As understanding deepens and what was once cloudy becomes clear, there can be a feeling of coming out of the other side. It took me about eight years of hard work, with guidance from some great friends to manage that in pharmacy. It culminated in having the opportunity to help build a pharmacy company from scratch that, over another eight years won multiple awards for service development and pharmacy design. It grew like the clappers too and outperformed the market by a fair bit. Being part of such a great team was awesome and the way forward was clear.
I have a suspicion that I am approaching a similar place in marketing and branding. I’m ahead of schedule as well, having spent just short of 5 years focusing on how to connect pharmacy people with their customers. This is not a self-congratulatory piece. Far from it. There is always more to learn. It is reflective though and there are some lessons that I think it will be valuable to share now that the way forward in the world of marketing and branding is clear.
Pharmacy vs branding
Pharmacy is an ancient profession that has matured over many hundreds, if not thousands of years and is now based on empirical evidence about the science underpinning health, illness and the effect of medicines and behaviours in the management thereof. It’s not finished but there are regulated standards about the rights and wrongs. Blacks and whites.
Branding and marketing on the other hand, while a lot older than most may think, is nowhere near as mature as a discipline and despite recent academic work towards developing some empirical evidence, is based on a colourful range of ideas about what might work. That is because it’s harder to measure peoples thoughts and behaviours (i.e. response to branding and marketing) than it is to measure their health markers (i.e. response to pharmacy interventions). Also because people tend to be more willing to let you measure the latter rather than the former. Lastly there are few regulated standards in branding and marketing. There is no right and wrong. There is a lot of grey.
‘Something’ marketing and Brand ‘something’
I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a better or even a best way to approach branding and marketing. There is. Academic theories and models have been developed and data is being captured about which ones are most effective but it’s early days for that approach in reality. The issue is that a lot of people in branding and marketing don’t seem interested in evidence. They don’t see the relevance of a theory developed in the 1960s today and cite changes in technology or some other development as proof of their position. They miss the fact that the people they are recaching out to haven’t really changed, only the way we reach them. The theories underpinning branding and marketing are theories about people not technology so they are as relevant today as they ever were. Many don’t even bother with any formal training in their chosen specialist field of branding or marketing and because there is no regulation they can still, happily set up shop and sell their wares to the unwary. Let’s not forget that these people are often pretty convincing and can weave a wonderful web of reasons as to why clients really, really need their specific help.
This has led to a naming convention in branding and marketing that is, well, just odd. We are used to naming conventions in pharmacy which help us understand what kind of medicine we are dealing with etc. They are definitive and add clarity. The conventions in marketing seem to cloud the issue however. Let me give you some examples.
‘Something’ marketing – While researching this article I came across a website that listed ‘163 types of marketing’. If the link still works and they haven’t take it down you can find it here. 163! Cloud marketing, sticky marketing, data marketing… The list goes on. Almost endlessly, and it’s not exhaustive. When trying to find your feet in marketing and understand what marketing you should do for your pharmacy business this kind of list really does not help. Frankly, it seems that marketers will put any word before the word marketing and claim this ‘new’ version of marketing as their own. That seems to be what it is all about, ownership. A new name and the inventor can claim ownership and sell the idea as a panacea and feather their own nest in the process. It’s certainly not for the benefit of people trying to understand marketing and use it to help them make more profit. The 163 names describe some small part of marketing that the inventor noticed and named. We should recognise that as it is and place it where it belongs in the wider concept of marketing based on its merits.
If you were trying to put up a shelf and went to buy some tools would you want the shop to suggest only a screwdriver? No. Quite. A screwdriver is required but it’s not the whole toolkit, which is similar to focusing on only one ‘type’ of marketing and denying yourself the opportunity to see the whole picture and then choose what meets your needs best.
Brand ‘something’ – Where branding is concerned I’ve observed that it is the other way around. The word Brand is placed before a dizzying range of words to create a world where you start to doubt your understanding of what shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp. Brand purpose, brand values, brand story, brand vision etc. Which are relevant? Which are important? What exactly is meant by brand attitude anyway? It’s easy to see where people get confused and start working in random directions, getting nowhere in the process.
Ockham and necessity
William of Ockham, a scholastic philosopher (1285 – 1347) was a bright fella and unencumbered by the distractions of modern life. He left us with this bit of clear thinking:
Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.William of Ockham
He’s basically saying the simplest ideas are the best. If 163 different versions of marketing is not an example of ‘multiplied beyond necessity’ then I don’t know what is. Equally having what appears to be a potentially different and unknown version of a concept you thought you understood that applies in some illusive way to branding seems to be unnecessary.
Splitting down the concept of branding and marketing into smaller parts is not in itself bad. We have to understand how these things work but how we split them should be tested for whether it actually makes things easier or not.
We do, of course, have different descriptors within pharmacy. Community, hospital etc and they are useful to define a different setting in which pharmacy is pratised or a specialised branch. They also sit very firmly in the context of ‘pharmacy’ and the profession and its central ideology remains the dominant consideration for the right reasons.
My concern is that the constant deluge of new versions of marketing and complexity of language around branding doesn’t help us to understand better and creates more distance from the critical central ideology underpinning them. That ideology is lost and people are suffering because of it.
This is borne out by the fact that no one in hospital pharmacy, as an example, says that receptor theory is dead. It’s accepted and understood that hospital pharmacy is built on this and other key ideas. However, in marketing people are regularly attempting to throw out old theories and replace them with their own, less well thought through, non-evidence based theories. Just search for ‘Positioning is dead’, ‘Segmentation is dead’ or even ‘Branding is dead’ and you’ll see what I mean.
That might not be a major issue if only a small number of well trained people were interested in branding and marketing and they could separate the good stuff from the nonsense but that is not the case. Branding and marketing is relevant to a huge number of people across all walks of life and it’s incredibly hard to get a good guide to the basics.
Walk then run
You may well be thinking that I’ve made things worse by pointing out a problem without providing a solution. That is not my aim. My aim is to arm you with a sense of caution when branding and marketing your pharmacy business. Try hard to discern the good stuff from the nonsense. Be aware that it’s not a level playing field and that to effectively employ either functions means understanding the bumps. You could start by reading some of our other articles or our book ‘The Pharmacy Marketing Formulary‘ which provides a clear, step by step guide to the basics.
Alternatively get in touch and we can talk about your business in more detail.