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How to Use Analog Marketing to Earn More Pharmacy Business Than You’ve Ever Had

March 23, 2020

In an era where people spend 11 hours per day consuming media, every business is vying for a share of consumers’ digital attention. Spending on digital advertising is steadily outpacing analog advertising and will account for more than two-thirds of total ad spending in the US by 2023. Overall US spending on traditional advertising is expected to drop nearly 20 percent this year as digital advertising grows by the same percentage. Since 2000, US print newspaper advertising revenue has dropped more than 75 percent, falling to its lowest levels in 2014.

These trends leave many savvy pharmacy owners allocating their marketing budget and time to digital advertisements and abandoning many of the traditional analog methods like radio, direct mail, billboards, and print publications. But “analog marketing, often referred to as ‘offline marketing,’ is still highly relevant in the digital age,” says Debora Haskel, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at IWCO Direct, a direct marketing firm.

Even as analog marketing’s usage is declining, its effectiveness is rising. Response rates for direct mail are the highest they’ve been in a decade, triple those for digital channels like email, social media, and online advertisements. A study from Nielsen, a global performance management company, discovered that newspaper, radio, and billboard ads all surpassed online ads in trustworthiness. In a MarketingSherpa survey, analog ads were considered trustworthy by up to 82 percent of people, while digital channels were as low as 25 percent. “There was a clear schism between traditional/offline advertising and digital/online ads,” the report stated. “The five most trusted channels were all traditional channels while the bottom eight channels were all digital.”

Science also testifies to the unique benefits of analog marketing. Something about the physical aspect of the ads triggers a greater emotional response, increases motivation, and burrows deeper into people’s memories. That’s from a study by the US Postal Service, which concluded by saying, “Most importantly, physical ads triggered activity in the area of the brain (ventral striatum) that is responsible for value and desirability for featured products, which can signal a greater intent to purchase.”

Analog advertisements are more suited for small local businesses with geographically limited prospect pools. Unless a pharmacy offers mail order, its patients will be people who can physically travel to the pharmacy’s location. Analog is more effective at homing in on those people in your city, in your town, in your neighborhood. Digital advertising throws a net to cover an ocean when you might only need to cover a pond.

“When an independent pharmacy operator understands the local community, analog advertising can be a better tactic than digital marketing,” said Brian Owens, senior vice president and leader of global syndicated health and wellness and drug channel research at Kantar, a marketing research and consulting firm.


Master Your Message

1. Focus on the benefit to the patient, not the feature of your offer. It’s not about what you give but what they gain.
2. Address the heart, not the head. Don’t take aim at the surface desire. Pinpoint the underlying drive.
3. Keep it short and simple. For most analog ads, you have three to five seconds to win people over.
4. Know your audience. Different people want different things. Know your audience to know what they want.
5. Test your message. Use A/B testing to figure out which message best engages your audience.


When to use analog marketing

For most community pharmacies, your main advertising will simply need to alert people to your existence, because the vast majority would choose you over the national chains and big-box stores if only they knew about you. More than 90 percent of people would rather shop at a local business than a national chain, according to a 2015 UPS survey. That means plenty of patients are waiting to give you their business. You just need to get the word out.

But every pharmacy is different, and whether you’re trying to let people know you offer vaccines or you want to get your name out there, your advertising strategy should be firmly guided by your individual goals and target audience, Owens said. “For instance, if you’re really trying to get more people into the store, a billboard would be very effective if you understand where those high traffic and high visibility areas are within the local community,” he explained. “If you’re really trying to get the word out amongst people who might not have the same digital savvy or are more of a close-knit community, leveraging more local tactics which people value more and appreciate more are a better, more effective marketing opportunity than maybe a social media push or Facebook ad.”

For community pharmacies, older people tend to be the most profitable patients, and they “tend to lean more on traditional mediums,” according to Nielsen. If you are hoping to attract more seniors, analog campaigns using direct mail, radio, and newspaper ads are more fitting than social media or online ads.

Analog is great for building general awareness of your store and driving traffic, said Brian Cairns, founder and CEO of ProStrategix Consulting, a consulting firm that provides guidance and expertise to small businesses. “Analog is more akin to staying top of mind when people are thinking about a convenience purchase. So, when an acute condition hits, you are the first store they consider,” he said. This is especially true for front-end products. “E-commerce has roughly an 11 percent share of total retail sales, but only 3 to 5 percent of OTCs. When you have a cold, are you going to buy something on Amazon for next day shipment or go to the drug store? For these types of products, you just need to remind the consumer that you carry them and make it simple and easy for them to find what they need. Analog is great for this purpose.”

Haskel recommends deploying analog ads to capture new business and saving customer communications for digital. “Since it is the most expensive channel, it may be more cost-effective to use digital marketing when communicating with existing customers for retention, cross-sell, referral, and loyalty initiatives,” she said.

