Pharmacy is in need of a makeover

Gavin Birchall believes it is time we looked at ways to improve the visual identity of pharmacy.

Gavin Birchall, Operations and Marketing Director, Medicx Pharmacy Ltd

There have been big changes in the pharmacy profession in the past few decades and the manner in which the pharmacy profession visually presents itself to society has also changed. However, pharmacists may not be aware of the impact of these changes, which have led to a negative perception of the profession.

To give one example of pharmacy branding, the use of the “green cross” symbol in Britain since the 1980s peaked in the 1990s and started to wane in the post-millennia years. Meanwhile, the visual landscape of pharmacy has been increasingly dominated by commercially focused national and regional multiples. A retail aesthetic rather than a healthcare aesthetic now holds the sway and our brand-savvy customers and patients are picking up this message whether they want to or not.

There are many within the profession who share this view with customers and some who are in a fortunate position to do something about it. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), National Pharmacy Association and Pharmacy Voice, among others, are striving to raise the profession’s voice above the general din of modern communication (for example, through consistent public relations activity in the national press).

It is common, evidence-based knowledge[1]
 that, in communication, over half of a message is received through non-verbal methods. That is why visual identities are so important in our image-saturated world and their importance continues to grow.

Many of the world’s most successful organisations, such as Apple, regularly update their visual identity every few years. The pharmacy profession’s visual identity is decades behind what the profession can contribute to society and it does not communicate who pharmacists are and what they are about. We should not be surprised that we are overlooked at times as a solution to the nation’s health needs. Visual identity must reflect the brand it represents. The pharmacy visual identity cannot be updated without understanding its brand.

It is vital to base any subsequent work on a sound basis. In early summer 2014, I conducted some research into how a representative group of pharmacy professionals (n=242) working across a range of sectors perceive the pharmacy brand and how they think society perceives it. Adopting both qualitative and quantitative approaches, the findings were as many might expect — not good.

Respondents broadly believed that there is a poor awareness of a visual identity relating to the pharmacy profession and that society now perceives pharmacists as shopkeepers rather than clinicians. Looking at the results, there is a gap between the ambitions of the profession and the impact that it is delivering with its current promotional strategies.

The profession has a short window of opportunity amidst potential threats (for example, continued decrease in remuneration, oversupply of pharmacists) to do something significant to improve stakeholder engagement and highlight the value for money that the services we provide represent.

As part of my ongoing academic research, I am developing a range of visual identities that communicate the nature of the pharmacy brand as identified through the results of my findings to date. Working alongside the profession’s representative bodies, such as the RPS, is key to the development of a modern, engaging and “living” visual identity that can grow with our profession and communicate its value across multiple platforms for decades to come.

Gavin Birchall is Operations and Marketing Director, Medicx Pharmacy Ltd


[1] Mehrabian A. Nonverbal Communication. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers; 2007.

Last updated
Clinical Pharmacist, CP, December 2014, Vol 6, No 10;6(10):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20067230

You may also be interested in