How Walgreens solves mass personalization challenge with Adobe

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett March 25, 2022
Mixing first- and third-party data, and real-time triggers transform healthcare provider’s marketing strategy.


With more than a hundred million customers worldwide, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) already has a huge amount of first-party data as the base for its marketing efforts. The pharmacy chain now wants to combine this data with new technology offerings to develop a slick engine for mass personalization.

One of its core personalization projects is the Private Identity Graph, developed via a joint venture with marketing and advertising tech specialist WPP to gain a fuller picture of customers.

While WBA has a wealth of interactions with customers, both in store and digitally across many different touch points, that only includes time spent at Walgreens. Matt Harker, VP Global Marketing Strategy and Transformation at Walgreens Boots Alliance, explains:

Of course, they have lives outside of Walgreens. There could be some things that they're involved in - maybe they are a strong beauty enthusiast - and they don't purchase today from Walgreens or they purchase from a very narrow category. What if we knew that, and then we had a new beauty innovation come into market, and we would then want to let those people know about it, who are most invested in the category. That's where we look to third-party data, or what people are doing outside.

The partnership with WPP offers Walgreens a unified data set, and a way of using that to create a better 360 customer view, which is much more intelligent about the individual. Based on that more rounded view, Walgreens can make different choices about how it appears to customers, what messages to send them and what channels to reach them, explains Harker: 

That's where the Adobe stack comes in, it's that activation layer that goes after you have that intelligence around the consumer.

The suite approach

WBA selected Adobe based on its connected suite of tools that at its heart help find the right individual and deliver the right content at the right time. While the company uses many other technology products, it wanted a backbone that offered pre-integration and understanding of its needs, which is what the Adobe suite provides.

The Alliance is also using Microsoft Azure Cloud and some of the tools around its customer data platform, as well as integrating other specialists into the ecosystem like Movable Ink and Phrasee, which brings specialized AI-driven technology for more effective personalized communications. Harker adds:

The Adobe solution is a great core to build from. We're not trying to be experts in experience technology. Once you find a good partner like them, they're going to continue to sharpen their technology offer and the marketplace is going to demand it. So we can ride along on that innovation wave and not fall behind.

That's the biggest trap we're trying to stay out of, because the more you build, if you don't keep adding resources to keep it fresh over time, you fall behind the marketplace.

Safe and secure

Privacy is being built into WBA’s personalization offerings from the get-go, rather than being treated as an add-on. Before the firm does any work on the systems, as part of the planning phase its privacy, compliance and security teams are at the table with the marketing and tech teams, helping design the best outcome. Harker says:

We don't work on it and get it all the way ready to launch and then check for permission with the privacy team or check with compliance. They're part of the integrated build and the whole design from the beginning.

As well as ensuring the end-product is secure and meets privacy requirements, this cross-function approach offers the advantage of broadening skills, he explains: 

I don't have a multi-year background training in privacy and law, and there's no way I can keep up with the changes in state privacy laws and all the different layers of compliance. Working with those people from the beginning, you learn what they’re focused on, what they’re making smart choices from, which just helps me become more aware and stronger going forward.

They do the same. Technology is not maybe how they spend their day every day, they don't know the latest thing going on with third-party cookies and all the ID changes. But you pick that up over time and as a group, you really raise your capabilities.

Cross-function collaboration

The partnership between the marketing and tech team is equally important to manage a customer and technology landscape that is constantly evolving, according to Beth Lubotsky, Senior Director, Customer Engagement & Loyalty at Walgreen Co:

The marketer does very little without their technology partner by their side. We are constantly developing new journeys that have new technical requirements associated with them, meaning you're along on this ride together, you're constantly evolving the roles and responsibilities to ensure you've got the right people at the table all along the way.

Bringing more of that cross-functional leadership together at the jump and being able then to organize into smaller and more agile teams has more often than not been a more successful way for us to operate.

WBA’s partnership with Adobe has proved especially fruitful when it came to supporting customers during the pandemic, helping people to find testing and vaccines, and get proof of their vaccine card.

As an example of the latter, if somebody comes into a Walgreens store for a vaccine, they’re usually asked to sit down for 10 to 15 minutes to make sure they don't have any adverse reaction. WBA wanted to make customers aware that if they opened their myWalgreens app at that point, they would get a record of their vaccine and visit, providing users had given an email address or mobile number, and had given consent to be contacted. Harker says:

We needed a way that as soon as you have that vaccine in the pharmacy, you get that invitation to open your phone and go to the Walgreens app. By connecting that real-time trigger, it would trigger an SMS or an email communication. That was something we did not have the capability of before to do on an individual basis: depending on what store you're in, to real-time trigger a message while you're sitting there in the store and your attention is on the vaccine. That's the best time to do it, because otherwise we're going to interrupt your life.

This is Walgreen’s first use case of connecting the Adobe Experience Cloud real-time trigger, and it’s an omni- channel one - starting in store, ending in a digital app and health related.

Personalized healthcare

Looking ahead, the company is focused on its new Walgreens Health offering, which will expand the healthcare side of its business with the opening of hundreds of doctor offices, and in-store consultations with nurses and pharmacists. Customers will be able to access care in-store, at home, in the doctor's office or via a mobile app. WBA sees both a huge opportunity and sense of obligation to help raise health in the local communities it serves. Harker argues: 

We're uniquely positioned with our locations and experts, so it's a great chance to help those communities in need. There's a lot of social determinants of health that we are aware of and we're trying to help bring better equity to healthcare in that space.

The personalization agenda will play a key role in Walgreens Health. Customers will be provided with the services they need and request, but they will also have their needs determined based on available data and consent levels, allowing an in-store expert to reach out and offer solutions.

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