Gaining a presence in the drugstore aisle

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Jim O’Dea, President and CEO, Rx EDGE Pharmacy Networks
Jim O’Dea, President and CEO, Rx EDGE Pharmacy Networks

Multi-channel marketing requires a concerted effort. Its success is based on establishing a brand presence and connecting with people in many different ways and at multiple access points, depending on where and how they want to be engaged.

Before pharmaceutical marketers make decisions about which online and offline consumer channels to pursue, it is important to ask key questions:

In most cases, the answers to these questions will lead pharma marketers to rely more heavily on the retail pharmacy as part of a multichannel strategy.

Evolving role of pharmacies

Pharmacies have long been recognized for helping patients with medication adherence through refill programs and other services. Today they are playing even greater roles in educating and acquiring patients. In fact, in many cases, consumers are turning to their community pharmacies for healthcare services of all kinds. 

As a result, there are more opportunities for marketers to maximize their presence in the aisles, at the point of prescription sale and throughout the store. In this sense, the pharmacy channel has become a strategic asset at every phase of a pharmaceutical product's lifecycle because of its inherent capacity to build lasting credibility with patients.

The mindset moment

People tend to visit pharmacies for their specific healthcare needs and seek out products and solutions to fulfill these needs. For example, when they have frequent heartburn, they visit a retail pharmacy in search of remedies such as antacids. Or if it is hay fever season, they stop by to pick up allergy medication. This is the mindset moment. It means that consumers are thinking about their health problems and are ready to solve them. In other words, this is the time they are in search mode, are motivated to take action and are willing to focus attention on information they perceive as valuable. This makes pharmacies a perfect place to deliver disease education and brand benefit communications. 

While a pharmacy may not be the first image that comes to mind when envisioning “point of care,” it is evolving into that function. Because there is a trained and licensed healthcare provider present, the pharmacist (or a nurse practitioner/physician assistant, if there is an on-site clinic), is called upon to deliver health services. In-store immunizations are one example. It was only a few years ago that immunizations were provided primarily in doctors' offices. Now, the majority of pharmacists (more than 200,000) are trained to administer vaccines1. This development means consumers can get their flu shots and at the same time pick up a bottle of aspirin, some cough drops and even groceries.

In addition, pharmacists spend 40% more time with their patients than they did two years ago2. They answer health questions, review medication regimes and administer clinical and educational programs. Retail-based clinics are growing in number and provide a wide variety of services, from camp physicals to treatment of minor illness. These services are being added to meet the demands of consumers. These efforts translate into increased shopper traffic and are changing perceptions about how, where and by whom healthcare should be delivered.

Multichannel marketing campaigns in healthcare

An effective multichannel campaign incorporates in-home and on-the-go marketing with programs available in the pharmacy and in the doctor's office. For example, a consumer sees a TV ad for a dry eye medication. Later, this consumer visits the eye care aisle to look at OTC products to self-treat. The consumer is in that mindset moment and thinking about the dry eye problem. In the aisle is an informational communication that suggests asking the pharmacist and the doctor if a particular medication may help with dry eye symptoms. The consumer talks to the pharmacist and then the doctor, obtains a prescription for the medication and returns to the pharmacy where additional education can take place.

For these campaigns to be successful, it is important to have consistent messages across all channels. In other words, marketers need to align in-pharmacy and in-office communications with what consumers see on TV, online and in print. It is equally important to include similar messages throughout digital channels such as smart phones and tablets.

The goal with multichannel marketing campaigns is to increase the contact points that brands have with consumers. Experienced marketers consider as many mediums as possible when implementing a healthcare-focused multichannel marketing campaign. The pharmacy has an ongoing presence as part of a continuous communication “loop”:


By establishing a presence in each of these areas, pharmaceutical marketers boost their ability to reach consumers during their mindset moments.

Reach and educational focus

Approximately 275 million consumers walk into a pharmacy weekly, and many of them are thinking about their health and well-being3. Additionally, retail clinics are becoming increasingly embraced, with 73% of adults who have visited a retail clinic indicating that they would do so again4. The pharmacy is also a logical entry point for many of the large numbers of people who are entering the healthcare system as a result of the Affordable Care Act. These numbers translate into substantial opportunities for increasing product awareness and reach. Communications can be carried out anywhere in the store, including the areas where the pharmacists are. Specific messages will help consumers learn more about their conditions and symptoms of the health issues they are experiencing along with solutions offered by medication.

The pharmacy is an obvious place for delivering medication education and adherence programs. Such communications help patients understand how to take their medication and can provide long-term medication management information. Patients trust pharmacies and pharmacists too. In fact, pharmacists were ranked second (nurses were first) in their honesty and ethical standards in a recent Gallup poll5. When consumers receive communications from a resource they perceive as dependable the likelihood that they will act on the information increases.

Moreover, the retail pharmacy lends itself well to measurement through industry standard matched-panel research through which pharmaceutical marketers have the ability to measure the results of their marketing campaigns with an unsurpassed degree of accuracy. For reminder and retention value, reach and frequency factors also can be taken into consideration just as they would for other media vehicles. There's no question about it, the role of the pharmacy has expanded and savvy marketers are unlocking its value in addressing goals related to awareness, acquisition, usage and adherence.

The pharmacy as a healthcare destination

Currently, much of the population does not have a primary care physician. This number is expected to grow as the projected shortage of primary care physicians increases. As a result, pharmacies are stepping in to fill the void by becoming destination points for patients seeking education and answers to healthcare questions. By adding healthcare clinics and training pharmacists to administer vaccines, they are making these visits as productive as possible. Consumers want to receive medical information and education on their own terms without having it pushed on them when it may not be relevant. Because pharmacies provide excellent opportunities to reach consumers in that “mindset moment” when they are most receptive to receiving information, they can be an important component of multichannel marketing campaigns.

Jim O'Dea is the president and chief executive officer with Rx EDGE Pharmacy Networks.







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