A 116-Year Transformation: 5 Questions With Walgreens CMO Adam Holyk

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Walgreens new tagline

Even before Walgreens announced a new tagline—”Trusted Since 1901″—on December 4th, the leading pharmacy retailer had been undergoing a brand transformation. In addition to plans to revamp its U.S. stores acquired from Rite-Aid and Duane Reade, it has been modernizing its business—creating a unified omnichannel experience, testing in-store offerings, products and services, expanding its inventory (including enhancing its beauty section) while simplifying its offering, updating its mobile app, loyalty program and website and refining its store design.

It’s all in the name of better serving the customer and growing its business at a time when rival CVS is moving to acquire Aetna and online giant Amazon is reportedly eyeing the retail pharmaceutical business. It’s evolving to meet customer health and wellness needs with a particular focus on two demographics of female shoppers—millennials and Gen X. And while it’s looking to the future, it’s honoring its legacy of a century-plus of exceptional customer service and care in order to lay claim to the title of America’s most-loved and innovative pharmacy-led health, well-being and beauty company.

To underline its brand strengths and revitalized offering, a new online and TV ad campaign features what it’s calling “Care Stories”—real people, including its pharmacists, other employees and customers, sharing stories that highlight a commitment to customer service that goes “beyond the counter” whether in times of crisis or day-to-day needs.

Adam Holyk - Walgreens SVP and CMO - Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing OfficerFor more insights on the Walgreens brand transformation and journey, brandchannel editor-in-chief Shirley Brady and InterbrandHealth executive director Barry Silverstein spoke with Adam Holyk (right), senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Walgreen Company.

Adam, let’s start off with the new tagline. How does highlighting yesterday—a history that spans 116 years—position the brand as America’s go-to and trusted pharmacy retailer today and tomorrow?

As we looked at the brand, we went back to what had always been true, that why we care for customers has remained the same since 1901. The new brand positioning is really born out of this idea. As we went through the repositioning we really talked to our consumers, both through qualitative and quantitative research.

What we heard from them is that Walgreens is at its best in the ideas of being trusted, and being a trusted expert; second around care and caring in communities in small and big ways; and also being accessible, from a convenience standpoint but also being accessible and welcoming to all. So ultimately what we see is this really being an opportunity for us to bring forward what we believe has always been true with Walgreens, and delivering it in a very modern and relevant way today.

The new tagline, “Trusted Since 1901,” brings out what we heard from consumers. In our focus groups, as we spoke to our customers and our patients, we talked to them about our history and we talked to them about innovation. They told us that this resonated with them, the idea that ‘We know since you’ve been here since 1901 that you always will be here for us.’ It was interpreted in a very caring, comforting way by our consumers and that was really important for our brand identity.

As we think through the continuation of the transformation, we will continue to tell our story from a marketing communication platform and our brand identity will continue to evolve in-store and online over the next several months.

But beyond that, ultimately, the brand transformation for Walgreens is, ‘How do we show up in a more relevant way to our consumers every day?’ And that is, in addition to the marketing communications, the products we sell, the services we offer and ultimately the care that’s delivered by our team members. That is ultimately the journey that we’re on, and this brand transformation provides the lighthouse for us to move forward.

Why does the “Care Stories” campaign bring the pharmacist out from behind the counter?

Our pharmacists are at the heart of our business. We have 27,000 highly-trained healthcare professionals and they’re delivering care every day to patients in many, many ways. And we continue to look at opportunities to expand that care and how that’s delivered, whether that is recently expanding to 3,000 new private consultation rooms as well as having an innovative feature online and via our mobile app with 24/7 pharmacy chat. Through these Care Stories we are focused on our real pharmacists, our team members, our customers—and all of them are really going back to what the brand stands for and has always stood for—trust and care and accessibility.

A great example is “Caring Through the Storm,” which shows how Walgreens supported families and communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey—this idea of them being there and our pharmacists and our team members as first responders to help with the immunizations but also to care for patients.

Beyond that we have another story around a friendly face and it tells a story of a patient who’s HIV-positive and the trust that he’s established with his local Walgreens pharmacist and the relationship that they have. So we will continue to tell these stories and again tell the stories about our team members caring for patients and our team members caring for each other.

We view this brand campaign as a continuation of a transformation that Walgreens has been on for several years. It really signals the next phase. We’re responding to the changes in the health care and the retail landscape, and how we continue to meet consumer and patient needs in a very modern way. There are many examples of how we do that, whether that is our vast network of specialized pharmacies that provide expert training to our pharmacists in disease states from HIV to oncology or how we’re continuing to refine our offer in order to better fit the needs of consumers.

