We all know Walgreens as one of a handful of retailers where you can go to fill your prescriptions. It is one of the few stores people visit to pick up their pharmaceuticals and grab milk, magazines and deodorant at the same time.
Over the years, Walgreens has employed what I like to call the “spread out the cards” convenience strategy. The retailer says, “Here’s what I have--what do you want?"
Seems a little backwards though, doesn’t it, from a consumer standpoint?
Recently, Walgreens took steps to flip that model on its head a bit by focusing squarely on convenience from its customers’ point of view. The company started piloting programs in California and Illinois where people can order their prescriptions over the phone and get convenient curbside pick-up—very similar to the Outback Steakhouse or Applebee’s approach.
Only when you’re talking health care and people’s daily pharmaceuticals, the stakes are just a tad bit higher than delivering steaks and cheeseburgers.
This move is part of a much bigger shift for Walgreens from a retailer to a service-based organization. Transforming a company focused on transactions to an organization committed to relationships with its customers is a big deal. As a result, Walgreens is being seen as an innovator in the health care space.
Walgreens is also looking at ways to engage employees and make them more effective in the store by piloting touch devices that will act as phones, scanners and point-of-sale tools (think Apple in-store experience). And, even more importantly, the company is looking at moving to a single data warehouse for all customer information so it can better understand the needs, wants and desires of the 6 million people who walk through a Walgreens front door or go in its drive-thru each day.
All this is related to addressing convenience from a customer point of view. Making lives easier is a significant shift for an organization like Walgreens where customers currently experience convenience as “do you want the stuff in our store when you have to be here to get your prescription anyway?”
Walgreens is just beginning these pilots, so the jury’s still out as far as results and any financial impact on the large retailer. But, from where I sit, this seems like a very smart and savvy move.
As a marketer, what can you and your company learn from this huge shift in direction for Walgreens?
- Work hard to identify a clear customer need. This entire shift came out of a need for Walgreens to listen more intently to its customers. With the curbside pick-up pilot, the company listened to young mothers with multiple children. Think about the loyalty they’ll build with an audience whose entire day is predicated on convenience. Sure, the short-term gain might not be big, but Walgreens is betting the long-term pay-off will be supreme loyalty, return visits and a larger share of wallet.
- Make friends and build relationships internally. One of the key, under-reported reasons why marketing and customer experience-focused campaigns and initiatives fail is because the work is strictly confined to the marketing/sales side of the organization. Walgreens’ effort here undoubtedly touches a number of large areas within the company: IT, customer service, operations and marketing, just for starters. Think about the relationships and connections that needed to happen to make these pilots a reality. As a former CMO, I’m willing to bet there were some interesting (and probably heated) discussions among key players in those areas. The lesson? Make sure you’re taking the time to build relationships with folks in other key areas of your organization. Your marketing efforts will only succeed with support and hard work from other areas of the company.
- Make sure you have an outcome in mind. As marketers, you probably have more responsibility for the ultimate outcome or result than just about anyone within your organization. Take that role seriously. It’s the difference between being a marketing strategist and a marketing communications professional. Work hard to identify the clear end goal—then circle the wagons and make sure everyone is laser-focused on achieving that goal. No matter what. And, make sure you’re constantly measuring results. In this case, I think Walgreens will measure success by determining how much additional share of wallet and business they capture from busy moms.
- Understand your whole company as a system. You might not realize it most days, but as a marketer, your job entails a whole lot more than just marketing. You need to understand business processes, IT implications and operational models. All these, and more, come into play as you develop your strategy and line up resources against a common goal, like the one laid out here by Walgreens. Marketers often play that facilitator role—working to get everyone on board with a big idea, aligning resources and persuading senior leadership. In many ways, you want to be a “T” person. As a “T” leader you must maintain a broad perspective and demonstrate that you see how marketing decisions impact the whole organization. And with your team, you must show up each day with deep marketing expertise. The combination is incredibly powerful. Embrace that role, work hard to become better at it. In the end, it will pay off for you—and your organization.
Linda Ireland is a partner at Aveus, a strategy and global operational change firm based in Minneapolis. Before joining Aveus, she was CEO of FORWARD I, a strategy and marketing consulting firm. She has also held executive positions at several companies, including Wilsons Leather, Digital River, Genesis Direct, PaperDirect, and Deluxe Corporation. Linda is also the author of DOMINO and blogs regularly at the Customer Experience for Profit Blog and contributes to a number of other industry websites.