pharmacy marketing.

 Pharmacy Owner/Manager approach

The more powerful organization, more powerful marketing should be expected, but owners of independent pharmacies, do not fall to depression (and if you do, there are plenty of drugs on your shelves to fight it), better yet, instead of sitting in a dark room and feeling anxious because big chain is on the door, fight back.

Link your brand to the Health, not to the sickness

If there is a time machine and we bring a pharmacist from 1998, put him/her behind the counter of the 2018 pharmacy, the reaction would be:


Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead – Marketing tips for Individual Pharmacies in the world of wicked chains

It is hard for an individual pharmacy to be competitive commercially, so it is a customer relationship, service quality and patient centricity that bring added value. Easy to say, but how to do this?

Have something unique to promote – You cannot be most affordable for sure, so you need to give more and be different. Additional services, Patient support, delivery, chronic patients programs, family cards…

Earn expert status – and let your patients know you and your staff have expert status in a certain field like newborns, diabetes, weight control, chronic diseases. Look for accredited courses and lectures, gain your expert status and show the certificate, merchandise yourself.

Create services that will become habit like weekly blood pressure check, create patient file and regularly update the results, send it as a personalized and branded newsletter via email or in hard copy, together with advice on healthy living;

Network with other healthcare and lifestyle providers in the neighborhood, physician from local ambulances and primary health center, home care agencies, nutritionists, fitness and cosmetic studios. Create a referral program with them, as well as activities, services, and events. Once a month make an outdoor event and prepare some special discount club cards to be used during following month.

Omnichannel marketing, reliable, interesting and frequent online content (website, social networks), be approachable online and give your patients full support. At the same time do not give up on traditional media, you are not a big player to put a commercial on TV (yet), but be on local media, both as an advertiser and with pr/expert texts or shows.

Last but not least, service in your pharmacy need to be top quality: Product knowledge, selling skills, customer relationship, patient segmentation and centricity, medical knowledge, always-in-stock, etc.

When it comes to commercial terms, only thing pharmacy manager can do, is to focus on most profitable products. For example, Serbian market of Medical devices and supplements with approximately 7,500 SKUs is worth 140 Mill Eur. Almost half of it goes on just top500 products. Have you ever analyzed top 500 products in your country and compared it with your pharmacy top sellers? Is there a space to increase sales in some category, especially among most profitable products? If you do not have these data, I am sure one of KAMs visiting you can provide you with needed info.

Pharma company approach

While Pharmacy Managers focus mainly on patients and develop most of the marketing activities to communicate with, gain and keep these clients, Pharma companies are dealing with more stakeholders:

marketing approach in pharmacies modern customer journey

To keep the story close to pharmacies, let’s talk here only about OTC, self-medication and what Pharma company need to put a focus on in this scenario.

We are today facingspecial forcecustomers, well informed, highly connected, influential online, easily approachable by competitors, empowered by social networks, little bit poisoned by tons of false information online and therefore extremely cautious in accepting new info. People love to do their online and offline research on symptoms, indication, treatment options, brand referrals, pharmacy, prices, etc. Most of them come to the pharmacy with a brand already on their mind or at least an idea influenced by what they read, so it is too late to start the influence in the pharmacy.

Everything you put online need to be 4T:

Transparent, True, Trustworthy, Trend

Research them before they research you. As illogical as it sounds, you need to do proper research that will show you which research will bring patients to your platform, website, blog or social network, and even more, which researches you will miss unless optimized. Everybody is searching today; you need to put directions everywhere that show to your Brand.

But when patients come to Pharmacy, they are in front of new temptation: pharmacist, and his recommendation. Trust in pharmacist is traditionally over 50%, depending on the question asked, it goes up to 80%, so you better have them on your side. Pharmacist’s trust is gained on two “fronts”:

  1. Scientific
  2. Commercial

Often phenomenon is that Science is in favor over Commercial only in smaller organizations, individual pharmacies, and small chains. The bigger organization become, commercial part became more important, although this does not mean increased profitability in the long run. This is usually a result of over-centralized decision making which does not include the opinion of responsible pharma managers, and commercial strategy: “profitability increase 20% by tomorrow afternoon”.

Some of the examples of gaining scientific trust, increasing product knowledge and indication expertise is below in the best practice section. (Please feel free to add some good examples from your practice or experience in the comments).

Best practice examples

Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy Academy 

The Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy Academy is a program aimed at supporting Pharmacists, Pharmacist Assistants, Front Shop Assistants, Clinic Sisters and Nurses to understand and recognize basic symptoms, the customer diagnosis process and the potential treatments and over-the-counter (OTC) recommendations that can assist in relieving symptoms. This is beneficial to the work environment as it builds confidence in customer service skills and product recommendations.


J&J built the advocacy Programm on the CRM Kaffeine as a platform. It is used to keep their OTC portfolio top of mind with Pharmacist and Pharmacy Assistant, and it was initiated to protect their brands the on-going threat of being switched out for generics at the counter. It started in South Africa some years ago, now expanding to other markets.

Access Pfizer

Access Pfizer is a website for pharmacy professionals across the UK, providing convenient access to Online training modules to support pharmacists Continued Professional Development, but as well discount and stock info.

Easy to order toolkits and materials to support delivery of services to patients Up-to-date Stock and Account Information. Access Pfizer has been developed in partnership with pharmacists and industry experts to provide professional and commercial support in an increasingly challenging environment.

Ascensia Diabetes Care

Ascenia Diabetes Care was established in 2016 through the acquisition of Bayer Diabetes Care by Panasonic Healthcare Holdings. Together with the portfolio, know-how followed, and part of it was Bayers’ Dialogue program – diabetes consult for pharmacy

Three main parts of the program for pharmacies are:

  1. Diabetes In Review, medical texts;
  2. Dialogue – Diabetes Consult for Pharmacy, virtual binder;
  3. Pharmacy Education Program – accredited training seems still in development.

Great idea that needs to be refreshed, both with materials and from a design point of view.

Harmonium Pharma

Harmonium Pharma is a young company, “rooted in Diabetes” that recognized both importance of Pharmacist and patient-centric approach as a must and created a specific business model that granted them entrance in more than 30 markets already in year one! Harmonium continues to establish their business thru the world with their The Diabetic Corner in the center of the business model. “The Diabetic Corner” is an integrated product and service portfolio with a dual approach, territorial and digital. Harmonium Pharma provides a range of products which help day-by-day people with diabetes, but at the same time, supports the pharmacist in the evolution from the traditional pharmacy to a pharmacy of services, providing them with an innovative project, complete know-how and real-time support in this development.


Patient centricity, Pharmaceutical care, Holistic concept, integrated, cross-linked, relationship… Bottom line, you need to individualize and personalize your offerings and value propositions. Girls and boys that were babies when we’ve got our first degree in marketing or science are creating today’s trends and we need to anticipate the changes and to welcome them prepared.

And whenever you think “there is time to adapt, the market must wait for me; I am too strong to be affected,” think of Nokia.


2 thoughts on “Modern marketing approach in pharmacies, from both sides of the counter

  1. irecevic

    Fantastic. Thank you.
    Just a hint for last point – Nokia came back with Health products 😉

  2. Dragan Cirkovic

    Thanks! I agree on Nokia, they finally figured out that Snake can not be sold as a “stress relief app” so went for proper Mate 🙂

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