Feature Story | Successful Marketing

Marketing: A Key Business Builder

As pharmacy evolves from its historical dispensing role to a more clinical one, it appears that one little-discussed obstacle stands in the way of progress. That little-discussed obstacle: marketing!

Deciding on what services to provide, and helping patients understand, accept, and even pay for services is the core function of marketing. And advertising is only one small element of this task.

There are many definitions of marketing, and professionals argue passionately about the differences. But the one I like for community pharmacy is:

Marketing is the process of identifying what customers want or need, and then finding a way to get them to know about, have an interest in, and utilize the product or service while generating a profit sufficient to justify the effort.

A careful read of this definition will reveal that identifying what new services you can provide is a key function of marketing.

One example of a pharmacy finding a way to fill an untapped need is NuCara Pharmacy, an innovative 22-store chain headquartered in Conrad, Iowa.

Roby Miller Roby Miller


About four years ago NuCara spearheaded a telepharmacy pilot project. Tapping into the expertise of TelePharm, Inc., it opened a satellite location in Zearing, Iowa, population 550. According to Brett Barker, VP of operations for NuCara, the pilot has worked out well, as the small community has responded enthusiastically to the innovative pharmacy.

Roby Miller, founder of TelePharm, which was recently acquired by Cardinal Health, says opening this type of pharmacy involves dealing with a complicated set of regulatory, technical, and operational issues. But, he adds, finding the right location is one of the most critical success factors.

The site in Zearing has proven to be ideal, says NuCara’s Barker. He says the town has a county health clinic that was eager to add a pharmacy. Barker says that in the beginning the pharmacy was located in the town’s government-run clinic, but after a few months NuCara remodeled an adjacent building, and today the pharmacy looks very much like any other apothecary pharmacy.

The pharmacy is managed by a certified pharmacy technician and contains a typical assortment of prescription medications. When patients present a prescription, the technician enters it into the telepharmacy system, pulls the medication from the shelf, counts, pours, and affixes a label. The remote pharmacist then checks all the work for safety and accuracy. At the point of delivery the remote pharmacist engages with the patient for counseling via a HIPAA-compliant and encrypted video feed.

McKesson’s Health Mart Physician Outreach Program

The data in McKesson’s Health Mart Physician Outreach Program can help pharmacy owners track marketing efforts with area doctors.


Efforts to promote the telepharmacy to the community have included bag clippers, newspaper ads, press releases, and direct mail. But the real key to success has been word of mouth. Barker says that since people no longer need to make the 40-mile round trip to the nearest traditional pharmacy, they readily share the good news with others. What’s even better, says Barker, is that the convenience of the new location has dramatically reduced the number of prescriptions written by the clinic that were never even taken to a pharmacy to be filled, due to the long trip.

Patti Storey, R.Ph

Patti Storey, R.Ph., is the founder and owner of Storey Marketing, a boutique marketing firm that specializes in helping pharmacies create and implement cost-effective marketing plans. In close consultation with pharmacy management, her company helps determine what programs would work best for the pharmacy and then creates and implements a variety of print, broadcast, and digital communications, including website design and social media posting.

“A marketing plan,” she says, “should include goals and objectives, along with a budget and other key metrics.” And, she says, the goals should include many things beyond just how many new scripts the pharmacy fills. For example, she says, one can measure the number of marketing calls, new patients served, or how many patients enroll in a new service or refer a friend.

Marketing for Success: Essentials 

Patti Storey, R.Ph., and founder of Storey Marketing, has crafted a white paper especially for ComputerTalk readers. It provides insights into a variety of marketing techniques that will help independent or small-chain pharmacies create an effective marketing plan. It includes details on topics such as:

• How to set proper goals.
• The importance of branding and messaging.
• Why you need to be consistent throughout your print, website, e-marketing, and social media.
• Why you should use multiple channels for the greatest reach.


Storey makes mention of visiting doctor offices as a marketing strategy, which in my experience is too little used. To help in that regard, McKesson’s Health Mart marketing team has developed a variety of local marketing tools, and among them is their Physician Outreach Program.

