Case StudyHow Walgreens scaled its performance storytelling

How Walgreens scaled its performance storytelling

A transformation that bridged the gap between the business, customer, and in-house talent

While every good marketer (and great brand) knows the importance of personalization, the larger challenge lies in delivering these experiences at scale.

As Covid-19 hit the world, Walgreens — one of America’s largest and oldest pharmacies – needed to offer security and emotionally reassure customers. And to achieve this it needed to tap into deeper customer experiences across both physical and digital touchpoints.

We spoke to Rego Marquiis, Head of Creative at Walgreens, to understand how Walgreens achieved this through The LOOP, a newly formed, in-house creative organization comprising performance storytellers.

Walgreens’ focus on performance storytelling

Performance storytelling integrates creativity and data analytics to ensure creative teams deliver against business results. It empowers the business to test, learn, and optimize content in real-time and use these observations to scale and enhance future marketing strategies.

To replicate their values and better serve their customers, Walgreens wanted to:

  • Improve their perception as a brand that understands and treats customers as human beings
  • Improve how it communicates with its customer by understanding how customers look and feel about the brand and their experiences

These business needs served as the catalyst to launch The LOOP – Walgreens’ creative organization tasked with delivering performance storytelling across its diverse marketing functions.

Rego designed The LOOP over a six-month period preparing for operation in August 2021. Comprising existing Walgreens employees, The LOOP would champion Walgreens’ brand and voice across all marketing and communications. It would operate as an integrated strategic partner to:

  • Create a culture that enables employees to tap into their creativity and drive the brand
  • Absorb data, learn from it, and ask smarter questions
  • Catalyze Walgreens’ marketing transformation journey by uncovering the most compelling, empathetic, business-driving solutions for the brand

“The thought of transformation was already established when I joined Walgreens. I was tasked with a bunch of data to kickstart ideas as we moved into the design phase for The LOOP.”

– Rego Marquiis, Head of Creative, Walgreens

Implementing a cultural shift to propel marketing transformation

Prior to Rego’s tenure at Walgreens, the marketing function faced immense pressure due to unrealistic expectations around scale, scope, and volume of work.

To thrive, employees needed a space to ask questions that would lead them to the best possible solution. They required non-linear methods, the opposite of how Walgreens once worked.

While Rego intended for The LOOP to complement and sometimes supplement the external agencies they worked with, The LOOP needed to be a bigger, broader, deeper creative community.

“We needed to build a novel space that thrives on a fail-fast school of thought that was generally foreign. We wanted to build this culture of rebel genius. Instead of mimicking other world-class creative organizations, we modeled The LOOP to operate more like a team of scientists in a constant state of curiosity,” Rego said.

Establishing new ways of working

Rego based The LOOP’s framework on the Kaizen testing model – where employees at all levels work together to achieve regular, incremental improvements while retaining successes from the past.

“Where the old was being shed and the new was being incorporated, we identified the star muscle memory moments and brought those forward as principles, not rules.”

– Rego Marquiis, Head of Creative, Walgreens

“The idea was to shake free of the old ways so we could deliver better for our customers and patients. And this work would echo across not only big broadcast campaigns but also in-store and digital moment-by-moment interactions,” Rego said.To find the genius among the noise, Rego focused on removing old, intrinsic mindsets of how people worked, no longer:

  • Thinking of projects before the customer
  • Focusing on an initiative before understanding its value
  • Acting without thinking of the broader impact

Rego also dropped the prototypical creative review process that was once used to gauge progress. These creative reviews were replaced by ‘shaping sessions’ – equivalent to a software team’s agile development process, but from a creative’s standpoint.

Shaping sessions were crafted to offer a safe culture that supports a fail-fast school of thought. These sessions helped teammates retrain their brains from singular ways and approaches. Creatives were encouraged to uncover possibilities that can be partnered to solve a problem.

“Shaping sessions are like a campfire moment where there’s no pressure. It’s an open session to challenge briefs and each other. Then we have another session as work moves from launch to land. This is our paradigm when we start a project, we call it a launch.”The shaping sessions will assign a “devil’s advocate” to question teammates around their rationale for potential solutions and the data that supports it.

“We then move over from shaping to elevation as we take an idea and challenge it. Again, this is not a creative review.” – Rego Marquiis, Head of Creative, Walgreens

A ‘brand’ new mindset as a collective

The team is now mindful of their work’s impact on the customer. They approach work not as projects but rather as hypotheses. This is a leap from where the team started off 12 months ago.

The LOOP team created a vaccination-related docuseries on YouTube called ‘The Vaccine, In Our Words’. This was the first piece of storytelling work towards using the power of the Walgreens brands to shine a light on the important health crises of our time. The campaign featured people and communities struggling with Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy. These stories highlighted the critical, much-needed vaccine inequality conversation.

The LOOP’s docuseries saw the following outcomes:

  • A 600% increase in page views and dwell time
  • The sweet spot for videos was two to five minutes
  • Walgreens’ customers have similar core values irrespective of their social or economic position
  • The emotional framework was relevant across all customers and patients because of the human truths and their stories
  • Repeatable data points for Walgreens’ next model

Since its inception a year ago, The LOOP has become an enabler of other departments’ successes through its storytelling that stems from emotional connections.

Rego is positive about achieving the broader goal for The LOOP: being a fully realized creative organization.

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