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Exclusive Q&A: CVS leverages AI to promote flu shot awareness

CVS is driving increased flu vaccinations with AI-based engagement tools.

CVS is preparing for an anticipated difficult flu season with an artificial intelligence (AI)-based, personalized messaging campaign.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Norman de Greve, senior VP and chief marketing officer, CVS Pharmacy, about the drugstore giant’s partnership with IBM Watson Advertising to enable chat-style, one-to-one interactions and targeted mobile promotions designed to encourage flu shots. In addition, Randi Stipes, chief marketing officer, IBM Watson advertising and weather, developer marketing, provided some technical details of how the solution works.

Why did you select Watson AI to support your flu shot campaign? 
Norman deGreve: We partnered with IBM Watson Advertising to forge a connection with consumers that would position our company as a trusted health partner and drive awareness of flu shot offerings, as well as cough, cold and flu medications. We were impressed by the speed of IBM’s AI and the ability to handle massive amounts of data. It was a new opportunity to transform the way we go to market with our advertising to reach a specific and targeted audience with relevant information.  

According to a survey commissioned by CVS Health, 71% of consumers are planning to get a flu vaccine this year. Additionally, 45% of consumers surveyed said they planned to get a flu shot at a retail pharmacy such as CVS. With COVID-19 still prevalent in many communities nationwide, it is imperative that people are aware of where they can get a flu shot to help safeguard the overall health of the community this flu season.  

Generating awareness of flu symptoms, vaccine offerings and treatment options provide our customers and patients an easy and direct path to the resources they need, positioning CVS as their provider of choice. Partnering with IBM Watson allowed us to target consumers with that information when and where it was most relevant.

What have the results been? 
Norman deGreve:  Our work with the ‘Flu Insights with Watson’ tool on The Weather Channel app achieved our goal of reaching and engaging customers in high-risk flu areas to drive awareness of flu shot offerings, as well as cough, cold and flu medications.  

The campaign targeted consumers as they checked The Weather Channel app, presumably to make decisions about upcoming activities and travel, with messaging about flu shot offerings as well as cold and flu remedies available at nearby CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide. 

By connecting with consumers when and where it mattered, we drove more than 59 million impressions of CVS media to our “Daily Details” page. The campaign also included a flu sponsorship designed to alert communities of their risk of contracting the flu and provide reminders to prioritize vaccinations and take proactive measures to stay healthy during the flu season.

These efforts not only support general health and immunity, which can help protect individuals against seasonal flu, but also contribute to the overall health of the community and minimize the impact on vital health care resources, during a period of added importance to the health care community.

Utilizing predictive flu illness data, tens of millions of users, including more than 185,000 users who signed up for notifications, were provided relevant information letting them know when the flu risk was expected to increase in their area.

To gauge the ad campaign’s success, we measured the traffic to our sponsored flu details page and sign-ups for the flu risk alerts. As a result, the Flu Insights with Watson campaign resulted in more than 42 million unique visitors to our sponsored flu details page, 644 million total ad impressions served, over 120% internal benchmark click-through rate for dynamic creative ad units, and serving CVS-provided flu prevention tips in a contextually relevant module that drove exceptional engagement. ‘Find Your Local CVS’ messaging converted more than 77% of module clicks.

Overall, the campaign exceeded our benchmarks by 119% and increased time spent on article content by 20% year-over-year. Thanks to predictive flu illness data, there was a 22% increase in integrated daily details ad impressions and a 6% increase in click-through rates throughout the campaign. It also exceeded our goal in increasing flu immunization totals driven by the relevancy of the message and environment, and the use of predictive data. 

How does the AI-enabled solution work?
Randi Stipes: Tapping into multiple data sources including weather, anonymized health data, search ads and social data, Flu Insights with Watson uses AI to assess local influenza risk up to 15 days in advance. Specifically, the solution uses IBM’s AI and machine learning capabilities to analyze data signals and map flu risk at a hyper-local level.

In addition, the solution can provide predictive analysis on when a certain ZIP code may see flu cases spike. This has empowered CVS to strategically promote flu awareness and help consumers access resources from their local pharmacy. If flu cases are increasing in a particular area, CVS can actively reinforce the need for customers to either consider receiving a flu shot or proactively stock up on over-the-counter medications and vitamins.

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