This web-based application lists all the prescribers in a pharmacy’s trade area and ranks them by the number of prescriptions they write and what percentage of those scripts are being filled in your pharmacy. Next, the program provides a variety of marketing materials that have been specifically designed by a professional ad agency to speak to the needs of prescribers. And it provides a way to track all your doctor marketing efforts and monitor the results of those visits.

Aemad Aslam, Pharm.D.
Aemad Aslam,

According to Aemad Aslam, Pharm.D., owner of MidCities Health Mart Pharmacy in Hurst, Texas, “Being able to access this type of data is phenomenal. Finding prescriber specialties and being able to download this data to Excel is extremely useful for marketing activities.”

Some aspects of marketing are facilitated by technology, and others require creative talents for producing marketing materials. But another key attribute, according to Jeff Key, president of PioneerRx, is attitude.

Keep It Simple

For example, Key mentions the subject of medication synchronization. He suggests that too often pharmacists overcomplicate the service when talking with patients, because they are uncomfortable when they are “trying to sell” a new service. His adage: “Don’t sell, just tell.” As a corollary, he tells how doctors don’t ask if you want a prescription, they simply write it and then tell you what it does. The same, he says, applies to medsync. Tell the patient what it is, how it helps, and then enroll them in your program.

Jeff Key PioneerRx Jeff Key

Key also suggests that pharmacists need to think more often about ways they can engage patients and provide them with reasons to recommend their pharmacy to others. Doing simple things like walking around the counter to thank them for trusting you with their healthcare or to recommend a specific product can make a big difference, he says.

To help with that, Key says, PioneerRx has programmed a feature into its software that ranks the top 25% of a pharmacy’s patients, according to their purchase history, as either gold, silver, or bronze customers. This ranking is displayed in the dispensing queue and also pops up on the point-of-sale screen and prompts the staff to pay a little extra attention to their most profitable customers.

New technologies are making it possible for pharmacies to say and do things now that were not possible just a few years ago. Two examples are social media and mass customization.

One of the things AmerisourceBergen is providing members of its Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP) program is support with Facebook. According to Chrissy Lane, VP of marketing for GNP, well-done social media is one of the most affordable and effective ways for community pharmacy to attract and retain customers. And to that end GNP has invested heavily in this area, with the goal of positioning its pharmacies as the “go-to place for healthcare service,” Lane says.

  uCara’s location in Zearing, Iowa,

NuCara’s location in Zearing, Iowa, looks like a typical apothecary pharmacy but uses TelePharm’s telepharmacy program to offer services that augment the town’s clinic. 

One key to GNP’s success, Lane says, is the effort it makes to develop appropriate content, post it in a timely manner, and constantly measure how well various messages are being received. By doing that it is constantly improving the effectiveness of its posts.

Trish White, of White’s and Harry Race pharmacies in Sitka, Alaska, says, “We’ve gotten our feet wet with social media on our own and had moderate success with reaching our community, but with the expertise and energy of Good Neighbor Pharmacy talent we have reached quadruple the amount of folks. Money, time, energy, and talent well spent.”

When it comes to mass customization, one program GNP supports is PrescribeWellness. Lane says the PrescribeWellness service interfaces with the pharmacy system and carefully sorts through patient data looking for specific markers. Then the software reports its findings to pharmacy staff, who review the findings. And when approved by management, the service calls each patient and delivers a carefully worded message in the prerecorded voice of the pharmacist. Calls go out to patients on a subject specifically appropriate to them, such as refill reminders and invitations to flu clinics or some other healthcare event.

Theresa Tolle, Pharm.D., owner of Bay Street Pharmacy in Sebastian, Fl., says that the most remarkable thing she has seen with the PrescribeWellness service is the happy birthday calls the system makes. She says people often tell her she is the only one who remembered them on their birthday.

To succeed in today’s competitive marketplace, one must do two things: provide products and services people want or need, and find cost-effective ways to let people know about them. Good marketing can help you identify such services and help you let the people in your area understand how they will benefit from using your pharmacy. CT


Bruce Kneeland is an industry consultant who helps retail pharmacies better serve their patients. He can be reached at bfkneeland@gmail.com.

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