CVS CMO on the chain's new media network, health care marketing trends and Halloween
As a health care chain, CVS has been a destination during COVID-19, as consumers use its stores to test for the virus and also fulfill their shopping list of household essentials. The chain has pivoted to meet new consumer behavior, such as focusing on digital methods of communication and introducing new offerings for Halloween. Norman de Greve, chief marketing officer of the Woonsocket, R.I.-based chain, discusses how CVS is handling the changes and what lies in store—and out.
The pandemic has forced a lot of shifts in consumer behavior, from bread-baking to online shopping by older consumers. What are some of the changes you’ve seen from your customers?
There have been a lot of changes. At their core, people are just really interested in protecting themselves. You see things like vitamins and immunity doing really well because people are worried. Related to that, you see people trying to use e-commerce a lot more than they are going into stores. Right now, we’re in the middle of flu shots and the demand for flu vaccinations is higher than it’s ever been. People are really taking their health more seriously.
Are people doing more one-stop shopping by buying more from CVS in order to limit the number of stores they visit?
We’ve had it for a while with pharmacy deliveries, and what we’re seeing is a real growth in the number of people adding other products onto that because delivery is free. So they say while I get the prescription delivered, please add in all these other products.
How are you integrating new trends, like a focus on vitamins, into your marketing?
In August, we started with our back-to-school advertising. Of course, we had to make it a lot earlier in the year and, man, it was hard to make back-to-school advertising when you didn’t even know if people were going to be in school. We called it back-to-the-new-school. The things you need when you go back to school are different than the things you needed in the past—hand sanitizers, wipes, that sort of stuff. After that, we did a whole piece on immunity, and that’s just about getting your flu shot. It’s all protection-related. From a marketing standpoint, it’s really pivoted how we think about what we communicate and how we communicate. Before COVID, we wouldn’t have been as focused on communicating protecting yourself from the things that are out there. We would have been more focused on being your best, healthiest self. Now, we’re more about how to keep yourself safe.
How have you changed how you communicate with customers and use digital tools?
We have had some ramping up on text messages and how we use them to highlight products. Part of COVID is not just protection, but also a lot of people are unemployed and have less income—they’re worried, so value is important. We communicate that in a lot of our marketing—SMS and email. In the future what do people want? They want a proactive assistant to help them with their health. I can see our text messaging program—it has over 70 million people using it—turning into an actual proactive assistant to help with health.
How are the in-store Health HUBS performing during the pandemic?
It’s been a right place at the right time. If you think about the environment we’re in, if they said how would you like a conveniently located health center where you can go in on your schedule and get what you need done quickly, this is the perfect environment to do that. They’ve been really well-positioned in this environment. Some of this testing requires a medical professional to be there. The fact that we have integrated nurse practitioners in these stores helps us deliver the COVID testing. Our overall goal is to get to 1,500 by the end of next year.
Despite all the vitamins, CVS is also a candy destination. How are you planning for Halloween this year?
We just did a big initiative with Hershey. We’re giving away a million Boo Bags, which are free bags, nicely decorated and designed, you can put candy in it and leave it on somebody’s doorstep. It gives instructions on what they can do for the next person. It’s our way of saying we’re there for you.
CVS made a commitment of authenticity in its beauty ads. How has that played out with consumers?
This October we’re hitting 100% compliance of our Beauty Mark initiative, which means now when a consumer comes into a store, every image in the beauty area will be marked as digitally altered or unaltered, so consumers can have realistic expectations and not compare themselves to some computer-generated image. The reaction has been fantastic. We continue to get incredible responses from our customers and on social to it. People are hungry for some authenticity and some reality and I think it plays really well into that. I have a 7-year-old daughter and I want her to feel good about herself.
Beyond flu-shot marketing, what is ahead for CVS this fall and through the holiday season?
We are also focused on DIY beauty. Think about all the stuff you’re not going out to get done anymore—nails and hair are still doing really well, and skin. We’re helping people be healthy that way. What a wacky time the holidays are going to be. Amazon had their Prime Day—you can see a lot of the marketing and merchandising is getting pulled forward. Everybody expects e-commerce to be really big, curbside pickup is going to be big; is COVID going to flare up in these communities, and how do we manage that? We are starting our holiday marketing in October/November. The unique thing about CVS is it's actually really easy to get in and get the small things you need and get out and not worry about it. We’re working on that and trying to deliver some value in there as well.
In August, CVS debuted its own media network, a digital platform where CPG brands can target specific customers in their advertising based on CVS shopper data. It’s early days, but how has this new offering been received?
We are seeing a tremendous amount of interest. We’ve run over 100 campaigns—it’s ramping fast. We have the best data in the industry about health and beauty. We’ve been collecting data about consumer behavior in the health and beauty front of our store—none of the pharmacy data gets used—for over 20 years. We’re deploying analytics and AI on it so we can customize audiences for companies that want to use this network. It’s good for these brands—they run an ad, it’s targeted at people who are likely to buy their product—and it’s good for us because people buy it at CVS. It’s a win-win for everyone.