Best practices

The best practices for analog advertising are the same for every kind of marketing. “The fundamental principles of marketing do not change,” Cairns said. You must identify your target, know their needs, and craft a message to address it. “Finally, you need to have creative executions that can break through the clutter so your target can hear/see yours.”

Haskel and Owens both emphasized the importance of personalizing your approach to your particular community. Depending on your target, your messages and methods will vary. Besides personalization, Haskel said pharmacies should leverage data and testing. “These best practices are strong when they stand alone and massively powerful when used together.”


A/B Testing: Maximize Your Advertisement’s Success

In its simplest form, an A/B test sends two different advertisements to two small test groups. Whichever ad gets the best response “wins” and is used in your full campaign. This experiment gives you data to decide between variants of an advertisement—like your copy, your graphics, or your promotion—so you can know which ad will be most effective.

It’s best to keep each test to one variable so you can isolate the difference in effect. “Testing may include a simple A/B test of copy or offer or format,” Debora Haskel said, emphasizing the “or.” For example, send two mailers with the same image and same call to action, but different copy. But don’t send two mailers with a different image, different copy, and different call to action.

Let’s say you want to send a direct mail campaign to 3,000 prospects. You want to know which promotion will be more effective: 50% off one cold and flu item or buy-one-get-one-free. For the test, you could send 50 mailers with one offer (A) and 50 mailers with the other offer (B). Give the promotions a two-week expiration date and see how many of each coupon gets redeemed. The one with the highest redemption rate is one you’ll use for the full campaign

Although analog can be powerful on its own, all of the experts emphasized the importance of using a multi-channel approach. “The most effective marketing campaigns use analog marketing as a complement to digital marketing,” Haskel said. “Response in both channels is proven to be higher when they are used together versus using them in a stand-alone fashion.”

For example, you might pair a direct mail campaign with a QR code or send a follow-up email. Or you might have people at your event booth “check in” on your social media to be entered for a prize. In every case, analog and digital should behave synergistically. “The campaigns must be developed to complement each other with matching branding, offers, and calls-to-action that work together in a seamless fashion,” Haskel said.

In-house or outsource?

One of the toughest marketing decisions for community pharmacies is how much you should do in-house. Some pharmacies do everything on their own, from copy to graphics to printing, while others outsource it all. Hiring a company can be very expensive, but a poorly made ad can result in opportunity costs from underperformance, Cairns said. He recommends evaluating each phase of the development on its own to decide which parts should be outsourced. Maybe you can craft compelling copy but don’t know design, or vice versa. You can handle one of those inhouse and hire a freelancer for the other one.

“When thinking of a community pharmacy, where every penny counts, it’s hard to argue for a marketing firm, but the money may be well spent to hire a good, freelance designer,” Cairns said. “First, I’d try my hand at writing the copy myself and having it designed. If the promotion doesn’t go as well as I would have liked, then it’s worth exploring a marketing firm. For independent operators, they’ll have to do their own patient research.”


Analog Advertising Mediums

Here’s an overview of the various options for analog advertising to help you determine which medium is best suited for your pharmacy’s advertising goals. Consider enhancing your ad efforts by using multiple analog methods in tandem and by seamlessly incorporating digital advertisements in your campaigns.


Even with the rise of streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora, large numbers of Americans still turn on the radio every day. According to a Nielsen report, “In a time of intense competition for audience attention, radio reaches more Americans each week than any other platform. Ninety-three percent of adult consumers (18+) use the radio on a weekly basis, more than TV or smartphones.” Perhaps surprisingly, millennials tune in at the highest rate. But boomers spend the most time listening. Nielsen said advertisers can expect an average of 12 times the return per dollar spent on their radio ad. Another study concluded that on average radio spots resulted in a 22 percent lift in-store traffic.

Tips for radio advertising
Radio ads typically run at 15, 30, or 60 seconds. Experts say 60 seconds is the most effective length, but 15-second ads allow you to run more frequently. Leighton broadcasting, a radio marketing firm, recommends 21 ads per week, 52 weeks per year. It is better to bunch your ads together than spread them apart. Top times to advertise are between six to ten in the morning and three to seven in the evening. The most popular station isn’t necessarily the best station; choose stations whose listeners match your target demographic. For small businesses, it’s likely best to hire someone else to create the ad, such as the radio station, a professional company, or a freelancer. For a more affordable option, consider creating a script and having the radio host read the ad, which listeners are more likely to hear than a pre-recorded ad.


Outdoor or out-of-home advertising includes billboards, benches, posters, bulletin boards, branded vehicles and buses, and more. If people see it outside the home or office, it’s outdoor advertising. These ads are more effective for promoting general awareness than specific actions. Outdoor ads have the advantage of staying put no matter what, unlike emails that can be deleted, online ads that can be blocked, or mail that can be thrown away. They grant repetitive exposure to your audience who travel the same route every day. Almost half look at outdoor ads when passing them, and 70 percent of drivers consciously look at billboards while driving, nearly a third of people go to a business after seeing their outdoor ad.

