CMO Q&A: Kim Feil, Walgreens (Extended)

Walgreens CMO Kim Feil talks to Alexandra Bruell about the chain's community programs, use of social media, and multicultural marketing

Kim Feil, CMO of Walgreens, talks to Alexandra Bruell about the drugstore chain's community-based efforts, health-related branding, and multicultural marketing.  

What's the biggest thing you and your marketing team are focused on right now?  

We want to be viewed by consumers as the first choice for healthy and daily living and give them the access they're looking for in terms of health advice, education, and prevention. Those platforms – daily living and health platforms – are two areas that my teams are particularly focused on through creating the right way to communicate our benefits, bringing programs to the market, and, most importantly, leveraging these in the communities we serve.

How are you using social media to communicate these messages?

One of the things we've been really proud of is our strong Facebook and Walgreens.com engagement. We even poll our Facebook fans and ask them questions like, “This holiday season, who are you buying for and what do you want?” “If you were to think about Walgreens as a place to come to get information about health, what do you want to hear about?” So we're using it to create marketing interest and demand, but what we're really doing is building a relationship with them and inviting their input and advice so now we can be more meaningful to them.

As a result of using more social media and really honing in on the consumer, have you found there's been a shift in the marketing dynamic? Are you investing more in earned media as opposed to traditional?

Three years ago, our mix consisted primarily of the Sunday newspaper print circular. We have very much broadened our mix.

The healthcare front is where I'd say we've taken the broadest step. We have much more focus first on what we offer, which is both prescription service and information, but we broaden that to immunization with the flu program, diabetes screenings, hypertension screenings, and other types of advice we now communicate through social media and marketing to customers who opt in with us to hear more about those kinds of conditions.

We also do a lot more local programming, more local radio and store-based programs where we invite people to attend clinics where they can learn more about our condition information.

You recently launched a CSR website. There was also a great New York Times story about Walgreens in “food deserts.” Can you talk about what you're doing in that space?

We bring accessible information to help people make choices on the health front, so there's that first and foremost, but there are a lot of things we're doing around the environment and sustainability - the food deserts, definitely. Maybe in retrospect we could have even seen that earlier, but we're bringing fresh food and alternatives to consumers who have little access to that. We've garnered that in the initial stores, but we've got markets and mayors all over the country asking for more solutions, so that's something we will definitely focus on.

In addition, we're also doing a lot of things around the environment. We became the first drugstore chain in the US last month to use thermal energy in one of our stores. We also just announced recently that we are offering electric vehicle plug-in stations at 18 stores in Houston. Also, you can mail back expired meds and they'll be safely disposed. Meds flushed away cause a real problem with the water system. We announced it through a PR initiative in October as another step for people to address prevention and health.

You have a background in CPG and food and that past experience has no doubt inspired some of what you're doing at Walgreens. Can you talk about how your experience has translated to a retail story?

I'm the first CMO Walgreens has had, and it shows how important it is that we see that our broadening efforts give us a chance to connect better. CPG vendors and manufacturers have had the lead in terms of being able to dissect segment and understand consumer behavior and needs. Retailers for so many years viewed it as, “If I'm there they'll come,” and it was really more of a merchant items sale environment.

What I feel I've brought is that same degree of sharpening the understanding of consumer needs at a more individual level because we are right there. We're within three miles of nearly 70% of the population.  

How, if at all, are you leveraging your brand partnerships in the marketing approach?

We partner with all the vendors all the time. We also have invited vendors to participate more with us under specific initiatives to advance our business and theirs. There are some simple examples, such as our relationship with Hershey for Easter and Valentine's Day. There are bigger partnerships around health and well being. We did a very big program with 40 vendors in May. Each week we featured a different aspect of women's health, nutrition, exercise, and emotional well being.  

Which departments and agencies are getting the digital promotion work associated with your major health and daily living programs?    

I wouldn't call [the digital piece] PR. We have a digital agency – Digitas. We do a digital platform for every campaign we execute and that is a place where we communicate more information. We also have a lot of connection back to Walgreens.com where there are sections devoted to whitepapers and more information. Soon to come will be more in the area of mobile.

What kinds of resources are you allocating toward multicultural marketing?

It's a very big deal. We're within three miles of 85% of Hispanic and African-American consumers. We recently launched a really cool program in Miami where we had our Hispanic pharmacists from our Miami stores tell their stories in an ad campaign.

We have made really good progress on getting our messages more purposefully to the right consumers, but we have not done the degree of sophisticated multicultural external marketing that you will be seeing more of in the coming months.

Will a lot of that be PR?
It will vary based on the market. In New York, you almost have to do it community by community. In Miami, you can [look at] as a market.

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