What's In It For Me? Why Buy From You?

Lowell J. Anderson
Originally published in the "Minnesota Pharmacist," the journal of the Minnesota Pharmacists Association

Does it matter what our profession’s brand is? What your practice’s brand is? What your personal brand is? Does it really matter what people think of us as a profession and you as a member of the profession?

I think it matters greatly. Our brand contributes to our status in the health delivery system, product reimbursement and service compensation, our inclusion in developing delivery concepts and ultimately the long-term viability and success of our practices.

For the medical profession, being known as a “doctor” or “physician” defines a person who takes care of people’s health, And, of course, has reserved parking spaces at the hospital!

Our brand is not that concise There is no similar perception of what pharmacy is, or what a pharmacist does. Actually our brand is pretty schizoid. Who we are is determined by where we practice. We are known as a chain, community, hospital, clinical and consultant pharmacist, or whatever. Each has a different value to the public that is determined in part by the consumer’s opinion of the facility that we use to define ourselves. And, in fact, we encourage that perception because we label ourselves that way, even though we talk among ourselves as health-care professionals. Our allied health professionals also see each “modifier-pharmacist” as a different type of professional with different competencies.

Unfortunately, there is also a consumer perception of different levels of competence that comes with these work-place definitions, which I believe is largely related to accessibility of the practitioner. The more accessible a pharmacist is to the consumer of services, the more competent he or she is judged to be. Spending your time behind the dispensing counter barrier does no lead to accessibility and a heightened perception of competence.

Marketing professionals talk in terms of “value proposition” – the functional benefit of a brand that relate directly to the service. Consider FedEx dependability – “We Deliver.” Or, Jiffy Lube with a “30 minute oil change.”

What is the functional benefit of going to a pharmacy and talking with a pharmacist? Is there an over-arching consumer image of pharmacists and pharmacist services that is independent of where we work? We can certainly say that part of our value proposition is that you can get a prescription accurately filled at a licensed pharmacy. Community pharmacies are a good place to get over-the-counter medicines, greeting cards, toothpaste and other consumer goods that people forget to buy at the grocery or the dollar store. These are important, but they are all product related! At one time the Value Proposition for many pharmacists was “Quick, Cheap and Accurate.” That is expected and no longer resonates with the consumers of our services

In hospitals, medicines just magically appear just–in-time and the patient never sees the dispensing pharmacist – much less interact. Still product related!

The core “value proposition” that seems to be missing is that pharmacists “take care of peoples health by managing their medication therapy.” Unfortunately it is NOT part of our brand.

Professionals skilled in marketing also talk about “emotional benefit.” Emotional benefits are the feelings that consumers have when they make a purchasing choice. As examples think about the good feeling you get about a new car, or the purchase of ice cream. Emotional benefits are beyond the functional benefits because of their psychological nature.

Although we can get warm fuzzies over our new car or the prospect of an ice cream cone on a summer day, I think it is probably very difficult for a consumer to have a similar emotional reaction to the pretty pink pills in a prescription package -- covered with warning labels. The emotional benefit comes when there is a social interaction: in our case, between the consumer and the pharmacist.

Quite simply, each of us who practice in a patient-care setting is the “face of pharmacy. “ Each of us contributes to the brand of a caring profession and the value proposition of our profession. The pharmacist who spends time with consumers beyond the transactional demands, or the requirements of the board of pharmacy contributes to the emotional benefit that in combination with our value proposition creates our brand.

Conversely the practitioners who do not interact at a personal level also create an emotional benefit and value proposition judgment in the minds of the consumer. Unfortunately. Those judgments all too often are negative: “if all I am getting is a prescription, it doesn’t make any difference where I get it. Consumers not only want to know “What’s in it for me?” but “Why buy from you?”

As pharmacist practitioners, we are busy professionals. Each one of us has many reasons to not leave the security of the hospital or community-pharmacy dispensing counter. Some reasons are valid. But we need to realize that not a lot of Care occurs when there is a spatula in one hand and an Abbott Counting Tray in the other!

It does take a conscious effort to put a face on your practice and your profession. I think that independent pharmacists are pretty good at this. It is just he nature of independent practice: the CEO is in the practice, a member of the community and sees the results daily in a very personal way.

Generally the value proposition of chains is different due in large part to their business model, which focuses on high volume. I have to hand it to Target Pharmacies, however, for now requiring its pharmacists to spend some time each hour out of the dispensing area interacting with “guests.” Yes, it is a first step – but every journey starts with a first step. More of us should take the trip with them.

Once a colleague related a story to me about her third-grade daughter being called on in class to tell what her mother did for a work. The nine year old said: “My mother is a pharmacist and she makes people better.”

That’s a brand that we can all live and prosper with.


Lowell J. Anderson, D.Sc., FAPhA, practiced in community pharmacy for most of his career. He is a former president of MPhA, Mn Board of Pharmacy and APhA. In addition he has held positions in the Accrediting Council on Pharmacy Education, National Association of Board of Pharmacy and the United States Pharmacopeia. Currently he is Co-director of the Center for Leading Healthcare Change, University of Minnesota and co-editor of the International Pharmacy Journal. He is a Remington Medalist.