In this ever-changing world we have constant disruption.
Beliefs that we once held for marketing concepts are forever changing as consumers react to the environment around them.
And the online environment, while having many presentations and converts, is an environment that community pharmacists have yet to fully embrace and conquer.
Particularly in the portrayal of pharmacy’s core business.
Shopping for professional goods and services has to be a little more targeted and requires a knowledge transfer, usually through a trusted source (the pharmacist).
Harnessing the knowledge transfer process and mentoring patients to “self care” is the unmet need that pharmacy has to face – the How? When? Where? and Why?
It’s something that we have always done but somehow we have gotten off track through being pinned down in a PBS procedure and paper war.
Pharmacists have not invested the time that they used to with patients and their loyal followers are having their ties to a specific pharmacy weakened.
Once, the face of all pharmacies was the community pharmacy.
Now that has been split into two distinct segments – a Retail Pharmacy that adopts a supermarket stance and heavily discounts its goods and services by taking a commoditisation process, and a still significant Community Pharmacy sector that is struggling to sustain its vision with a true patient focus, primarily because the core business of PBS dispensing has been commoditised by government (and will go further down this pathway with discounted co-payments) and the product segment exclusive to the pharmacy market, has been also commoditised by Retail Pharmacies.
It is a “pincer” movement that requires a clear strategy to point to a new and renewed direction.
At such moments I often turn to marketing guru, Seth Godin, to clarify my own thoughts.
He is an amazing marketer, but more importantly, he can provide “word pictures” and “stories” that can fill gaps in your own culture that can further assist in your own navigation.
He recently wrote:
‘We’ve been doing it all our lives, and it’s easy to misunderstand.
Shopping feels like the method we use to get the things we need.
Except more than a billion people on earth have never once gone shopping!
Never once set out with money in their pockets to see what’s new, to experience the feeling of, “maybe I’ll buy that,” or, “I wonder how that will look on me…”
Shopping is an entertaining act, distinct from buying.
Shopping is looking around, spending time in search of choosing how to spend money. Shopping is buying something you’ve never purchased before.
For many people, shopping is nothing but a risk.
The risk that one might buy the wrong thing, waste money, waste time, and become indebted.
For many, replenishment, buying what your parents bought, getting enough to live on… that’s all there is, that’s enough.
If we’re going to shop, then, there’s an imperative to make it engaging, thrilling and worth the resources we put into it. The shopping mall (what a concept) is less than a hundred years old, and in the States anyway, they’re not building many more of them.
Shopping on the internet is pushing this dichotomy. The idea of subscribing to household goods (like razors and soap) eliminates the chore of shopping and makes buying automatic. On the other hand, Kickstarter wants nothing to do with needs and with replenishment–the entire site is about the thrill of shopping, with meaning and stuff intermingled.
In a culture dominated by consumerism, it’s our shopping choices that consistently alter our world.’
So there you have it.
Shopping is a risk.
Shopping is an entertaining act and distinct from buying.
Shopping is looking around spending time in search of choosing how to spend money.
Shopping is buying something you’ve never purchased before.
Community Pharmacy has a sense of direction in that it wants to recruit patients who will purchase a new range of professional services.
Understanding that a potential shopper may see these new services as a “risk”, even coming from a trusted source such as a pharmacist, may come as a surprise to some pharmacists.
But there is evidence to prove that shoppers of professional services have always felt like this, and while they implicitly trust their pharmacist to perform services they are familiar with, anything new will cause hesitancy.
Community Pharmacy needs to attract shoppers to a new professional services paradigm, but it must do this as a whole-of-pharmacy exercise as a confidence promoter, not just through a pharmacist in isolation.
i2P, through its own research sources, can say that even asking a patient to enter an enclosed room will cause patient hesitation.
Yet those same patients may well criticise pharmacists for not offering privacy with any consultation.
This simple research finding prompted i2P to research an appropriate design and came up with a room that had glass walls that could be made opaque with the click of a switch.
Hesitancy was reduced because the patient could clearly see into the office surrounds and confidence was promoted when privacy was created as the glass walls became opaque.
This is the theatre and entertainment factor that Seth Godin talks about, but that patient may have only arrived in the pharmacy through access to a range of “good news” stories, one of which may have needed to be the story of a friend who had become a satisfied patient through the purchase of a quality service.
It was also a method of marketing both the service and the privacy aspects by example, which in turn became a “talking point” in a “word of mouth” ongoing experience.
The world of health and medicine is beginning to undergo changes never envisaged before.
Patients use the Google search engine to try and find reliable information to access on their conditions and their medications.
In a self-care environment this needs to be encouraged so an online gateway system for information, developed by a pharmacy, might provide the access to a world of reliable information that builds confidence in a patient to create a purchase.
This needs to be a site suitable for shoppers of information, and because of the association with your pharmacy, will become a trusted site and one of first choice when embarking on a “shopping” experience.
This is totally different to the Retail Pharmacy site which generally only offers nationally advertised product brands (which assists in reducing risk) at a discounted price (that further reduces risk) and thus the Retail Pharmacy site is more an automatic purchase site – not necessarily a shopping site.
This type of information can generate more appropriate decisions for a community pharmacy in that an online site is more for patients.
Retail Pharmacy sites are more for customers.
There is a big difference between a customer and a patient and a community pharmacy can be presented by a consumer that alternates between being a customer or a patient continuously during the time they are present in the pharmacy.
Community Pharmacies must develop a priority to build their patient base as a core component of their reason for being – they are different to consumers styled as customers, which are sought by Retail Pharmacies.
While both types of pharmacies need customers, community pharmacy strategy is to create a marketing plan attractive to customers that will represent an expanding pool of consumers able to be converted to patients, through a deliberate strategy and marketing process.
Consumer risk in price can be offset by using generic brands with a pharmacist endorsement. This is at least equal to a national brand’s impact and trust, and will build confidence for any new product or service offered to patients provided an identified channel is opened up so that patients can feel familiar with it.
Franchise marketing groups are usually supplier dominated and concentrate on pharmacy customers (product sales rather than professional services).
Given that additional investment is requires to establish professional services that simply build back what original pharmacy “core” business actually was (dispensing + knowledge/advice transfer), a review of a franchise may be in order in terms of costs and what is actually offered.
A skew towards the provision of business services may be a more acceptable and economic model.
If nothing else the co-payment discount that comes into effect on January 1 2016 will trigger a range of decisions to defend the “bottom line” and create a future vision that is acceptable and desirable.
Seth Godin says that as a channel, shopping malls are in decline.
Research in Australia suggests that Convenience Stores (and community pharmacy is in that group) are regaining popularity and are in ascendancy.
All the stars are aligned for community pharmacists if they have the confidence to create a “shopping” approach to their new services. Reduce the patient’s risk as a first step, but do create a new initiative in a step-wise fashion.