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Walgreens’ Chawla to head digital-led marketing unit

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DEERFIELD, Ill. — Illustrating technology’s paramount role in marketing, Walgreen Co. has promoted e-commerce president Sona Chawla to the newly created role of digital and chief marketing officer.

Sona Chawla

Walgreens said Thursday that Chawla will lead a new Digital and Marketing Division. The unit is charged with unifying and integrating digital, companywide marketing and establishing a customer loyalty and insights group to advance Walgreens’ Well Experience strategy.

“Our goal is to optimize our marketing investments and mix to reach consumers where they are, as their use of digital media continues to escalate,” Chawla said in a statement. “This means more than just adding digital media to our marketing portfolio. We also will adopt a digital mind-set throughout our marketing efforts.”

Chawla joined Walgreens in July 2008 as senior vice president of e-commerce and was promoted to president of e-commerce in January 2011. Her team has been responsible for the company’s digital strategy and implementation to support the health and daily living businesses across the drug chain’s portfolio of websites, mobile and stores.

Greg Wasson, president and chief executive officer of Walgreens, noted that Chawla’s new role reflects the influence of digital technology in marketing today.

“Digital technology continues to drive major change in retail and health care, and Walgreens is moving full speed ahead to harness and combine digital, marketing innovations and customer loyalty and insights to give customers what they want, where and when they want it,” Wasson stated. “With Sona’s success in establishing Walgreens as a retail digital pioneer, her leadership of our combined digital and marketing efforts will continue to accelerate our Well Experience strategy to step out of the traditional drug store format and create a truly differentiated experience for customers and patients.”

The Digital and Marketing Division combines three current groups at Walgreens: e-commerce, corporate marketing, and customer loyalty and insights. The company said that melding these teams will enable it to leverage its combined talent, knowledge and assets to drive its omnichannel strategy as part of its Customer Experience and Daily Living organization, led by Alex Gourlay, executive vice president and president of customer experience and daily living.

Chawla’s experience and success in advancing Walgreens’ digital strategies and online customer experience make her “the perfect leader to accelerate our rapid evolution into omni-channel marketing and customer engagement,” according to Gourlay.

“Bringing our digital, marketing and consumer technology together and linking it with the powerful consumer data and insights we get through our Balance Rewards program and digital channels will further position Walgreens as a customer-driven brand,” Gourlay explained.

Also on Thursday, Walgreens announced that Graham Atkinson, senior vice president and chief marketing and customer experience officer, is slated to retire at the end of January.

Atkinson, who joined Walgreens in January 2011 from United Airlines, where he was president of the Mileage Plus loyalty program, has been responsible for developing and leading the drug chain’s enterprise marketing and loyalty strategies, focusing on customer experience. The company noted that in 2012 he led the launch of the Balance Rewards customer loyalty program, which now has more than 85 million members.

“Graham has had an extraordinary impact on Walgreens during his three-year role with the company, and we are indebted to him for his vision, leadership and accomplishments,” Wasson commented. “We asked Graham to join our team and take on a singular focus — to launch the most successful customer loyalty program in retail history — and he did just that. Beyond Balance Rewards, importantly, he also instilled customer-centric principles into our culture and took on the additional role of chief marketing officer in the past year to build and develop our corporate marketing function.”


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