Pharmacy marketing playbook: where are your competitors winning?

Pharmacy marketing is tricky as the regulations make it difficult to be creative with the products we sell and what we can say about them. 

But there is a great opportunity to create synergy by opening a pharmacy as a secondary service if you work with another physician-related service for patients as they often need medicine.

In this article, we’ll look at ideas to market your pharmacy startup in two situations: one if you work with a startup that has other core services and patients, and the other is if you are launching a pharmacy startup from scratch with no existing patients.

I’ll be covering pharmacy marketing from the point of view of an online pharmacy since most tech startup pharmacies at least have that component, if not being 100% online these days.

The pharmacy marketing advantage: having existing patients

The business goals we try to achieve through pharmacy marketing are usually the same whether we have other existing services and patients or not. It’s often growing the revenue and customers as that’s the one thing that can solve most other business challenges, so let’s focus on that.

The best pharmacy marketing channels and process to acquire new patients in both situations is mostly the same but if you have services with existing patients, you’ve got a serious advantage. You’ve probably noticed some synergies between a new pharmacy and your existing services that can be a strong competitive advantage and building a bridge between your existing services and the pharmacy should be your top priority since the CAC is zero.

That might for example be a journey where the patient visits a physician, they prescribe medicine and the paperwork is automatically transferred to the pharmacy that ships the order to the patient’s home. 

Another could be that the patient visits the pharmacy to order the first time and then each order is (automatically) fulfilled online after that to save the patient time and the business costs.

In my experience, the marketing side of these ideas tends to be straightforward and the challenge is more about behavior tracking and the technical integration of the services. All of that depends on your existing setup, so it is challenging for me to give any specific recommendations but I’ve found that a centralized (mobile) app often makes the flow of information between each party easier.

At some point, it’s worth testing acquiring new patients through the pharmacy and having them flow through to the other services to compare the CAC with other services you run at the top of the funnel. You may find that the performance on one marketing channel is better for the pharmacy than, say, a doctor consultation so you’ll be able to grow faster by leading with that.

There’s no perfect time to do that as it depends on the resources you have available and what your other priorities are.

Pharmacy marketing without existing patients

You’ve probably already taken care of the low-hanging fruit from the section above or it isn’t possible because you are launching the pharmacy as the first stage in the business. 

You now have a different challenge competing with other pharmacies for the same products and traffic sources. As the regulations around pharmacies make their marketing mostly the same, it’s hard for potential customers to choose one over the other besides what’s more convenient for them.

That means we can’t just throw up a Facebook ad and hope for the best. We’ll be eaten up by another pharmacy business with a higher marketing budget or a competitive advantage. Positioning and standing out from other pharmacies is tricky since the options are quite limited. I’ve seen some pharmacies stand out through: 

  • Offline exclusive partnerships with other relevant clinics/businesses that drive patients e.g. a sports club for sports medicine
  • Exclusive partnership with a Q&A site for health questions (similar to Quora)
  • Referrals from doctors
  • Fast delivery
  • Longer opening hours
  • Ability to chat with a licensed physician for free
  • (Offline location)

The one(s) that make sense for your business depends on your customers and the culture you are operating in. For example, in some developing countries customers prefer to save money on a doctor consultation and ask the pharmacist for advice on which drug to buy. The pharmacies are often heavily incentivized by pharmaceutical companies to push certain brands over others, so having a licensed physician attached to the pharmacy to offer a free consultation can be a selling point.

But before we get into that, it makes sense to figure out who is buying the key products we sell. Age demographics can be relevant but I’ve found that other things like whether someone has a chronic disease can have an even bigger impact. I like to figure that out simply by talking to existing customers and if there are none, then people you imagine would be the right customer.

I know it’s tempting to think that “everyone” will be the right customer. Even if that’s the case, life gets easier if we segment them into smaller groups because we can squeeze better performance out of the marketing channels by tailoring campaigns specifically to each persona or use case. For example, one segment might be the woman (mom) of the household and another group could be based around a particular chronic disease.

Once you have an idea of who you are going after, you can work your way backward and position the pharmacy in a way you know is relevant for them. For example, by carrying relevant medicine and other handy products for a particular chronic disease, the pharmacy becomes a one-stop shop for families with that disease–even if it isn’t the only segment we cater to.

