CMO of the Week: Rite Aid’s Jeanniey Walden

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Jeanniey Walden, chief marketing officer of Rite Aid and Thrifty's Ice Cream, talks whole health for life and running a modern pharmacy.

Jeanniey Walden brings the AIR concept to everything she does in marketing. This is the filter she is applying to her new role as chief marketing officer of Rite Aid and Thrifty's Ice Cream.

“I've been looking throughout the organization to see where we can be more authentic. Where are we able to drive inspiration and where can be more relatable,” says Walden. 

A fan of the brand for more than 20 years, Walden joined Rite Aid as interim CMO in March and then took the reins as full time CMO in August. As a provider of medicine and a pit stop for snacks, ice cream, cosmetics and gifts, Rite Aid plays a daily role in consumers’ lives and Walden is thoughtful of how the brand shows up. 

“We're focused more and more on where we need to be for customers right now,” she says. “Is it better pricing or different pricing? Is it more access to tools to make people feel healthy? Watching all the fires that are everywhere, we are looking at what we need to do to make sure that people can still get their prescriptions. In the past, these emergency initiatives only happened occasionally, now it's just part of the day-to-day. Being able to immediately turn on a dime and say, this is what you need to know about your health, how to take care of it and here's the supplies that we have to help.”

Those supplies stretch beyond healthcare needs. Rite Aid owns the Thrifty Ice Cream brand, which is focused on providing moments of happiness. The company’s recently launched RYSHI brand, is a personal beauty line that came out of customer demand.

“We created this own brand with a whole whole line of products that our customers have been asking for,” explains Walden. “Being one of the smallest large companies out there, means providing all the care and attention. You're not just a number when you come to Rite Aid. We saw that people needed a new way of doing eyelash extensions or eye patches that don't irritate your face and make you just feel better and feel more refreshed. We put so much care into everything that we do from supporting people at the pharmacy to creating our own brands that meet unmet needs to being there for the community with ice cream.”

Prior to joining Rite Aid, Walden has held senior marketing positions for DailyPay, Mercer, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Zinio and OgilvyOne Worldwide. Brand Innovators caught up with Walden from her home office in New Jersey to talk new role, loyalty program and being customer-centric in the era of wildfires and pandemics. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

What is your vision as CMO of Rite Aid?

Our mission is to provide customers with whole health for life. That means so much more than just being a leader in pharmacy services, of course. It encapsulates the meaning of the modern pharmacy. It means yes, getting your prescriptions when you need them. It means being there for the community, being there for customers, whether they need to get a prescription or snacks and band aids for their kids. 

It also means being there regardless of how the customer needs you to be there for them. If you're at home with a sick child, you might not be able to leave the house to get something to help them feel better. With online ordering you can have Instacart or DoorDash deliver it to your house so you don't need to interrupt your day. But maybe tomorrow, you're taking the dog to the vet and on the way you want to pick up the prescription that's just renewing with the drive thru pharmacy. And the next day, you just might have some down time at night and you're looking online and you see some things that you want to order for the holidays. It's really about a modern pharmacy that helps whole health for life in every sense. That means great deals, family fun and just bringing smiles and reducing stress all the way down to the prescriptions and medication that you really need.

How has the role of health in the post-pandemic world evolved for consumers and what does that mean for the brand?

Many years ago, pharmacists were often seen as “pill-counters.” However, we were already elevating the role of the pharmacist before the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated it. Throughout the pandemic, the healthcare system was strained, and many people turned to their local pharmacists as a trusted resource – understanding and valuing the important, accessible expertise that existed in their local pharmacy. The pandemic made people significantly more health-conscious, inspiring many to lead a healthier lifestyle or adopt new wellness regimens. And we’re proud to be their neighborhood health and wellness destination. 

On the Thrifty Ice Cream side, ice cream means happiness and what better way to look at whole health for life and make your spirit happy by putting the front end of the store and the back end of the store together. It doesn't change our mission at all. But it changes the way that we deliver on the services. It's such a great opportunity to really help people get out back to normal life through COVID. 

Who is your target audience and how are you reaching them?

Rite Aid is for everybody but we have varying demographics. You've the older population, seniors that rely on Rite Aid for maintenance prescriptions. Then for RYSHI and Thrifty, you've got that younger demographic that's looking in the beauty section and for ice cream. That just automatically puts us at a prime area for what I'm calling the sandwich parent. It's that millennial mom who's taking care of the parents and the kids at the same time and then has those moments where she just wants some me time. By holistically supporting basic needs, we end up getting the entire family.

It's more about localizing ourselves and continuing to bridge those relationships with our customers. You can order on the e-comm site. You can have it delivered to the store through Buy Online, Pick Up in Store or you can order it through Instacart DoorDash. We even have Drizzly in the areas where we have alcohol. There's different initiatives that are based on the different customer personas. There's a lot of opportunities for us to leverage those uniquely based on where we are and how we can best serve the needs of the customer. The customer is where it all starts.

How have your past roles helped prepare you for your current role?

My master's is in teaching and my undergrad is in psychology. What I have learned over my years is that a psychology degree has given me more capability to succeed in marketing than I would have ever expected. It really forces you to get inside the mind of your customer and look at it that way. With the teaching degree, I was challenged to take complex material and turn it into something that's exciting and fun and gamifies things. This is so strategic when you're in a marketing leadership role where you have to understand the mindset of the consumer and look at omnichannel plans. 

Working on the client side at Mercer and DailyPay, you're solving needs and you can see where the strategy ends and the actual interaction and engagement begins. Then you're forced to learn to sell to solve a problem versus just sell. Those two sets of work experiences together have positioned me really well for the job at Rite Aid, because we need to appreciate what's happening for the front end associates every day. The pharmacist who's getting a very grumpy customer because they're sick and they just want their medicine and they're dealing with challenges with their insurance or just time constraints because they need to get back to work or pick up kids. Those people have a very different set of challenges and problems in dealing with the front end customer. 

That brings me back to my JC Penney days where we put the customer up front. How do we provide insights that give them a very clear idea of why this is more convenient. If you're not feeling well go through the drive thru or use our home delivery options. It's the customer that's running the company, supported by the store associates and the pharmacy, then supported by all of us in corporate roles that are just making all of this come to life and make it possible. The closer we can be to the customer and understanding their needs the better.

How are you thinking about loyalty?

Rite Aid has a fairly new points-based loyalty program, which has enabled us to provide just an extensive amount of benefits at every point of engagement through the store. If you get a vaccine, you might have the opportunity to earn more bonus points. It's congratulating you for doing something good for yourself that has a payback when you need something. You can set your personal goals whether it's to get free ice cream for your kids for the next three months, whether it's to be able to not have to pay a penny when you come in and pick up slowness, or over the counter medication or anything else that you need. It's all there for you. you get to design your own happiness. 

Everything we do at Rite Aid means more because we're thinking about how we can make it more meaningful for you. That's the construct behind the program. It's been growing really well. We brought in over 25 million, almost 2 million new members in the last year and we see new members coming in on a weekly basis. Over 70% of front end transactions are tied to an account, which gives us more insight into what people are buying and what they want. 

What big marketing trends are on your mind this year?

It's more based on looking at economic trends. When I worked at DailyPay, a financial wellness company, the way we went to market changed based on what was happening with the economy and disposable income people had. When you're looking at any retailer, including a modern pharmacy, we're looking at how consumer shopping trends are changing based on the economy, based on inflation, climate change, based on jobs and access to money. 

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