Walgreens' journey over the past year to ramp up digital engagement with its customers typifies the changes across many businesses as the pandemic called a halt to routine in-person contact and forced a switch to digital channels. The drugstore and pharmacy chain's story, told as part of yesterday's Adobe Summit keynote, provides a real-world context that grounds many of the day's announcements from the digital content and marketing giant, focused on speeding and automating an omni-channel customer experience for B2C and B2B brands.
As a parade of global brands — including drug company Pfizer, global courier FedEx and in Europe adhesives-to-laundry giant Henkel — joined Adobe executives on the virtual stage to tell their stories, one theme stood out. Digital automation and connection had helped them triumph over the challenges of the past year, whether it was Pfizer's development and delivery of its COVID-19 vaccine in record time or FedEx's readiness to handle the rapid rise in deliveries fueled by e-commerce. Those experiences have proven the worth of digital, as Shantanu Narayen, Adobe CEO, spelt out in his opening remarks:
We've gone from a world with digital, to a digital-first world — and there is no going back because today, every business has to be a digital business.
Customer experience management
Adobe sees its role in this new world as providing a Customer Experience Management (CXM) platform that enables enterprises to deliver the digitally-enhanced engagement their customers expect today. The components of that platform were highlighted in yesterday's Adobe product news:
- Adobe Journey Optimizer — a new product that brings together customer signals and intelligent analytics from across the Adobe platform to deliver personalized customer journeys at scale through outbound marketing and one-on-one engagement.
- Customer Journey Analytics — unified data analytics designed for brand executives, including a new intelligent alerts capability and mobile dashboards.
- Real-time CDP — now available in a B2B edition as well as B2C, the Adobe Customer Data Platform is designed to optimize use of a brand's own data rather than relying on data passed on via third-party cookies, which a growing number of browsers are set to block due to concerns about privacy.
- Adobe Workfront — the recently acquired work management vendor is being integrated into the Adobe Experience Manager CXM platform as a marketing system of record.
- Simplified asset management — a new simplified digital asset manager is coming to Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) to help make it easier for teams to manage content assets, followed by integration with Workfront.
- Headless content management — AEM is going headless with graphQL support, and AI-optimized content suggestions delivered from Adobe Sensei.
- Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento) — new AI features come to the commerce platform to provide intelligent search and visual recommendations. The platform is also going headless and is introducing new integrations, for example embedding e-signature from Adobe Sign in the checkout process, along with tie-ups to FedEx, Paypal and Wayflyer.
- Edge data collection — a new enterprise option to use Adobe's global edge network and SDKs to collect data.
- Adobe Sign — as well as the commerce integration, Sign is integrating with Marketo Engage for document approval and signature within marketing workflow automation. A tie-up with Microsoft Teams also embeds Sign into meeting chat and approval workflows.
Going digital at Walgreens
Coming back to Walgreens, the impact of the pandemic has accelerated its digital transformation over the past year. With a 120-year history and over 9,000 locations spread across the United States, it serves 8 million customers each day and has over 100 million in its contact database. Yet until last June, one of its primary communication channels with customers had been the distribution of paper circulars. During the year, the emphasis switched to personalized email and precision targeted marketing, along with the launch of the myWalgreens loyalty programme at the end of November. That has meant using data more effectively to understand customers better and reach them with relevant messages. It's a far cry from the old emphasis on broadcast methods such as those flyers and TV advertising. As Alyssa Raine, Group VP of Customer Marketing Platforms at Walgreens explains:
[We're] looking at what we know about our customers from the data that we're seeing. What are the different channels that we can interact with them? How are we personalizing it so that we make sure we're meeting their needs? Versus a 30-second ad targeting a woman 25-to-54 years old, which is how we historically did it.
Streamlining the connections between e-commerce and physical stores has also been important. Walgreens launched a Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS) programme that aims to have goods ready to pickup in as little as 30 minutes. It has also teamed up with telehealth providers to connect customers with digital tools such as COVID-19 risk assessment, testing and vaccine scheduling. In a sense, this is taking Walgreens back to its historical roots. Raine says:
We've gone back to that, how do we take care of the health, versus being focused on efficiency internally and putting pills in bottles. We've really looked at how can the pharmacy make healthcare as accessible as possible. Digital investment played a very big role.
The growing importance of digital as Walgreens enables these capabilities has meant marketing today works much more closely with IT than it has in the past. She adds:
Historically, as a marketer, your key partners would be finance and sales, but not necessarily IT and digital product. What I love now is marketing partnering with IT to build great customer experiences that we can orchestrate to both delight the customer and drive the business forward.
There's a reason we talk about frictionless enterprise here at diginomica. Digital technology is all about enabling connections so that stuff gets done faster and more effectively. Pfizer's story is particularly notable in that regard. Its CEO Albert Bourla explained how an initiative to digitize the discovery and development process for medicines had reduced the time taken to analyze some elements of the vaccine development process from weeks to just 18 hours, while preparation of documents for submission to the FDA for approval could take place in 2-3 days rather than 5-6 months. "Without digital, we wouldn't be here even today," he says.
Walgreens' story shrinks the last mile of that same process, helping its customers schedule vaccines or collect drugs and household necessities despite the restrictions on contact and movement that have been in place from time to time during the pandemic. It's more than simply choosing not to go back to the old, manual ways of operating. The evolution and adoption of digitally connected infrastructure is improving our lives and it's not in our interests to go back.