The role of the CMO is all about growth, according to Vineet Mehra, Walgreens Boots Alliance global CMO and chief customer officer, and one must be in the C-suite as a growth hacker, finding new avenues for growth.
The defining moments of 2021 created a runway for brands to step up and into a new world, and many in the marketing business function had to scrap their plans and pivot towards the future.
However, for Walgreens, it did not fall short of new, innovative launches to get through this short-term, turned longer-term disruption runway. First, the retailer created the Walgreens Advertising Group (WAG) media network, which in turn created alternative revenue.
It also launched more diagnostic testing sites, now switching over to vaccine and immunization sites. It launched a new last-mile strategy going from zero to 9,000 stores in a matter of two months. “Growth comes from all these new streams … new experiences, etc.,” said Mehra during a CES 2021 panel. He believes that all CMOs must ask themselves how to bring growth to their companies.
“When the CFO recognizes the CMO as a growth point, that’s a good barometer” because it shows that the CMO is focused on the company as a team, he explained.
This growth mindset though cannot be achieved without tight collaboration within the C-suite. For example, imagine taking an eight-minute shopping trip at Walgreens and instead getting that order through drone delivery when your kid is sick, and you can’t leave your other kids home alone. That is game-changing — it changes consumers’ lives. But, working on those experiences requires co-development, which Mehra said he does by developing a roadmap with his CIO first, and proceeds from there.
With Walgreens in the center of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. and the U.K., the emergence of the community pharmacy and pharmacist really transformed. The retailer had to pivot hard and fast. Here’s how:
1. By providing health and well-being to every human in America (equally): Walgreens gave the same access to everyone and transformed its app, which integrates all its health services in one place. Consumers can buy PPE, OTC products, book a COVID test and even receive tele-health services. The app made it seamless and easy for consumers to take care of their health needs.
2. By quickly rolling out buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS): Walgreen filled the need for consumers to order something, completely contactless and within few minutes of their home.
3. By pivoting into the COVID testing and immunization space: Many of the Walgreens stores turned to drive-in/testing centers by transforming parking lots. Mehra said that they even worked with Operation Warp Speed to become one of the largest providers of vaccine and immunizations for COVID-19.
When it comes to incorporating new technologies into its future strategies, Mehra is on board. AI and machine learning can be used for automated content creation, meeting consumers where they are. Performance storytelling requires thousands of pieces of content and Mehra believes that is where AI/ML can help. AR and VR will be responsible for new shopping experiences and even robotics and drone delivery are all playing a role in future investments.
As for the rest of 2021 and beyond, Mehra said that he is optimistic about the next generation of marketers to help tackle “these issues we have in our industry around racial equality, servant-based leadership, empathy. … We just kicked off marketing for change to transform our voice in the industry and … these marketers will really transform the future, and make the industry that much stronger.”