When we have the positioning down, it’s time to understand which marketing channels we can use to acquire new customers. Since the pharmacy business often runs on slim margins, many channels will not be a good fit. I suggest first figuring out how much you can pay for a new customer.

I like to do that for all the channels I think might be relevant before jumping in. As you do that, you might discover that those you first assumed to be exciting might be impossible to make profitable because of the margins. That’s often the case with ads where we are forced to sell at a higher AOV to offset the ad cost.

If your pharmacy is venture-backed it might be worth acquiring customers at a loss to move forward fast but you’ll have to find a way to explain it to investors sooner or later. Since there are hard regulations for ads and promos for pharmacy products (not just pharmaceuticals but also baby products, condoms, and other products commonly sold at pharmacies), this becomes more of a product play than ad campaign optimization.

You might find that some products perform better or attract more people to the online store, so it makes sense to lead with those to get people in the door and then retarget them based on the products they look at (or send them emails with the products they really want but that we aren’t allowed to use in ads – bonus points if they are embarrassed about buying them in person).

That can be via regular email campaigns, referral campaigns or whatever seems the most relevant. My point is that we avoid getting them interested only to have them leave our site without interacting with us in some way. It’s like a leaky bucket.

Partnerships online or offline (e.g. with clinics or sports clubs) tend to be a good choice because the cost often is low and it can be a competitive advantage as you can tap into potential customers that competitors might not have access to. That way we don’t have to compete on the popular channels where CAC and other important metrics often suck.

A decent place to begin is by running search ads first to get quick customers and understand which keywords bring in the dough before throwing lots of resources after SEO. Then retarget the website visitors with Facebook ads and other popular media like Youtube where the cost per impression is low compared to with search ads to buy what’s in their cart or sign up to our email newsletter, where we can make sure they keep us top of mind with exciting content. Not just products for sale.

A good place to start with the Facebook ads is to run a standardized ecommerce funnel and then optimize it based on what you learn as you progress. If you are not ready to carry products to attract specific customer segments, another option is to run a generic top of funnel ad and retarget based on the products each person looked at.

Only when those three channels are honed in and you have a good idea about the average AOV or LTV does it make sense to add SEO into the mix to lower the cost of acquiring new patients from search while scaling the volume. 

We can get off to a great start by picking the best converting keywords from the search ads and creating articles around them to rank organically. When we time this perfectly and start the SEO work before we need the results for our internal KPIs, the channel will kick in and overtake the other ones just when you need it to keep your month over month growth graph going up and to the right.

On a client project, we got off to a good start by following a similar path but the page load speed became a problem for us. By fixing it we instantly increased sales from ads by about 30%, so make sure you check that. I suggest Google page speed insights or In my experience, often the single biggest win is using images that are of a reasonable size for their placement on the website. I like to use to minimize their size without messing with the image quality.

This is been a lot to take in, so let’s end with a practical exercise and get ideas based on our competitors’ pharmacy marketing.

Spying on your competitors’ pharmacy marketing

A good way to spend a couple of hours is to reverse engineer what other pharmacies are doing about their marketing.

We can’t get a perfect look at their marketing, but we can get a good idea about their priorities and what might be working for them with just a few tools.

I like to first look at the high-level channels to understand where the focus lies before even considering whether to look at the specific ads or content since that’s straightforward to figure out through experimentation. Those are usually:

  • Facebook ads
  • Search and Google ads
  • SEO
  • Organic follower/fan count on social media platforms (to get an idea of how much energy they’ve put in on each one)
  • Other websites that we don’t know about yet (e.g. if they have partnerships)

In this example, I’ll be looking at 1MG, the perhaps biggest online pharmacy in India with more than 40 million website visitors every month. It’s massive!

To get a sense of direction and overview, I tend to look at first (this can be done with a premium account on SEMrush as well).

pharmacy marketing - similarweb research example

Scroll down until you eventually stumble upon this breakdown by channel. It looks like most of the traffic is coming from search which isn’t surprising.

