Even in the age of social media and digital e-commerce, many community pharmacies don’t have a marketing plan. That’s a mistake. Here’s how to fix it.
There’s a prevailing notion that small businesses don’t need to worry about marketing and communications. As a result, many just avoid the issue altogether. In the United States, over half of small businesses don’t have a communications plan, broadly reflecting similar sentiments in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
However, the fact of the matter is that communications plans are important for any business to grow. And small businesses aren’t exempt. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that small businesses are even more in need of a communications plan in order to keep up with their larger, better-resourced competitors.
Leveraging your home advantage
Community pharmacies have an identity as hyperlocal institutions that prize customers over their profits. A perception that can be parlayed into a competitive advantage over larger chains and big retailers. Relatedly, pharmacists consistently rank as some of the “most trusted” medical professionals in the industry.
A communications plan helps you develop the value of your brand by bridging all those identities so you can better engage with your existing customers, capture new ones, and further establish your business’s foundation. And the reality is that most pharmacists, despite being medical professionals, still operate in a commercial environment. Thus, marketing and communications remain key.
The need for good communications becomes even more clear when we consider that small businesses are now having to navigate a commercial world. A world that is increasingly driven by social media and digital platforms. With the entry of traditional retailers and e-commerce-first entities entering the dispensary business, pharmacies face more competition than ever to stand out in a crowded field.
Increasingly, it’s becoming obvious that a good communications plan is a “must-have,” not a “nice to have.”
Breaking down the “communications plan”
We might think of “communications” as simply marketing, but it’s a bit more than that. Good communication is all about being consistent, and comprehensive in how and where you talk to your customers so you can guarantee a good experience for them.
In order to figure out what your communications plan will look like, it’s important to clearly lay out the details about the business itself. Perhaps consider asking yourself the following questions:
- What are your company’s values? How do you want to communicate those values?
- Are those values consistent across all your marketing materials and public engagements?
- How do your customers get information about your opening hours or services? Is the information readily available, clear and concise?
- What channels are you using to talk to your customers?
- Is there a protocol for responding to customer questions or complaints?
There are an untold number of questions you can ask yourself before you get started. Therefore, it’s important to go in with a structured approach. Here is a three-step approach to help with your planning.
1. What is your business about? Who is your audience?
These questions are inextricably linked. In order to figure out who your audience and customers are, you need to decide what your business is to them. What is your unique selling point? What is the core service you are providing? Why are you important to the community and the customer?
2. What is the goal you have in mind?
A “goal” doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific KPI or number of hits (though those are also important!) but it’s important to figure out what you want your plan to achieve. It could be short-term or longer-term, as simple or complex as you see fit.
Do you want to promote a particular service or item? Or maybe you want to spread awareness of available vaccine appointments? A successful plan is made from clear goals.
3. What are your available resources?
The most common factor that small businesses cite for not going all-in on marketing and communications is the lack of resources. However, the growth of e-commerce and marketing technologies means it’s easier than ever before to consider doing more with less. Think of your communications as an investment in your business. There is a cost, but also a reward at the end.
Resources aren’t just limited to cash, by the way; they also include the manpower and time it takes to ensure the strategies and goals you’ve outlined are carried out effectively. Make sure that you take these into consideration when planning so you don’t overshoot what’s possible.
Each pharmacy will have different goals and available resources. Therefore, it’s important not to think of communications plans as a “one-size-fits-all” situation. Instead, your plan should be focused on ensuring your customers have clear, up-to-date information — everything else is just window dressing.
Channelling your communications plan
The channels that you decide to use to run your plan are core to your communications. So next, we’ll briefly look at the different digital platforms that you can consider using.
These days, the need for a website is as basic as they come. For community pharmacies, they act as “digital storefronts” where official information like opening hours, a services menu, team members, and contacts can be listed. The website can also double up as an e-commerce platform, which can be easily done by integrating with a service like Shopify or Facebook Shops.
It’s important that your website is used as the clearest illustration of your business, and the tone and personality you’ve decided on should come through.
For many customers, social media has become the first port of call for information about a brand or business. Websites may be “official,” but social media channels, like Facebook pages, can act as a legitimiser of a brand’s existence.
For businesses, the big problem with social media is that there are just so many platforms out there! But unlike websites – which can be somewhat fiddly to deal with – social media platforms can be easier to maintain in bite-sized chunks and are more forgiving to experimentations with different approaches.
Many small businesses today use social media to provide updates on opening hours, promotions, or changes to service. With the inbuilt chat functions, social media platforms can even be used for customer engagement, or to get the community to know the staff better. In this way, social media can boost the sense of intimacy between the pharmacy and the wider community.
It’s probably not necessary for your community pharmacy to be on every platform, but it’s important to consider which service will suit you best with the resources you have at hand. Social media can be more intuitive to use, but don’t underestimate how much time and resource it will take to use it effectively.
When you’re deciding which platform to use, ask yourself which medium aligns more with the goals and realities of your business. Do you want to highlight your pharmacy visually? Then Instagram might be a good shout. Perhaps you’d prefer something that can better blend text and image, in which case, Facebook is a better route.
Direct messaging could be a great option if it’s available, and it has particular advantages for pharmacies. Perhaps you engage a digital appointment booking system, and you’re able to collect your customers’ contact information. Through texts or emails, you can easily stay in touch with your customers, automate reminders of appointments, or highlight certain promotions or services.
Working up a good communications plan can seem daunting, but it ultimately boils down to figuring out the best way to talk to your customers. All you really need is clarity and a good plan.
Bring your communications online
Unsplash images courtesy of Alexander Shatov, Glen Carstens Peters, Mika Baumeister, and Pavan Trikutam.