Boots, one of the UK’s largest Beauty and Pharmacy retailers, has a rich 170-year history. Their customers have always been at the core of this. The latest tagline, ‘Boots with you. For life.’ is emblematic of this sentiment.
Being close to your customers means understanding their interests, wants, needs, and behaviours. To do this, you need data. However, whilst the importance of consumer data is unwavering, major industry shifts such as the death of the third-party cookie and the introduction of GA4 have left marketeers in the lurch. Without the 360-degree perspective third-party data provided, how can brands fully understand their customers and provide the valuable experiences they are now seeking?
Enter the role of a first party data and a data-led mindset which has helped Boots deliver campaigns that increased online visitors by 700% and delivered a £2 ROI for every £1 spent. We spoke with Ollie Shayer, Director of Omni-Media at Boots, to understand how and why realigning their teams, technology, and partners has enabled them to embrace the importance of data and continue building the life-long relationship with their customers that define Boots as a brand.
The need for data visibility
To Boots, the wellbeing of its customers cannot be understated. Its self-described brand purpose – “to help our customers look and feel better than they ever thought possible” – is a message consistently delivered in each of its marketing campaigns. Ollie Shayer, Director of Omni-Media at Boots, describes the nature of the brand:
“We’ve been around since 1857 and today find ourselves as one of the most trusted brands within the UK. Community is the foundation for our work within the pharmaceutical and healthcare space. We’ve always been incredibly customer centric. As a business, we’ll always want to listen to what customers want and be able to respond to that.”
In the digital landscape of 2022, listening to customers requires a comprehensive data strategy. As the industry adjusts to a cookieless world, brands such as Boots continue to recognize the importance of gathering data on their customers but must now adjust their approach.
“Whether it’s through mar-tech, our website, or media, data has become critical. We now need to reach customers and offer them what they want in a personalized way, rather than offering blanket messaging.”
“Data helps inform the way in which we want to shape our products and services. The world has evolved away from certain areas such as third-party cookies towards first party data.”
“But the move towards first party only solidifies in the minds of people the importance of the role data plays. This approach is now what defines a customer-centric strategy.”
Although, for Boots, there was no sudden adjustment, an ‘evolution’ has been required. For Boots, this involved adapting three core pillars and ensuring a seamless interplay between them:
- People: Building marketing teams with a data-led mindset and adjusting processes to be reflective of this mindset
- Partners: Identifying and integrating the correct partners to support internal teams and provide the right tools and technology
- Technology: Ensuring the correct tools and platforms were in place for gathering and sharing meaningful insights from first party data
Three pillars for a first party data strategy
Nobody likes change. Organizations looking to embrace ‘Digital Transformation’ – or in this case, Digital ‘Evolution’ – consistently find people as a barrier. Cynicism, doubt, and inertia all play a role. As Boots evolved its approach, this would involve shifting the mindset of its teams to be data-led. For marketers who have the importance of creatives, or ‘right brain’ marketing drilled in, this would always represent a challenge. Shayer discusses the evolution of their team structures and culture, and how Boots was able to drive this change by borrowing development principles and leaning on a transformational team:
“The integration between the different teams was key to enable this to happen. Before, teams were far more siloed. Now it’s a far more integrated process that has to take place.”
“Specifically, we’ve been implementing an Agile process at Boots for a while, which enables those people to work more closely together. There’s now a much smoother process from how we manage audiences, to how we identify the technology we need, to how we buy audiences, to how we deliver messaging through CRM. We had a transformational team working with us. Boots has a great team who help implement transformational change across the business which really helped us to get to that place.”
“That being said, because of our historic customer-centric mindset, we did have the building blocks in place. We needed to move the pieces around, rather than needing to rip things apart and start again. We could then identify where we had some gaps and bring in talent to help us with that.”
As with any organizational evolution, changes do not just impact internal structures and relationships. Boots also needed to align its partners and fit them in to the first party data-led lattice it was building.
“The biggest part was understanding what ecosystem we were trying to build and finding the right partners that would enable that to happen.”
“Outside forces like the deprecation of the third-party cookie were pushing in on us; but we were also pushing outwards, we wanted to deliver for customers in innovative ways. Leaning on strong partnerships helped us deliver that.”
“We took an omnichannel approach. We wanted to meet our customers at every point of their journey. To do this, we needed to partner with a broad range of media owners and think about how we could use data across all channels, even with the more traditional mediums. Through partnerships with the likes of Google, Meta, TikTok, ITV, we have a very broad mix of channels. Integrating these partners into our ecosystem allowed us to connect them with the relevant data points and vice versa.”
