Inside Boots’ mission to create a ‘world class media agency’

The high street retailer is introducing an advertising offering for brands, spanning campaign planning, creative development and measurement, a move CMO Pete Markey describes as “central” to the Boots marketing strategy.

BootsBoots says it wants to offer brands a “world class” media agency experience through the launch of its full-service advertising offer, Boots Media Group.

Rooted in the retailer’s rich first-party data collected on more than 17 million Advantage Card loyalty members, the Boots Media Group is designed to help brands maximise the return on investment of their ad spend by combining creativity, data insights and robust measurement.

Brands working with the media group will gain access to Boots-owned channels in-store and online, part of a wider channel mix spanning third-party channels across digital display, video and social. Pitched as “more than a media network”, Boots Media Group’s partners will gain access to audience and shopper insights, as well as campaign planning and creative development.

CMO Pete Markey explains the concept has been in development for nine to 12 months and involved a detailed pitch process to find the best partner. The process led to it working with commerce marketing specialist Threefold, which Boots believes has both the technical capabilities and a strong cultural fit.

A new entity within the business, Boots Media Group includes members of the internal partnership marketing team who have now, in effect, become Threefold employees. That being said, the ambition is for everyone working in the Boots Media Group – whether formerly Boots staff or from Threefold – to feel part of the business. The team will work from the retailer’s Nottingham office and act as an extension of the team.

Markey says the fact Boots Media Group pulls together the elements of data, creative and measurement into one solution, is important as he hasn’t seen that elsewhere in the retail sector.

“What’s particularly unique is we’re bringing together the best of in-store, digital, data and loyalty, with people we already had working for Boots, into this new entity,” he tells Marketing Week. “So that combination of the best of Boots, with really talented people through our partner Threefold, we believe is a unique way of doing it.”

Central to the vision

The retailer has just embarked on its new financial year and Markey explains that in the slides he designed for the future strategy, the Boots Media Group is central to both the marketing strategy and the wider business vision.

“I really want to grow and we’re on a great journey. I want us to have a world class marketing function in Boots and we’ve got all the ingredients there, and Boots Media Group is central to that,” he says. “The sorts of things you’ve seen us do over the past couple of months are symbolic of where we’re going.”

The focus continues to be on reenergising the Boots brand, a move that started with this summer’s ‘Feel Good as New’ campaign and the Love Island sponsorship, which will continue through the retailer’s Christmas push and Advantage Card 25th anniversary celebrations.

It does feel like we’re in a really high energy space as a marketing team and we’re seeing really great results.

Pete Markey, Boots

Markey is also excited about the new talent joining the Boots marketing team, for example in loyalty and media. He believes that when there is “exciting, tangible momentum” in a marketing function it is “magnetic” and draws in talent. The CMO describes his team as a “brilliant fusion” of people steeped in knowledge of the business, with new people bringing a sense of energy.

“Again with the energy of Threefold coming in with the Boots Media Group, it does feel like we’re in a really high energy space as a marketing team and we’re seeing really great results in terms of brand health metrics and overall trade performance,” says Markey.

“It feels like there’s a momentum there, which is brilliant and that’s really important as we head towards the all-important Christmas season.”

He also acknowledges the “enormous asset” that is the Boots brand, both in the helping establish the Boots Media Group and the wider push to make the retailer relevant to life in 2021. Markey admits that the love consumers feel for the Boots brand is a real contrast from his former world of banking, although this sense of affection is not something his team takes for granted.

Relevance is the watchword for Boots, from publicising the issue of hygiene poverty through its partnership with the Hygiene Bank, to the retailer’s work with cancer support charity Macmillan and its role in the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

“What you’ll hear a lot more about is Boots in that really relevant way, bringing to the fore the solutions, support and help we can give for everyone in the UK today,” Markey adds. “That will be a big theme for the brand moving forwards.”

A good fit

The CMO explains that the Boots Media Group should be a good fit for existing partners and new brands, both large and small. While Boots already stocks global names such as L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Coty, the retailer has added 54 new beauty brands over the past year. Markey believes the system will benefit emerging brands as the new group will make Boots easier to navigate.

