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Boots CMO Pete Markey on pushing the boundaries of retail media

By Ian Darby | journalist

March 30, 2022 | 6 min read

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The Drum caught up with Pete Markey, CMO, Boots and Warren Jenson, president of LiveRamp and former CFO of Amazon and Electronic Arts, to discuss the rapid growth of retail media and what the future holds for Boots Media Group.

Retail media proposition is evolving, and what the future holds for the retailer.

Retail media proposition is evolving, and what the future holds for the retailer.

It's clear we're witnessing a revolution in the world of retail, not least in how major players are sharpening their own data models and customer focus while working more closely on this with their CPG partners. One such retailer is Boots, the UK-based beauty and pharmacy chain, which last year launched Boots Media Group (BMG) to offer suppliers and partners advertising solutions based on the rich first-party data derived from its customers, including the 14 million active members of its Advantage Card program.

In light of this, LiveRamp, the data enablement platform, which is working closely with Boots on the development of BMG, teamed with Jenni Baker, assistant editor, The Drum to host a fireside chat on the subject of the rapid growth in retail media, with Pete Markey, chief marketing officer of Boots, and Warren Jenson, president at LiveRamp, and the former chief financial officer of both Amazon and Electronic Arts. Watch the full panel discussion here.

A new era of first-party data

Markey kicked off by sharing Boots’ journey from mass personalization at scale into a new era of first-party data activation. He outlined how Boots embraces everything concerned with people's health and wellness, from beauty through to optician services and a hearing care business, bringing it close to customers at many stages in their lives. This level of connection allows the retailer, he said, to work “with partners like LiveRamp to directly put our messaging in front of customers at the right time, in their channel of choice, in the right way.”

The benefits of this approach to consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands are clear, says Markey. “We're not trying to compete with the big media agencies nor would we ever want to, but we very much complement what they do. What we provide is access to all of the channels through Boots, whether it's in store, online..., using the likes of LiveRamp and its tools, we're able to have a mechanism where a supplier brand can reach Boots customers through paid media as well.”

Drawing on his own experience of retail media, LiveRamp's Jenson spoke about what retailers in the UK can learn from others around the world, especially in the US, China and France. He focused on three areas: the importance of a strong customer focus, which must be “front and center” in every element of a retail media strategy, of strong leadership within the retailer itself, and the advantage that can be gained by adopting a bold approach. On this last point, he said: “If there's one thing that I can 100% guarantee... it's that the relationships that exist today between a retailer and their CPG partners are going to be vastly different five years from now."

Data-driven media

The discussion progressed to look in greater detail at Boots' changing approach to first-party data, thanks to its strong relationships with key partners. Markey said: "A couple of years ago, only about 7% of our media was booked using first-party data, it's now over 40% and growing. And we think there's a huge opportunity to go after more because we're really seeing that work."

And Markey said that this is delivering strong ROI. For instance, the Boots 2021 summer campaign realized more than £2 against every £1 spent. That's also important because it demonstrates real value to the CFO. He added: "The challenge for people like me, and my role, is to work with the finance team to make sure that marketing is seen as an investment, and a good investment where if you're going to put $1 in marketing, you're going to see 'x' back.”

What's in it ultimately, though, for the CPG brands that partner with Boots and other retailers? The removal of third-party cookies from Google's Chrome browser in 2023 is an important factor. Jenson explained how LiveRamp’s Authenticated Traffic Solution (or "ATS") enables transacting on authenticated, people-based inventory today – shifting away from third-party cookies, mobile IDs, IP addresses and other identifiers. He said: "Essentially, this solution marries consumer consent at the brand level with consumer consent at the publisher level, and thereby eliminates the need for a cookie. This is a far better solution for everybody."

Partnerships and networks

The fireside chat concluded with one vital takeaway from each of the experts.

"We can't do it all, or we haven't got all the expertise, so we need partners like LiveRamp because they do something we can't do. And they do it brilliantly," said Markey, re-emphasizing the importance of relationships.

Jenson made the point that now's the time to act with urgency on stronger first-party data solutions. He mentioned the importance of Metcalfe's Law, which stresses the value of a network.

“Boots is building a very powerful network and a very valuable network,” he said. “In five years, my prediction is that they'll have hundreds, if not thousands, of nodes connected to BMG. That's a big deal. It's going to create enormous value not only for just Boots, but for its entire set of CPG partners and their customers too.”

To find out more about Boots' pioneering journey into retail media, watch the full panel discussion here.

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