We recently introduced our Nice (private) brand, which is a product brand that offers organic and non-GMO products. It’s around continuing that relevance from an omnichannel standpoint. We’ve expanded a very significant partnership with FedEx so more than 7,500 locations offer package pick-up and drop-off. The brand transformation is really the opportunity for us to accelerate and continue this transformation and how we move forward.

With all the talk right now of Amazon entering this space, how do you and your company view this possibility and how do you see the new campaign and the ongoing transformation helping to defend if they do enter the marketplace?

We appreciate that the industry is rapidly changing and the brand transformation is really signaling an acceleration of how we improve and develop and transform our customer offer. From Walgreens’ perspective, we’re confident in the business strategy that we have laid out and that we’re executing on today. We appreciate that the industry is rapidly changing and the brand transformation that we continue to move forward with is really signaling an acceleration of how we improve and develop and transform our customer offer.

I’d also point out that as we think about the products and services and how we go to market, Walgreens is a very innovative company and has been innovating since the beginning. Whether that is inventing child safety caps in 1968 to helping pioneer drive-thrus and 24-hour pharmacy, but even more recently our digital capabilities and our mobile app, which has had over 50 million downloads by consumers. We’re also really proud of the fact that it’s five-star rated in both the Apple and Android stores. We view this as very strong evidence, and something that we will continue to innovate on in order to be relevant to consumers.

Who is your target customer and how is Walgreens meeting their evolving needs?

As we consider the brand positioning, the target would be—from a brand perspective—Gen X. It could be a mother and caregiver who is looking after her family and also potentially starting to look after her aging parents who may have chronic conditions or other health needs. In this world of fast-paced, limited time, she’s really looking for help to manage all of these different responsibilities. And we believe that this is a very strong role that Walgreens can play, again rooted in the heritage and the history and the expertise from pharmacy.

But how does that also translate into being able to provide that trusted advice through the other products and services that we offer? So we’ve expanded and elevated our beauty offering, now in nearly 3,000 stores, and that’s been complimented with the addition of beauty consultants that are trained and there to help customers as they come in in order to give them unbiased advice in order to help them in their shopping experience.

We have leveraged best practices and learnings of Walgreens and Boots Alliance, so we continue to expand our global brand and our branded product offerings from Boots No7 to Soap and Glory and most recently we’ve introduced some brands specifically focused around millennials with Sleek and CYO. So we get a lot of fantastic capabilities that have been in market for a while within Boots that we have been expanding and bringing to market here (in the U.S.) with Walgreens.

Over the past few years we’ve taken several steps along this journey in order to help our consumer. We recently completed in 1,500 stores a simplified product assortment, and that was really around how can we, as experts, better curate the product selection in order to help our consumers, whether they are in our stores or online.

Beyond that we’ve also been piloting additional services from a healthcare perspective, whether that is urgent care services—we now have several stores with diagnostics and lab services—and optical (center) pilots in a handful of stores. These are all ways that we’re looking and learning and investigating how we can deliver even more services and be more relevant to our consumers.

As we think about the next phase of the transformation, it is around the total consumer offer. So while we are piloting healthcare services we also believe in the relevant offer from a retail perspective and we’re continuing to curate that assortment in order to deliver on consumers’ needs, and we think the two are very complementary and both important to our future.

And what are you doing on the mobile front to create a seamless omnichannel experience, and what role does your loyalty program play in the brand transformation?

As we thought about the brand relaunch, the loyalty program was absolutely a key component that helped inform both how we thought about the brand positioning but also how we continue to evolve our offer. We have 88 million active members in our loyalty program. Understanding how consumers shop and what they prefer, we’re able to interpret that to deliver more relevance. It really supports this idea of curation and how we move this forward.

We are continuously looking at ways to create more value-add and improve the customer experience through our mobile and digital apps. In 2011 we invented ‘refill by scan,’ which is unique and a really compelling proposition where consumers can scan their prescription bottles in order to refill any of their prescriptions from the store. We’ve continued to progress and innovate, whether it’s the ability for consumers to receive personalized deals and offers, or how we have continued to enhance our photo capabilities, which is a fantastic omnichannel capability where consumers can very easily transport their photos on their phone into prints or services or other merchandise.

We continue to innovate on mobile in order to help consumers better manage their health and their prescription regimen, and that would include in the past year the ability for consumers to track their prescription refill through the refill process and understand where the prescription is from a timing standpoint—and then as a follow-on, include helpful and important tools in order to help remind them to stay adherent on their medications.

It all goes back to the idea that underpins the entire campaign. Something that we’re proud of and believe, and has always been part of Walgreens, is that behind every prescription is a person. And at Walgreens our focus is to treat every single customer with the care and attention that they deserve. We have fantastic team members that we’re very proud of, these trained experts, and we really are proud of what they do every day in order to help patients and customers and communities across America.


Get more insights in our Q&A series.

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