“Previously, if you wanted to do something like this you were going into Boots in two or three different ways. Whereas now you’ve got a gateway through the Boots Media Group, a much clearer rate card, much clearer structure, stronger account management, so whatever the size of the supplier we’re partnering with the Boots Media Group can offer something to all,” Markey claims.

“It’s designed to build relationships; deepen the ones we’ve got already and nurture the ones that are newer and more emerging.”

The intention is for the Boots Media Group to be flexible and work on a basis that suits the partner. Some brands, for example, have products which require work on a seasonal basis. Others may want to get involved in big campaigns Boots is working on. Markey points to the retailer’s tie-up with ITV’s Love Island, which saw Boots feature exclusive products from brands within the reality show.

First-party data advantage

A core strength of the Boots Media Group premise is the sheer amount of rich first-party data the retailer holds on its more than 17 million loyalty members.

Markey describes the Advantage Card, which turns 25 next year, as a “vital part” of the marketing strategy, particularly when it comes to building relationships with customers. Knowledge of consumer purchase preferences means Boots can take a more personalised approach, helping partners tailor their communications on both owned and third-party channels.

“So, for example, our email programme and direct mail. We do voucher booklets and they still work well, which is great as I’m a big fan of direct mail. Also, through the work we’ve done with LiveRamp and InfoSum we’ll be able to do more targeted activities through paid for media with our suppliers,” Markey explains.

He points out that Boots’ investment in the Adobe Marketing Cloud, in particular in Adobe Campaign Live and Adobe Target, was intended to power not only the retailer’s own campaign activity, but also that of its partners.

From a creative development perspective, Markey explains Boots has learnt a lot about producing high quality, cost effective creative for brands like No7 through its own internal agency, B-hive. The idea is to remove some of the barriers to entry when it comes to developing creative, making it easier for brands of different sizes to land their message.

“The Boots brand health is at the strongest point it has ever been on some of our metrics, if you look at things like Net Promoter Score. This is combined with the strength of amazing brands like L’Oréal, Unilever, P&G,” says Markey.

“The stable of brands they’ve got are epic in their own right and you put that together with Boots, there’s a win-win halo benefit for the customer who gets a more tailored, personal experience. It is brand enhancing for both parties.”

The channel mix will be determined by the objectives of each partner. If the need is to appeal to core Boots shoppers the messaging would fit within the retailer’s own channels, whereas if the goal is to attract customers who are similar to types of Boots shoppers the approach might be go for a mass marketing approach, albeit still via digital, data-driven channels.

Developing creative that will shift across the channel mix is something Boots is working on through its Adobe investment. Markey identifies how crucial it will be to obtain fast response data to optimise each campaign and evolve the strategy.

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This is where the promise of robust measurement comes in. Boots is introducing a suite of new tools to help it measure the media group’s work. Markey points to core metrics, such as cost per sale, click-throughs, engagement rates and conversion rates, which will be “at the forefront” of everything Boots reports on.

“We also have a very effective research programme in place to measure longer-term benefits and we’ll work more widely with each supplier on whether there’s things they want to include from their own econometrics study or whether they want to work with us on more multi-touch attribution activities,” he says.

“We will strengthen what we’ve got in terms of measurement, but we’re very open to working with each of the supplier partners in terms of how they measure and what they’re looking for. If you’re someone like a L’Oréal, for example, they have their media agency and they also have Boots Media Group.”

Markey explains the aspiration is to have the same high standard for its measurement capabilities as agency groups like WPP and believes Boots already has the foundations in place to make this a reality. When it comes to working with its partners’ existing media and creative agencies to deliver the best results, the Boots team are keen to find ways to collaborate.

Pete Markey will be speaking at this year’s Festival of Marketing, which takes place on 18 to 21 October. We will be covering everything from powering growth and trends, to customer delivery, creativity and collaboration, with a stellar line-up of speakers. Visit the website for more information and to buy your pass.