It’s safe to say the global pandemic didn’t just change a lot of things; it changed almost everything. This moment in history revealed just how essential pharmacies are when so many other businesses are forced to grind to a halt. While millions of Canadians continue to require medications from safe and trustworthy sources, they’re also relearning the importance of supporting smaller, local businesses, including independent pharmacy.
Habits are hard to break, though, and many potential patients still default to the large name brand pharmacies. Effective digital marketing strategies can position any independent pharmacy directly into new patients’ sightlines and potentially boost growth and long-term viability.
Role of Pharmacy in Canada
Pharmacies perform essential, lifesaving work. Pharmacists consistently rank as one of Canada’s most trusted professions, and Canadians see their pharmacist more often than any other health care professional.
Even so, it’s necessary to look at your independent pharmacy for what it is at a high level: A business operating in a very competitive market against enterprise companies (like Shoppers Drug Mart, Walmart, Costco, Rexall, etc.) who are effectively household names.
Here are a few critical, research-based facts related to pharmacies in Canada:
# According to the statistics shared by The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA), Canada, as of January 2020:
- – The total number of licensed pharmacists in Canada is 42,651
- – The total number of community pharmacies is 10,924
- – The total number of licensed pharmacies is 11,478
# A report by Sage Journal shows that the average pharmacy in Canada dispenses 54,350 prescriptions each year.
# Patients see their community pharmacists up to 10 times more frequently than they see family physicians:
- – Most Canadians trust pharmacists to provide advice on medicines (95%),
- – Management of common ailments (94%), healthy lifestyle changes (93%),
- – Management of chronic health conditions (89%) and vaccinations (90%)
# Customers in Canada find Independent pharmacies services to be friendlier than chain drugstores. 50% who fill prescriptions at an independent pharmacy said their pharmacist knew them by name, compared to only 14% at chain drugstores.
# 80% of Canadians return to the same neighbourhood pharmacy always or most of the time.
These stats tell us a few things. While we know the large pharmacies may have a size advantage, that advantage is on shaky ground if they can’t (or won’t) provide the best prices and services on prescriptions. Additionally, we can see a vast base of potential pharmacy patients available to independent pharmacies, a large subsection of whom would likely prefer to use an independent pharmacy.
The best way to get help potential patients understands the value your pharmacy provides is through digital marketing.
Digital Marketing For Independent Pharmacy
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There are numerous marketing strategies that independent pharmacies can employ. We’ll examine a few ways pharmacies can use digital marketing to gain exposure among potential patients. All digital marketing strategies for independent pharmacies are tied together with a strong focus on marketing locally.
The majority of Canadians prefer living within walking or short driving distance of at least one community pharmacy. Approximately 63.6% of the Canadian population resides in a dissemination block located within walking distance of one or more pharmacies; 84.6% and 90.7% live within 2-km and 5-km driving distances, respectively. The most significant customer base you have are your neighbours, making it essential to focus your digital marketing efforts as locally as possible for the most significant impact.
There are three key areas pharmacies can employ when utilizing digital marketing:
# Search Engine Optimization
# Social Media Marketing
These broad areas have some notable overlaps. For example, your website’s blog and landing page content will likely serve as the backbone for all three. The ultimate goal should be to feed traffic back to your website. If you offer digital refilling and delivery services, increasing traffic back to your website will be critical.
If you don’t offer digital refilling and deliveries, now is undoubtedly the right time to begin offering those services to boost relevancy in light of social distancing implementations. Digital marketing techniques can help bring back past patients who may have dropped you in favour of pharmacies who do provide no-contact services.
# Independent Pharmacy and Search Engine Optimization
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Search engines are a powerful tool in your independent pharmacy bag of tricks, so long as you take care of some of the SEO essentials.
When someone goes to Google and types in “local pharmacies,” they’ll get three things that matter to you.
- First, they’ll get a Google Maps-associated list of pharmacy names, addresses, phone numbers, and hours of operation.
- Next, they’ll see a list of websites for those the previously mentioned pharmacies.
- Finally, they’ll see a list of web pages that best fit their search.
Google My Business
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If you haven’t already done so, make sure your independent pharmacy shows up on Google Maps. This is easy to accomplish and free by signing up with Google My Business to get a business profile on Google. That way, whenever someone searches either broadly for pharmacies in their area or specifically for your business, they’ll get a business profile that includes pertinent information. It’s an easy SEO step that gets you on the map.
