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It’s vital to open up a true dialogue with your patients, writes Hamish Chadwick.

Before we start delving into the specifics of branding in an online environment we first need to define what a brand is. Being able to provide a short and simple explanation of a brand remains a tremendously difficult task for me, even after fifteen years of working with companies on the subject.

I’m being honest here for good reason, as I continue to see narrow definitions of branding disadvantage businesses.

There is no simplistic interpretation because every business is unique and requires an approach that suits their situation and market.

If we get simplistic, a brand is a name a logo and a graphic style. These are important elements and it would make life very easy if that’s all was required to establish, build and defend a brand.

Names and logos are important because they can give an indication of what to expect. We’re all guilty of the human condition of being quick to judge on appearances, so visual branding is important.

However if the customer experience isn’t thought out and designed in the same way, then your brand may prove to be a hindrance to your commercial and financial objectives.

So let’s sum it up and move on: a brand is anything that is seen, heard, experienced, smelled or felt that relates to your business by anyone you want to have positively affect your financial objectives. It’s anything that you can control that the customer experiences.

So if you rely solely on good weather to draw customers, good luck.

A brand is the culmination of what you show, do and say. What you need to emphasise out of the three depends on your market, however broadly speaking for pharmacy the emphasis will be on what you do and what you say.

Unless your objective is to champion or promise the cheapest price, then how you interact with customers and what you offer them will be critical to your bottom line.

How you interact with customers will be critical to your bottom line.

I use the terms ‘financial and commercial objectives’ when talking about brands. Designing and implementing brand strategy is challenging and exciting, however none of it is worth doing unless it produces results.

You don’t want to end up in a situation where you love your logo but not your bank balance.

Brand is more important than ever because we all have so much choice… some would argue too much choice, when it comes to purchasing goods and services.

This is fantastic for the consumer, however it puts a lot of pressure on business owners to differentiate their business in an attempt to not only to attract new customers for growth, but to retain existing customers in order to achieve some sustainability.

We could argue that the major competitive advantage of a pharmacy is location. This is certainly true of the large warehouse type operations that have the resources to take up residence next door to major retailers or in high traffic areas in busy shopping precincts.

No one can argue that being convenient is not a good strategy, however if we realise that most people don’t live within walking distance of any pharmacy, there’s still a huge potential for independent operators to differentiate their pharmacy and attract customers.

Where large chains compete with shelves and price, the independent pharmacy can effectively compete with knowledge, service and attention to detail, and this is where being digitally engaged can make this proposition a reality. You can’t cut your way to growth, so it’s best to stay away from price wars as much as possible.

The frontier of brand management is online branding in this regard because people are hyper-connected, however because there is so much ‘noise’ real value does get noticed.

When it comes to building your brand online there is one thing that you need to ingrain into your thinking above all else. Building your digital brand is a marketing issue, and never an IT issue.

What holds a lot of businesses up from using digital platforms, and social media in particular is technical fear, and that’s fair enough.

Social media platforms are an incredible opportunity however they are vastly complex to master when it comes to using them for targeted marketing. Social media is simply another platform to advertise and communicate with your market, however you still need a message that resonates.

Digital communications are not an end in themselves and this is where many businesses end up thinking that social media and other forms of digital engagement is not for them.

Some businesses have dived in and are engaging with their audience, some have only dipped their toe in from not seeing a lot of return and some are staying out the water altogether. You still have to offer value that is relevant, but more importantly you have to deliver content that starts a dialogue with the customer.

Customers are quick to separate noise from real value, so if all you’re going to do is advertise discounted product then you will be competing directly with the large chains, and there’s no future in that.

The key with social media platforms is to move people away from them so you have the opportunity to engage with them directly with your pharmacy brand. This could be getting them to visit your pharmacy, or it could be an offer to receive information on a particular health issue that is delivered via email or video to them on a regular basis.

This is the other exciting area of online branding where you can expand your target market well outside of your traditional geographic footprint.

This may entail teaming up with other health professionals to deliver this kind of value, however it will gain you the reputation of being an expert, not a retailer.

Although retail sales will continue to be a major part of pharmacy, it’s not the future. Your knowledge, your experience and your role as an allied health professional is.

The sooner you start turning wisdom into tangible intellectual property, the stronger and more attractive your brand will become.


Article written by Hamish Chadwick for the Australian Journal of Pharmacy.

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