Guest Column: Harnessing the communication power of the pharmacy

Over-the-counter and health-and-beauty care marketers have been struggling to find ways to harness the communication power of pharmacy to help them build their brand equity. The path to achieve this goal has been for consumer packaged goods companies to develop pharmacy programs designed to educate and capture the attention of pharmacists so that pharmacists may communicate and educate their patients about their products at the point of decision-making.

The question is: Are marketers getting the desired effect their programs were designed to deliver, and are consumers getting the right information regarding product efficacy, mode of action and benefits? In some cases, yes — but more often, no. Here are five ways marketers can harness the full communication power of the pharmacy:


1.   Understand that pharmacy programs are unique collaborative account marketing programs. Successful pharmacy programs are comprehensive, customized retailer-specific marketing programs. Too often marketers “add on” a pharmacy program using OTC/CPG-oriented materials that have strong consumer-sell positioning. This approach does not win the “hearts and minds” of pharmacists. Presentations made to the pharmacy division need to be designed for the pharmacy division and speak to its motivations — not simply a replay of the OTC division presentation.


The pharmacy division is motivated by a professional service orientation, with the pharmacy taking a more active role in the overall health and wellness of its patients, growing loyalty and retention by being a trusted provider of healthcare services.

The OTC division is focused on classic retailer procurement practices, viewing medicines as CPG products and using the conventions of category management and shopper marketing to measure unit and dollar sales and profits. 


2.   Pharmacy time is valuable. The above chart illustrates the cost differentials that should be considered.


The high cost of a pharmacists’ time can be offset by effective utilization of pharmacy technicians and pharmacy associates, by assigning two levels of messaging based on the skill set of each group. Pharmacists should primarily fill a support role (i.e., “reactive”), counseling, providing education, recommending product and answering questions on an exception basis. Pharmacy technicians and associates should fill an awareness role (i.e., “proactive”) at either the prescription drop-off or pick-up. Messaging should take no more than 30 seconds for a pharmacist to complete in a typical patient encounter, and 15 seconds for an awareness message by the pharmacy technician.


3.   Develop collateral materials that will actually be used by the pharmacy team. Message communication at the pharmacy needs to be different than the traditional OTC/CPG approach. Marketers need to speak to the patient through the learned intermediaries in their language. Tone and positioning matter — pharmacists consider themselves unbiased healthcare professionals who want to focus on the health and wellness of their patients, and provide educational information and guidance for their medication choices. Collateral materials should include:



  • A cover note that provides a top-line summary of the program, roles and responsibilities, start and end dates, goals, objectives and measurement criteria, and authorization by pharmacy division management;
  • A pharmacy team training guide that conforms to retailers’ specific pharmacy operations and training methodologies in a format that can be easily downloaded at the pharmacy, and includes:
    • A pharmacology box in a format consistent with OTC monographs; 
    • Scripted consumer-counseling examples to ensure consistency in messaging; and
    • Scripted pharmacy technician/associate awareness messaging.


Patient collateral material should provide understanding of the relevant condition, a condition management segment that includes the brand as a suggestion for symptom relief, tips for lifestyle changes and prevention, and an offer that is customized on a retailer-specific basis.


4.   Develop easy-to-understand performance criteria with reasonable and well-defined goals that are agreed on by pharmacy management. Here are six elements to consider:



  • Keep the program short to maintain interest and enthusiasm — we recommend a period of approximately three weeks with fixed start and end dates;
  • Establish a fixed number of patient interactions per week defining those interactions as an equivalent of a transaction — everyone appreciates a numerical objective;
  • Clearly define the parameters of patient interactions;
  • Define the roles of the pharmacist and other pharmacy team members;
  • Have product available at the counter, preferably a counter display; and
  • Avoid such peak workload periods as flu vaccination season and the Medicare and Medicaid prescription drug plan change period, when pharmacy programs tend to be more crowded for resources.



5.   Measure it. When people know the program is being measured, compliance levels are higher. Here are five program compliance measurement elements:



  • Obtain a copy of the pharmacy division management store-level e-mail communication;
  • Request a simple report that details the number of stores that read e-mail for review with pharmacy management;
  • Be specific — assign three levels of patient-interaction goals based on total number of prescriptions dispensed, demographics and condition propensity. This helps pharmacy managers allocate the resources needed to accomplish program goals. For example:
    • Top script volume stores: 75 patient interactions per week;
    • Mid-level script volume stores: 50 patient interactions per week;
    • Low-level script volume stores: 25 patient interactions per week;
  • Conduct a statistically significant telephone survey in the last week of the program with pharmacy managers to review the overall program, patient interaction goals, number of patient collateral materials remaining, issues and opportunities; and
  • If using a coupon as a patient-added value, assign a special code to those coupons to determine if there was any sales lift.


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