Why focus on Google? It’s the largest search engine by volume, accounting for over 90% of all search engine traffic. Building a presence on Google is a bare minimum for a winning digital marketing strategy for localized brick-and-mortar businesses.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a broad topic covering everything you do to your website and mobile to have it get noticed and ranked by Google’s search engine algorithms. There’s no unique formula for getting top-ranked SEO, but there are many techniques you can employ that increase your chances of ranking better. Google keeps its secrets close to its chest, but it regularly provides information about what websites must have even to get ranked at all.
Those areas that you need to ensure you check off include:
- Creating a mobile-friendly website
- Reducing website loading speed
- Building a solid profile of backlinks
- Creating a network of internal linking on your site
- Keeping older website content updated and refreshed.
- Creating new, well-written website content regularly.
You’ll also need to perform keyword research to determine what topics people are searching that your competition is ranking for, and then exceed that content on your site.
Pay special attention to Mobile SEO. Since 2016, Google has been experimenting with categorizing and ranking data based on its mobile version rather than desktop. In 2019, the search engine began implementing mobile-first indexing for all new websites.
# Independent Pharmacy and Social Media Marketing
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Hundreds of millions of people use social media across every age range that an independent pharmacy would target. To that end, you’ll need to ensure you have a social media presence that helps attract attention to your pharmacy in a positive way.
Thankfully, you’re going in with a fair amount of faith. In its Honest/Integrity in Professions Survey, Gallup found Pharmacists rank second only to Nurses for how much consumers trust them. Almost all Canadians (94%) believe pharmacists play an essential or essential role in Canada’s health care system. Hedge that trust by building a social media presence that helps your core audience understand who you are and why you add value over larger brands. It’s also a great way to form a conversation with those in your community and to help cement your presence within the community you serve.
You’ll likely want to focus your attention on the biggest social media platforms that offer more accessible platforms for engagement and discussion. Those include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But don’t leave out LinkedIn and YouTube, where the use of these platforms makes sense for your service and the community you serve.
Your steps to creating a significant social media presence include:
- Setting up a business page (all social media websites allow you to do so)
- Sharing your unique website content through your page
- Engaging with the community in posts
Importantly, make sure that you positively engage with your community. Social media can take a wrong turn quickly, so you’ll likely want to make sure you’re monitoring those conversations to avoid the negative consequences of hostile interactions.
Digital Ads: Google, Facebook, And More
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Both Google and Facebook allow you to create advertisements that can more rapidly put your crucial website pages and information in front of potential patients. The platforms use advertisements differently, however.
With Google Ads, you can bid for specific keywords. Those keywords are directly connected to webpage content you’ve created, including your homepage or other specialized landing pages. The amount you pay for ads will vary by keyword. Once you’ve purchased and created an ad, it will show up at the top of a Google search for that search term before any other organic listings appear.
Facebook allows you to advertise to specific populations of people, with ad pricing varying based on how many people are receiving those ads. Facebook also allows you to “Boost” posts you’ve made on your pharmacy’s social media page.
For example, let’s say your pharmacy offers cheaper prescription than the name brand pharmacies. You can create a blog post on your website, promoting comparative pricing on crucial drugs and then sharing it on your Facebook page. But if you only have a limited number of followers, you can Boost the post as an ad to critical demographics, making sure more people see the information.
You’ll find you can also create ads easily through Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other social media sites. The vital thing to note is that each site’s core audience has different expectations. Before creating an ad on Facebook or any site, research the userbase to figure out what they use the site for and make your ads to match the style and tone of the platform.
# Independent Pharmacy and Email Marketing
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Communicate with your patients through email. Email is a great way to continually engage with patients and especially help share deals and discounts. Pharmaceutical companies typically see around a 20% open rate for an email, which is excellent. But don’t just use your email for marketing. Use it to connect on a human level and keep engagement on-going.
You can use automated services to help implement drip campaigns, as well, that ensures everyone who signs up gets the same message, regardless of when they’ve signed up to receive emails from you.
Taking The Next Steps
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Independent pharmacies are changing the way pharmacy is done. Combining app-based digital refilling and delivery services with the type of small-business attention patients want is a winning strategy. But now, more than ever, you need to make sure potential patients not only know you exist but know what kind of services and care you offer that distinguishes you from the large corporations.