Tips for outdoor advertising
People will typically only see these ads briefly and will likely be on the move. That means copy must be digested in seconds and the graphics must grab their attention. Try to keep the copy under seven words and the pictures bright and big. Good spots for outdoor ads include areas close to your pharmacy, near a competitor, next to popular destinations, and on busy routes. Other spots to consider are near assisted living facilities, where patients regularly need medications, and hospitals and clinics, where patients will be leaving with prescriptions in hand. Banners at sporting events, school events, and community events make for affordable spots with guaranteed traffic. Putting your pharmacy logo on your delivery vehicle, either with a decal or magnet, can get your name in front of a lot of eyes, and the ad doesn’t have an expiration date.

Direct mail

“Direct mail is proven to be the most effective form of analog marketing across all verticals, including retail,” said Debora Haskel. The mailbox has less competition than the inbox. Many people receive fewer than 10 pieces of mail in their boxes each day. Compare that to the 100 emails consumers receive daily on average. Direct mail always enters the hands of your target, always catches their eye, and at a minimum, sticks with them from mailbox to trashcan. More often, though, that direct mail lingers in the home for 17 days on average, which provides more exposure to the residents and to anyone else they have over.

Tips for direct mail advertising
For direct mail, create graphics that pop. People’s eyes first find the dominant visual element before moving on to the copy. Make one clear statement and one clear call to action. Use a QR code for redemption of an offer, so you can measure response rates. You can purchase a mailing list from a list house or mailing organization. You can buy them demographically (by age, profession, habits, or business), or geographically (by location, state, and zip code), the Small Business Administration says, or you can buy a list with both qualities. On average, you should pay between four to five cents a name.

Print publications

Although print reading has declined since the turn of the millennium, millions of people still read newspapers and magazines daily. And because print numbers have fallen, so have prices, making print advertising an affordable route. Seniors read print publications the most, and they also happen to be pharmacy’s most lucrative demographic. The American Marketing Association also points out that the remaining print readers are the most engaged, “which is a desirable trait, from an advertising standpoint.” Of all advertising mediums, print ads are the most trusted by consumers.

Tips for print advertising
The best day for a newspaper ad is Sunday. An op-ed on a relevant topic is the best kind of print ad because it’s free and it builds credibility. Publishing ads in local publications, such as a town news periodical, a free city magazine, a trade magazine, or a local food magazine captures audiences prone to shop at local community businesses. Those ads are also less expensive. Depending on the size of your city, there could be dozens of local print publications to take advantage of. In terms of ad placement, the earlier the page the better. For magazines, the inside cover and back page are also good spots.


Booths serve as a simple, unaggressive advertising tactic. Whether it’s at a trade show, community event, or festival, hosting a booth is a way to get your name in front of thousands of people in a short amount of time with a small amount of cash. A booth can be as simple as a table and a banner. Print materials and branded gear are relatively inexpensive. Because booths focus on informing rather than selling, people are more likely to engage with them.

Tips for booth advertising
Use a booth for building general awareness rather than advertising something specific. You want people to know that you exist and to remember your name. Use a large banner with a clear logo of your pharmacy. Hand out free, branded swag people will take with them to their homes, cars, and work. Off er enticements for children, like snacks and games, who will drag their parents along. Raffl e off a prize for email signups, making sure the prize is worthwhile, like an iPad or gift card. Tie it to social media by having people check in on Facebook to be entered into a contest. Don’t be pushy, and don’t sell anything.


Sponsorships are extremely effective at the local level. A single investment in jerseys for a club soccer team will get your name in front of not only those players’ parents but every parent of every team they play. Most local sponsorships do double duty: they build awareness and they bolster community reputation. Sponsoring a school event shows your community support while also exposing you to hundreds of people in your neighborhood. Far and away, people nowadays connect emotionally with companies who are community-centered and socially-concerned. Sponsorships are gold from a labor standpoint as well, as they typically don’t require creating an advertisement—your logo does all the work.

Tips for sponsor advertising
There is almost no end to the ways you can use sponsorships to advertise. Sponsor a 5K fundraiser for a logo on the t-shirt, a booth in the prime position, and your name on the print collateral. Help pay for a school’s field and equipment fees in exchange for placing a banner in the building or on the field with your pharmacy’s name. The ideal sponsorship will get your branding in front of your ideal prospects, including those who live near your pharmacy.


From the Magazine

This article was published in our quarterly print magazine, which covers relevant topics in greater depth featuring leading experts in the industry. Subscribe to receive the quarterly print issue in your mailbox. All registered independent pharmacies in the U.S. are eligible to receive a free subscription.

Read more articles from the March issue:


An Independently Owned Organization Serving Independent Pharmacies 

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.

PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.

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