5 Mantras for the Modern Marketer From Walgreens’ Global CMO

Vineet Mehra talks personalization and revolutionizing delivery at Brandweek

Nadine Dietz and Vineet Mehra at Brandweek
Vineet Mehra's vision for Walgreens' future includes drone delivery customer empathy. Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—Within 8 minutes of ordering Neosporin and Band-Aids, a consumer in Virginia had those items in hand, delivered by drone from a nearby Walgreens to his home. Your move, Amazon.

It was no stunt—drone delivery is part of a pilot project the drug store chain launched this fall aimed at “redefining convenience,” said Vineet Mehra, global CMO of the retailer’s parent company, Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Drone delivery is a way for Walgreens to lean into new tech and create new business models, he said. The brand, with $10 billion in annual sales, is the first retailer to use the FAA-cleared technology from Google parent company Alphabet’s Wing division.

“It could be a single mom who needs ibuprofen for a sick child and can’t leave the house,” Mehra said. “That’s a real problem we can solve.”

It’s also an example of Mehra’s mantras for the modern marketer, which he shared at Adweek’s annual Brandweek summit during a conversation with Nadine Dietz, host of the CMO Moves podcast:

Unify the C-suite behind the customer

At a time when there are multiple “chiefs” in the room (chief information, chief privacy, chief growth officers), the CMO has a unifying role to play, Mehra said. “We are and always will be the voice of the customer, and we need to rally the organization around the consumer journey and experience.”

Be your company’s growth hacker

“Disrupt your own business model before someone else does,” advised Mehra. An example, along with delivering products by drone, is a Walgreens program that puts water refill stations beside bottled water that’s for sale in stores. Counterintuitive or eco-friendly? Both, but mostly the latter, said Mehta. “We have to give our customers choice.”

Connect purpose and commerce

Connect purpose-driven marketing to business areas that are commercially important to you and bring that purpose to life via consumer engagement versus touting it in self-congratulatory marketing. “That turns into a movement — consumers will talk about it on our behalf — rather than us shouting about it.”

Make everything personal

Data and analytics have created “a golden age of marketing,” where campaigns can be more precision oriented than ever before. “Lean into technology, which now allows for personalization at a mass level,” Mehra said. For example, Walgreens recently created more than 400 videos and other messages to target specific demographics and psychographics (fathers of young kids, caregivers of elderly folks) for flu shots.

Walgreens is taking an increasingly personalized approach to its consumers, with Mehra coining the term “phygital” for blending physical and digital experiences to help make that happen.

Case in point is the retailer’s Feel More Like You program for cancer patients that ranges from online educational content, targeted ads and apps with medication and appointment reminders, to empathy training for 12,000 pharmacists. The brand also started offering in-store beauty treatments via 3,000 specially trained consultants.

The effort, which won an Adweek Constellation Award, touched on every team within the company, from online, social and merchandise to loyalty, human resources and store operations.

“There’s an ecosystem we can weave together that’s multi-divisional, multi-skillset,” he said. “Marketing became the connector.”

Cultivate unicorns

CMOs are facing a dearth of talent, Mehra said. There’s a supply and demand problem with digitally native marketers, so companies must develop their own “triple threats,” executives who are adept at a wide range of skills, from mar-tech to creative advertising to consumer journeys.

Having top people is especially key as the retail and healthcare worlds go through seismic changes. 

Competitor CVS acquired insurance giant Aetna, aiming for a bigger share of the wellness market, and Amazon has been laying the groundwork for a significant push into insurance plans, online pharmacies and Alexa-based healthcare.

Walgreens, meanwhile, has started offering in-store primary care at some locations, with Jenny Craig weight-loss clinics on the horizon.

The company also just announced a new CMO, Patrick McLean, earlier this week, who comes from a finance background at TD Bank and Capital One.

@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.