How to Make the Most of Your Pharmacy’s Marketing Budget
Independent pharmacy owners and marketing managers often wonder whether they’re investing in the right campaigns for their store. It’s never an easy task determining the best way to create awareness around the products and services you offer while providing meaningful, relevant information that resonates with your customers and community.
A successful pharmacy marketing strategy makes your store stand out from competitors and encourages viewers to interact and explore. It helps build relationships, instill trust, earn loyalty and leave a lasting impression. That’s a tall order, especially when the average independent pharmacy marketing budget stands at about 0.4 percent of gross sales1, while chain pharmacies are known to spend significantly more than that.
Accordingly, when thinking about how to promote your pharmacy, it’s best to concentrate on your target audience, goals, objectives and marketing intent rather than strict budgetary considerations. Are you looking to attract new customers? Have you added services to create new revenue streams? Would you like current customers to utilize more of your existing services? Is your store a start-up or under new management? Are you preparing to sell your store? What’s most important: reaching consumers, prescribers or both?
Whatever the case may be, the best pharmacy advertisements align a clear message with business intent in a format that makes sense for the overall strategy. As you’ll see in the following summary, pharmacy marketing ideas take many forms, and each channel has its share of pros and cons. While thinking through the options, focus on what makes the most sense for reaching people in your community.
Weighing the pros and cons of different marketing channels
As you begin to formalize your goals and lay out your strategy, you’ll need to determine the media channel or combination of channels that will best deliver your message while sticking to your pharmacy marketing budget. The most common marketing channels fall into these three categories.
- Traditional marketing
- Digital marketing
- Local sponsorships and community events
This category encompasses television, radio and print, which works best when you want to reach a large population across different demographics with a universal marketing message.
- Traditional marketing has been around for decades and delivers your message in a familiar form to TV viewers, radio listeners and periodical readers.
- This type of pharmacy advertising connects you with customers who aren’t tech-savvy or don’t have internet access.
- Radio spots can be localized by listener preference (e.g., country music stations tend to be most popular among women over 40).
- Print ads are tangible, putting your brand into the hands of consumers.
- Direct mailers can be localized by ZIP code or routes. They can also be more targeted (e.g., by health category or condition, such as vitamin users or consumers with high blood pressure).
- Traditional marketing can be difficult to measure if lacking a clear call to action, such as a coupon or special offer. It also relies on the customer to remember the information that was presented and then take the appropriate next step on their own.
- It presents a one-way conversation directed at the customer. It lacks the ability for people to respond, ask questions and write reviews.
- It’s semi-permanent. It takes time to make changes to a TV or radio spot that’s already been produced. And print ads obviously can’t be changed after they’ve been published.
- The production timeline for this type of media can be lengthy and potentially expensive.
- TV commercials can be skipped over by consumers using DVR and streaming technology.
- TV spots may be placed on local channels at a lower cost, but viewership would be correspondingly lower than with network placements.
Also included in this category is out-of-home advertising, which is commonly seen on billboards or mass-transit placards. This is primarily a mass-reach medium, but digital technologies are making inroads in presenting contextually relevant messages to consumers.2 This channel is ideal for capturing the attention of a broad audience in very specific geographic locations.
- A well-positioned billboard or panel in a high-traffic area provides repetitive exposure to your messaging.
- Out-of-home advertising is an effective way to boost brand recognition.
- It’s highly suitable for showcasing the products and services offered at your pharmacy.
- Out-of-home ad space is limited, so it could be difficult to find opportunities in the right locations (e.g., in proximity to your store and highly visible).
- Contracts for this channel call for long-term commitments (up to a year in some cases).
- Traditional billboards are expensive to produce and hard to change after installation.
- It can be difficult to measure effectiveness unless you have a strategic call to action that can be tracked.
This type of marketing, which includes digital display, paid search, social media, retargeting and more, is known for its ability to reach the right people at the right time. It’s ideal if your goal is to target people within a defined radius of your store, as well as those with specific demographic characteristics.
With increasingly sophisticated targeting capabilities and the resulting surge in popularity, digital advertising expenditures surpassed the amount spent on television in 2017, making digital the dominant category thereafter. Internet-based ad revenue projects to nearly 9 percent compound growth through 2022, compared to about 2 percent for broadcast TV and 1 percent for radio.3
- Digital advertising reaches a targeted audience at low cost (e.g., an average of $2.75 per 1,000 impressions for Google Ads vs. $42.90 per 1,000 impressions for network TV).4
- By using relevant keywords, paid search ads can be micro-targeted to consumer behavior and interests (e.g., people who are seeking home prescription delivery or home medical equipment).
- Digital ads can be narrowed down to reach audiences by demographics, geography and time of day when consumers are online.
- They can be deployed quickly and updated without delay.
- Advertising on social channels enables two-way conversations and engagement.
- Digital ads are highly measurable, offering real-time metrics and tracking.
- Reviews, comments and questions spurred by this type of pharmacy advertising are visible to other consumers, so the store’s reputation must be monitored constantly. This takes time and effort or a willingness to pay for a third party to handle those tasks.
- Digital algorithms change frequently, which makes ad creation and management a dynamic process.
- Digital ads must be formatted properly for viewing on mobile devices; otherwise, they’ll be ignored.
