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Homeopathy backlash tells us about pharmacy's brand

"The strength of emotion displayed teaches us a lot about what pharmacy is"

What can we learn from the recent C+D reader debate around homeopathy, asks Gavin Birchall

No, this is not an attempt to convince you of the merits of homeopathy – absent or otherwise. In fact, it’s not about homeopathy at all.

Rather, it's about what we can learn about pharmacy itself from the recent, passionate response to pharmacist David Needleman’s suggestion last month that homeopathy, nutrition and aromatherapy could make smaller pharmacies "more viable and competitive" as they look to "survive" the funding cuts in England.

At time of writing, the original C+D article has attracted 33 emotional responses. There was a similar outpouring of opinion on social media platforms.

None of the responses were in support of Mr Needleman's proposal.

Important lessons

The first lesson is that expanding and enhancing your product range (services, as well as physical products) when you are seeking stability in the face of challenging business conditions is a very sensible suggestion.

In fact, this approach has a place in every pharmacy’s marketing plan in response to the funding cuts. We should all be seeking new ways to either improve our existing products or develop new ones. The writing has been on the wall for years, but it is now in flashing neon lights and underlined.

The problem – and it's a big problem – is that new products need to make sense in terms of the brand. This points us to the second insight.

Strength of emotion

The number of responses, and the strength of the emotion displayed, following the homeopathy article teaches us a lot about what pharmacy is – and what it definitely is not. It provides further guidance to those looking for the way forward.

The majority of C+D reader responses derided the suggestion that homeopathy might be one of the new product ranges, because of the lack of evidence base supporting it. The feeling was that everything we do as pharmacists should have a sound scientific basis.

Position of strength

This places us in a position of strength. It highlights our professional status and the extensive training we have. All of which are very important brand attributes for pharmacy and on which the future of the profession should be built.

We already know this. We feel it, but it is not often that it is displayed so openly. It is comforting to see the almost reflex reaction towards an idea that threatens the identity of the pharmacy profession. There is hope.

Gavin Birchall is a pharmacist, designer and marketer who has created, led and marketed businesses at senior level and carried out the first global research into the brand of pharmacy. He is founder and managing director of DOSE Design and Marketing, the pharmacy specialist marketing agency

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