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Health. Beauty. Wellness. Data? – How the Boots brand has evolved in the age of retail media

  • Graham Tricker
  • 4 min read

Last September, Boots joined the select few UK retailers with a dedicated retail media offering when it unveiled Boots Media Group. 

At the time, Boots CMO Peter Markey talked about the unparalleled insight the business has into its customers’ needs and shopping habits, driven by the millions of active loyalty card holders who go into its 2,400 stores and visit its website more than 1bn times a year.

“By unlocking the power of our first-party data and giving access to our marketing channels to brands, we can help accelerate ROI by delivering relevant experiences to customers and ultimately enhance the shopping experience for them,” he said.

But actually, the launch of BMG was just one part of a much longer journey to the data-driven mass personalisation of customers’ experiences (although admittedly it is a pretty big part). 

First steps

Flash back a couple of years; Boots knew it was critical to communicate with its customers across more than just its direct or owned channels. It was starting to tap into its massive first-party data resource to improve targeting at a tactical level across a few channels, and it was seeing positive impacts on the efficiency and effectiveness of its media as a result. The problem was that the whole process was far too manual to grow it economically.

So at the beginning of 2021, Boots had three main objectives: 

  • Scale – it wanted to extend its use of first-party data to more media channels, and to increase the size of its addressable audience and provide a step increase in marketing ROI.
  • Efficiency – that meant making things much more efficient, otherwise the cost of scaling up would massively outweigh any revenue it brought in.
  • Evaluation – finally it needed to be able to measure the results in terms of return on advertising spend across all channels 

At the same time, Boots was thinking about adopting a new martech platform, while also preparing for the cookieless future. That was when LiveRamp got involved to help them realise their goals. 

Security, privacy, scale and efficiency

Boots uses Adobe Audience Manager (AAM) for CRM; LiveRamp’s integration with AAM means audience segment data can be transferred to Boots’ media partners via LiveRamp’s secure and privacy enhanced environment, Safe Haven. 

Progress since then has been dramatic. Automation between these platforms has enabled Boots to grow the number of audience segments they can activate against into the hundreds. Meanwhile the number of destinations to which that data is distributed has gone from 3 to 15, including Facebook, Xandr, YouTube, ITV and Channel 4. More, including TikTok and Sky, are in the works. 

Measurement and evaluation

The other thing this merger of transactional and targeting data offers is the ability to link marketing activity directly to results. Boots can not only look at overall sales uplift from campaigns, it can also creates validation points within individual channels and for individual audience segments, enabling advertisers to continuously optimise their activity.  

Results so far have been very positive. For example, Boots’ summer campaign for its No7 cosmetics brand, which was targeted at Existing, Lapsed and New customers for cosmetics, skincare and serum, saw a return of £2 for every £1 spent on marketing.

Finally, Boots is about to start large-scale trials of a cookieless approach following a test campaign last year. The aim is for cookieless operation to be business-as-usual by the end of 2022.

Realising value at speed

All this is a great example of something discussed in an earlier post; the importance of companies getting to value more quickly. Instead of big systems integration projects that can take 24 or 36 months to deliver value, and may well be obsolete before they launch, organisations are adopting a test-and-learn approach; finding what works and doing more of it. With LiveRamp as its platform partner, Boots went from having the platform integrated, data connected, and data distribution and ad-hoc measurement in place for Boots UK in September 2021, to having all that in place across four operating divisions within Boots Walgreens Alliance in four months, with campaigns live within five weeks. 

The other impact of this activity last year was that it gave Boots the confidence to package programmatic and paid social media with its Advantage Card data, and offer retail media services to its key suppliers like P&G and Unilever. Boots Media Group was born.

But as we said at the start, this is just part of the journey. In 2022, Boots is aiming to improve campaign level media evaluation and optimisation; increase operational effectiveness; increase its addressable reach to prepare for the demise of the third-party cookie in 2023; maximise the benefits from its new tech stack; and collaborate with suppliers to deliver maximum value from Boots’ first-party data. 

Evolution never sleeps.

See Boots CMO Pete Markey and LiveRamp’s President Warren Jenson discuss how Boots are leading the way for retail media.