Navigating the plethora of tools on offer for harnessing first party data insights is tricky. There are new platforms springing up each week. For each brand, the correct platform will naturally vary based on a realm of factors from privacy requirements to budget constraints to their existing tech stack. However, Boots was able to leverage its existing partnerships to build a comprehensive stack for collating, analyzing, and reporting on data insights, including a focus on conversion tracking. Shayer discusses how Boots was able to get the best from its technology.
“We had to implement the right tools to successfully implement conversion APIs as we moved towards conversion tracking. Simply recording the data is not enough; we need to measure what effect it causes. Our current stack has really helped us make the leap from third-party data to first party data and personalized marketing strategies.”
“Our relationship with different technology providers and data insight platforms has been vital. Through the Walgreen-Boots Alliance, we’ve had access to Adobe. We’ve also brought on technology from the likes of LiveRamp and InfoSum.”
“Using the right mix of tools for us has allowed us to look at audiences in an extremely segmented, targeted, and automated way.”
Whilst each of these pillars are important, the way they have been structured and organized to interact with each other is even more significant. The partners would help provide the correct technology and empower internal teams; the internal teams would drive a data-led mindset that allowed them to make best use of the technology; and the technology would enable both internal and external stakeholders to leverage a clearer picture than ever of where to engage with their audience and what the effect of the engagement would be. A true ecosystem.
Measuring for omnichannel success
With the right blend of people, partners, and technology in place to begin gathering and utilizing insights from first-party data, Boots looked to measure success in the short, medium, and long term.
- Short Term: Looking at the day-to-day data to ascertain how a channel is performing for consumer behaviour or consumer perception
- Medium Term: Looking at econometrics modelling or MMM.
- Long Term: Looking at bottom-line or top-line performance such as sales and profit growth.
Boots estimate last year’s campaign, ‘Feel Good as New’, delivered an estimated return of £2 for every £1 spent. The Walgreens-Boots Alliance, in their Q4 reporting for 2021, attribute this campaign to an estimated 15% increase in retail sales. They also saw an increase in visitors to their Health Hub of 700%. Shayer described their approach to measurement:
“On the metrics we use a range across the funnel – we use a mix of search uplift, brand metrics from ad awareness, consideration, as well as key equity statements, then as we move down the funnel the key is ROI – either measured in short term with campaign performance data which we can model to ROI or via more mid term in Media Mix Modelling.”
“It’s important to look at the short, medium, and long term combined. Ultimately, the business cares about performance rather than what channels got you there; but we need to still understand each channel.”
“We would marry our audience data to the channels that we use, and then look at the performance for each of those channels. We start with the audience and the objective, and then work backwards to look at what we’re going to deliver in each case, before finally measuring the outcome and comparing back against the forecast. It all starts with understanding our audience. Building the right ecosystem for recording and analyzing first party data is crucial to that.”
Boots has also benefited from the resurgence of its high street stores and physical locations. As it looks to deliver a comprehensive omnichannel strategy across digital and physical mediums, Shayer describes the role of data in tracking success for both settings.
“We’re focused on the effect in the dot com space, but also in the store space. Our business still has a very heavy focus on stores. As such, we need to measure the performance effect not just online, but equally offline as well. We’ve built measurement practices to enable that. We can confidently correlate between our channel performance and bottom-line metrics for digital and physical stores.”
‘Boots for first party data. For life.’
Whilst metrics around individual channel performance would be indicators of success to team members such as Shayer, ultimately goals such as sales and profit growth are the headlines that the C-Suite and Board will pay attention to. Shayer reflected on this evolution and how he hopes media and marketing can be perceived moving forward.
“Yes, sales are ultimately what we’re looking to drive as a media organisation. But media is often seen as a cost. Instead, we want to move the narrative towards media being a growth driver for the business. As such, being able to use different types of measurement to enable and show success play a substantial role in that. This would help in shifting the conversation around budget constraints, for example, away from ‘reducing marketing costs’ to ‘reducing ability to generate profit’. We can use this data to showcase clear ROI that helps drive this viewpoint.”
By looking at this change as an evolution, not a revolution, Boots has also been able to ingrain an adaptability into its people, culture, and processes. Shayer describes this adaptability as being crucial to its sustained success.
“We are consistently looking at the space, how it’s evolving, what we can be doing. We must ask how we continue to improve the experience for customers and think about the ways in which we can reach them in new and interesting ways that we haven’t done before, through new and different partners.”
“I think that’s been one of our biggest learnings. Ultimately, customers give us their data for a value exchange. If we don’t offer them something in exchange when we’re talking to them, then they won’t be willing to give that up.”
The careful evolution of Boots’ approach to its handling of customer data has allowed it to deliver a high-performing omnichannel strategy. Moreover, it has given the retailer the adaptability to deal with changes to privacy and data requirements, as its new slogan says, ‘For life.’
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