In 2009, most of the 945 state-owned pharmacies in Sweden were sold to private owners who quickly rebranded their estates in order to find a way to attract customers. Their services were all identical so branding was the only meaningful way for them to carve out a share of the market.
Branding builds value and resilience which in the light of another larger than expected hit to UK pharmacy remuneration makes it one of the best ways to respond. While there are numerous options for pharmacy contractors who are thinking about ways to survive and thrive, investing in your brand has some important advantages.
Your brand is the experience that people have when they come into contact with your pharmacy and the feelings and thoughts they have as a consequence. These feelings and thoughts will determine whether they seek your pharmacy out or look elsewhere for pharmaceutical care in the future. How else could people make that decision? They don’t know about the immaculate CD records that you keep or the efficiency of your stockholding. They can only appreciate what they experience. Yes, it’s important to keep tidy CD records and know how much stock you’ve got at any point in time but only so that your customer experiences the level of service that you want to deliver. Directly controlling people’s feelings and thoughts and hence their behaviour isn’t possible so we can only hope to have an influence by exerting what control we have over the experiences that create those feelings and thoughts in the first place.
By managing experiences we hope to create memorable associations in the mind of our customers. For example ‘I like and use this pharmacy because it is [insert your associations of choice here].’ When we’ve created these associations we protect them and raise awareness of our brand. Before we know it we are managing our brand. If we have positive associations your brand will have meaning and add value and resilience to your pharmacy during hard times. Like now. It is not a quick fix but when done well it is a sound long term investment that keeps on adding value over time.
Where to start though? Good question. Try starting here…
The seven Ps
The way your customers experience your brand is the synthesis of the seven Ps of marketing. In other words if you think about seven key areas of how you implement your marketing strategy you will be managing your customer experience. They all happen to begin with P which is handy. You may have heard them called the Marketing Mix. Booms and Bitner developed this model in 1981 which replaced the earlier four Ps model developed in the late 70’s. At DOSE we believe the seven Ps model applies to pharmacy way more than the four Ps. It reflects the heavy service focus of our practice.
The original four Ps
The original Ps include product, price, place and promotion.
Your product, meaning anything you are offering your customers in this case, is obviously an important consideration. How you define your product, what’s included, what isn’t included etc., all make a difference.
The price you charge is critical in most industries but for large swathes of our services, those commissioned with fixed remuneration and free at the point of care, price isn’t relevant. For private services and retail products it really is. Pricing is fascinating.
Place means your route to market. So it means distribution channels. Until fairly recently pharmacies only offered their services from their registered premises. Now we have digital channels and outreach clinics in range of settings. Place also means the environment from which the pharmacy operates.
Promotion is the act of raising awareness of what you offer. It is the communications element of marketing.
The other three Ps
The original four Ps were developed as an overall model for the marketing mix. As service industries developed it became apparent that there were other things businesses needed to think about that were not covered by the model. They were captured by the new Ps: people, process and physical evidence.
People are arguably the most potent force in the marketing mix and one that is often overlooked. In a pharmacy they can make or break the experience. Removing them can reduce the risk of a negative impact but also the opportunity to win a customer’s advocacy. Whatever you do, you can’t ignore them.
How your service is delivered or in other words, the process used, will define the customer experience. It should be something that is considered rather than something that develops as a result of other concerns.
Finally despite many of our services having an intangible benefit or outcome we almost always leave the customer with some physical evidence of what they’ve received. This may be a bag, leaflet, appointment card, report etc. This physical evidence will be what reminds them of the experience when they leave your pharmacy.
Pharmacy branding can become a lot more manageable when you use the seven Ps model.
Still with us?
Creating and managing an experience is not easy! Using the seven Ps in combination can help you do so and give you a long term competitive edge that is very hard to replicate and provides a reason for people to come to your pharmacy, not your competitors. It can help you win market share, customer loyalty and will build value and resilience to help you survive and thrive. The Swedish market taught us some interesting lessons and highlighted the importance of brand when product offering is very similar…