Before we dive into search, let’s look at which social channels they’ve been working with. Youtube appears to be the most popular by far but don’t get distracted and remember that even though it looks like Youtube is far ahead of Facebook and Whatsapp, this only accounts for less than 1% of the total traffic.

If we move on to look at where they are showing their display ads, it appears to be on the biggest news, shopping and sports sites in India.

If we look at their search section, we can see that similarweb is estimating that it’s generating the most traffic from branded search terms both paid and organically.

That likely means that the people who searched learned about the brand from somewhere else – perhaps offline billboards or other campaigns. Finally, we can see that they are also getting a little traffic on the paid side from competitors (“netmeds”).

A quick Google search shows us that 1MG has indeed been doing offline pharmacy marketing to attract interest.

A quick look at the news, and it’s clear.

By now, we know that search is important for them and that they’ve spent a ton of money on offline pharmacy marketing.

Before we dive deeper into search, if you are curious about what they are doing on social media like Facebook and Instagram, here’s how you can easily figure it out.

For Facebook ads, I simply go to their ads library and look up the brand to see if they’ve been running any ads at all. It sometimes doesn’t show any ads even though they have run some in the past and vice versa, so it isn’t a perfect tool. If you don’t see any, another trick is to go to their store and add an arbitrary product to your cart followed by going to Facebook or Facebook Messenger and see if you’ll be retargeted.

First select “all” in both the country and ads setting before searching. It can be tricky to find the right brand when you enter your keywords but you can sometimes guess it based on the size of the business and their number of followers or by comparing the logo with that of the website. Another alternative is to compare their handle from their fan page with the suggestions from your search.

It shows us just one ad and when we click it, we can see they are focusing on lab tests since that’s the topic of the landing page it leads us to.

Next up, let’s look at search. Most people who have been doing some search work before have their favorite tool. I’m not to say which one is better but I’ll be showing you this example via SEMrush. You can also use Google’s free keyword planner although it usually isn’t as good as the paid tool because they’ve limited the information in there the last few years. Simply use the link above, click this button and enter the URL. If you don’t have a Google ad account already, here’s a guide on setting up Google ads in an hour.

pharmacy marketing - google ads keyword planner example

The same goes for SEMrush. Fire up the URL, set the correct country and dig in.

pharmacy marketing - semrush example

There’s a ton of information available but for now, let’s scroll down to look at their search ads and keywords.

pharmacy marketing - keywords

As you can see this is quite similar to the organic keyword we saw in Similarweb before but what we’ll now notice is just how much search volume there is for their brand keyword “1mg”. That tells us that they have been doing a lot of pharmacy marketing or advertising elsewhere to even get people to remember it enough to search for it in Google.

If you are looking to see more keywords, click the view details button and explore.

pharmacy marketing - branded keywords example

The same thing is true if we continue to scroll down until we see the paid ads. If we continue to scroll, we’ll see examples of the text and image ads they’ve been running across the board.

pharmacy marketing - text ads example
pharmacy marketing - display ads example

If we work with a similar pharmacy in a related market to 1MG, we know that they’ve been using offline pharmacy marketing and online search to gain the most traction. We can now look at those options in our own area as an overall direction to see if it can be feasible for our pharmacy as well.


  • Because of the regulations around pharmacy marketing it can be tricky to standard so customers will choose us over any other pharmacy
  • If you have the option to tap into an existing group of patients that is likely to be your best bet in terms of driving new customers to your pharmacy – whether that is from within your startup or a partnership you’ve cultivated
  • Looking at how other pharmacies do marketing can be a great way to get inspiration for your own business

The easiest way to promote and market a pharmacy is by first understanding what other pharmacies are doing followed by using similar channels. The best approach from a business perspective tends to be to do exclusive partnerships or bring over patients from another service in your business, so you avoid the popular and competitive channels. I cover all of that in this article.

Partnerships tend to be the most affordable way for pharmacists to attract customers since popular channels like Google and Facebook are competitive and highly regulated. In this article, I cover exactly how I help pharmacy clients attract customers.

To market a pharmacy online it’s easiest to first understand what other pharmacies are doing. In this article, I’ll show you how to reverse engineer your competitors’ marketing so you can take advantage of the same. Search tends to be a popular channel but social media has its advantages if you know what you are doing.

By Aske

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