- Some consumers fear potential phishing schemes, while others are concerned about their privacy. In both cases, these people are hesitant to interact with digital ads.
Digital marketing also encompasses a nearly ubiquitous form of consumer communication—email. By the end of 2020, the number of email users in the United States will approach 255 million.5 If you’re looking to connect with your community one to one, this is a powerful way to share helpful information—everything from simple wellness tips to exciting updates on your latest launch of a new service offering.
- Email is affordable. There are plenty of email service providers that cater to small businesses with low-cost monthly plans.
- This format is trackable, allowing you to see who opened each email and who clicked on any of the links inside.
- Email can be targeted and personalized, which is especially helpful if you want to communicate with patients who are managing certain disease states (e.g., you could send an email with tips for naturally lowering blood pressure to all your patients currently taking a diuretic).
- Email is very effective at driving traffic to your pharmacy’s website or social media pages.
- It takes time to cultivate an active list of addresses and create compelling emails, which may require assistance from a third-party agency.
- Most consumers already receive multiple email solicitations daily. Your message can get lost in the shuffle.
- Whether a recipient will open your email or delete it depends heavily on the effectiveness on your subject line, so strong writing skills are a must.
- Spam blockers and bad addresses make some messages undeliverable.
- Email needs to be sized to download easily, which limits what you can present visually.
Rounding out the digital suite, content marketing is a broader channel that allows you to focus on educating your community on topics related to your pharmacy’s areas of expertise, including the products you sell and the services you offer. This can come in the form of a blog on your pharmacy’s website, guest posts on other relevant websites, YouTube videos or any other format where you’re providing detailed information that would be helpful to your customers. Effective content marketing positions your pharmacists and staff as health and wellness experts, builds a loyal following and encourages continuous patient engagement. This is a worthwhile investment if your goal is to nurture the relationships you have with your customers.
- Content marketing helps you circumvent ad-blocking software.
- You have the freedom to focus on any topic that’s important to your community, dive as deep as you like on the subject and use whatever media your patients find most engaging (e.g., articles, infographics or videos).
- Content marketing fuels the other marketing channels you’re using and vice versa (e.g., blog posts give you something exciting to share on social media, and you can use the feedback you receive there to inform what your future blog posts should be about).
- It’s measurable in terms of how many people viewed each piece of content you’ve published and how long they spent viewing it.
- The cost of content marketing is very low if you produce it in house.
- Developing fresh, relevant content on a regular basis can be challenging.
- Writing, editing and publishing content is time consuming.
- Outsourcing content production can be relatively expensive.
Local sponsorships and community events
In the past, health fairs, athletic competitions and other in-person gatherings were fun opportunities to provide educational sessions and services such as medication reviews. These might look much different in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but even virtual events can be a great way to connect with new and existing patients in your community.
- Community events create unbeatable networking opportunities with patients in your community.
- Participating in an event can give your store a quick publicity boost, even more so if you sponsor the event.
- Events give you a natural platform to support your community, showcase your services and increase store visibility.
- At in-person events, you can hand out custom promotional items for long-lasting brand recognition.
- You can use your sponsorship or event participation to fuel cross-channel marketing. For example, if you’re sponsoring a sign at your local high school stadium, you could take a picture with your staff in front of it and post it on social media so everyone can see how you’re supporting your community. You could even turn that into a Facebook or Instagram caption contest to boost engagement.
- Participating in a community event requires planning, preparation and staffing, as well as time away from your store.
- Community events are characterized by many variables over which you won’t have any control, such as the quantity and demographics of attendees, technical difficulties, inclement weather, etc.
Marketing under extraordinary circumstances
When it’s business as usual at your store, nailing down your pharmacy marketing strategy is a straightforward process. You take an honest look at your business goals and choose the ideal combination of marketing tactics that will help you achieve them. But what do you do when everything is thrown off course by unforeseen events like the COVID-19 pandemic?
In situations like this, it’s important to be agile and open to adapting your pharmacy marketing strategy based on what your community needs in the moment. For example, when businesses were being forced to transition to a closed-door model to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many pharmacies looked to social media and email for viable means of staying connected with their customer base. In this case, digital communications were the only way they could quickly share critical information with their patients, such as changes to their operations and store hours.
Different scenarios will warrant different strategies, so it’s important to keep an open mind at all times to the various opportunities within the marketing channels discussed here. It will also take some testing of different combinations of tactics to fully understand how your community prefers to hear from you and under what circumstances. Once you know what works best for the people you want to reach, you’ll be able to strike the right balance with your marketing. And ultimately, that’s what really matters. It’s not about how much you spend—it’s how effective you can be.
Looking for guidance on how to formalize your pharmacy marketing strategy?
1. National Community Pharmacists Association. 2018 NCPA Digest Financials. https://ncpa.org/preview-ncpa-digest-sponsored-cardinal-health
2. Out of Home Advertising Association of America. OOH Advertising Spend to Soar to US $33 Billion by 2021. https://oaaa.org/StayConnected/NewsArticles/IndustryRevenue/tabid/322/id/5012/Default.aspx
3. Good Neighbor Pharmacy. Advertising Effectiveness: Targeted Digital vs. Traditional Broadcast. https://www.wearegnp.com/insights/advertising-effectiveness
5. Statista. U.S. Email Marketing Statistics and Facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/1446/e-mail-marketing