Friday, July 16, 2010

Duane Reade's New York State of Mind

Hello Everyone!

Earlier this week I had the utmost honor to be a guest blogger for Shopper Insights in Action.  I learned quite a bit and met many great people!

Today, I would like to tell you about the talk by Joe Jackman, Duane Reade's CMO, which covered how that drugstore went from convenience destination to desired destination.  It's truly a "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" kind of New York story.  Honestly, I was excited for the preso because, as a former New Yorker, I remember my Duane Reade shopping experiences well... and not always because they were like running through a meadow of beautiful flowers.

Shopping at Duane Reade is like breathing -- vital but not always conscious.  It's a part of NY cultural fabric and before it's transformation, it felt like as you went from store to store the only thing in common from store to store was its name.  There was no consistency in format, layout, etc.  As you traverse the streets of NY, that's charming because every neighborhood in every borough (what up, Brooklyn?) has its own vibe.  But it's not charming when you're trying to have a quick, easy drugstore experience.

It's easy to say that New York is a brand (watch this Jay Z video to understand why).  But it doesn't mean that Duane Read was a viable brand on par with that of New York (or Jay Z).  And that was at the core of the research work to wort out how to revitalize and reinforce Duane Reade as a #1, top of mind drugstore shopping destination.

What did they learn?  Quantitatively, they knew they had the highest sales per square foot but that they were at the risk of being overrun by CVS and Rite Aid because those two brands bested Duane Reade in every single research dimension - ouch!  Qualitatively, they found numerous sites/blogs devoted to how much New Yorkers loathe the store.  Double ouch!  Net net: if they didn't do anything, they'd be gone like a New York minute.

They essentially learned that while Duane Reade stores are ubiquitous, it didn't mean ubiquity meant ease. Consumers told that they were bored, needed information, craved engagement and wanted things that would pique their interest to pull them into the store and keep them once they got in.  Duane Reade took the time to learn who their shoppers were and, significantly, who their shoppers weren't and honed in on three segments that represented their sweet spot.  And their sweet spot is nicknamed Maria, a busy ethnic minority woman living and working in multicultural New York.

So, they learned who their shoppers were and what they wanted.  Many companies would make subtle changes and hope for the best.  Duane Reade underwent a top to bottom change which not only required engaging with their customers and earning their loyalty but engaging their employees and earning their loyalty as well.  Many companies focus on the former but forget that it's an internal and external rebranding initiative!

Duane Reade decided to "own" New York.  And their new tag line "New York Living Made Easy" does just that.  It acknowledges that living in New York is a unique experience and that it can sometimes be hard.  It also lets you know that shopping at one of their stores now matter where you are in any of the boroughs will make it easier to navigate the city's landscape.  It's peace of mind in a concrete jungle.

In their stores, it's top to bottom format redesign with bright colored, well lit and easy to navigate aisles.  Cosmetics sections appear more inviting and the pharmacy is redesigned to look more professional so you can feel confident in asking for recommendations while waiting for your prescription.  It also allows for an employee fingerprint: one of the stores lists all the employees' favorite things to do or see in New York.

Duane Reade wants to reflect its New York heritage, a New York sense of humor and the "soul" of the brand.  The store redesign speaks to some of the quantifiable things shoppers wanted in an ideal store but the advertising reflects some of the intangibles.  Here are some funny gems that were on some NY cabs:

  • Germs are everywhere and so are we.
  • One place even tourists can find.
  • Where the toughest people get the softest toilet paper.
The beauty of all of these initiatives starting with the research shows a wonderful sense of alignment and understanding of the long term goal of business survival and business triumph.  It's not an easy task to have the discipline to understand the research, devise the segmentation, drive internal and external branding initiatives, redesign the store to service the modern demands of "Maria" and reintroduce the brand to millions of skeptical, jaded New Yorkers.

This discipline allowed Duane Reade to go from being at risk to being acquired by Walgreens for over $1B.  Not bad, eh?  Have you shopped at Duane Reade recently?  Please share your thoughts!  And, join us on Facebook!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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