NEWS16 March 2022

Balancing the need for evidence with creativity is crucial, says Boots CMO

AI Behavioural science Impact 2022 News Retail Trends Wellbeing

UK – The most effective pieces of research balance the need for robust evidence with creativity, thereby using insight to create “a reliable narrative” for an organisation, according to Pete Markey, chief marketing officer at Boots UK.

Head shot of Pete Markey

In an interview with the group president of Behaviorally, Crispin Beale, at the MRS Impact Conference 2022, Markey (pictured above) described the role of the modern marketer as “part artist, part scientist and part champion for the marketing function within the company”.

He continued: “It’s definitely possible to combine data and creativity; you just need to make sure that both your company and the agency are on board and that you build in time to properly pre-test and measure. There are a lot more tools available nowadays (digital and AI solutions) than there were previously and these give you confidence and enable you to sell an idea within a business.”

Speaking more specifically about the use of AI in research, Markey explained that Boots has started to trial work in this space and gave the example of testing email headings based on what the AI believes will perform the best. “It’s very exciting in terms of helping speed to market – that is key now; if you're not buying from me, you're buying from someone else and so AI will help you get there faster, with a better message.”

He said he saw “enormous potential” in applying AI to marketing and insights. “It will be about getting the balance right: we’re not yet at a stage where AI can take over some of the ability that the human eye has to determine what makes great work, it’s too early for that. Allow the agencies you work with to continue to be brilliant and then let the AI focus on optimising the campaign.”

Asked by Beale what part marketing has to play in building trust among consumers, Markey stated that it is instrumental in bringing a brand’s purpose and story closer in an authentic way. “Being authentic is essential because it’s easy to see through clever communication if it’s not really a lived-in experience within the business.

“People are craving the reality of a brand that great marketing can deliver, provided that it is doing more than just communicating. The best kind of marketing teams are involved with a lot more aspects than they have ever been before, such as the customer and product experience, as well as how things work on the website and the culture within a business.”

Markey also explained the importance of insights in his new role, which he took up a year ago: “Boots is a 100+ year-old brand, a staple of the British high street, so we have an excellent platform to build from, but what we had to focus on was becoming even more relevant to people’s lives today. I got the team to really dig into the insight around people’s expectations about the brand – something that is familiar, but customers may not be aware of how much it has changed and modernised over the past few years.”

Beale reminded Markey that, in a recent interview with Insight 250, (a ranking of the world’s best innovators in the MRX space) he had commented on the importance of bravery in leadership and asked him to expand on the theme. “Bravery means not being afraid to push boundaries in terms of the established norms – we need to have the courage to question things, question the way that something has always been done. Some of the breakthrough moments have come when you go into a job and ask: “Why do you do it like that?” and the answer is really because that’s the way it’s always been done

Markey then gave an example from his time at insurance company MoreThan. “They did a lot of press advertising and on each advert we had this very long office address, so I asked the regulatory team why it was on there and they told me it was because the legal team insisted on it. But, when I asked the legal team, they said it was because the regulatory team required it, so really, we didn’t need to have it on there at all and we took it off after had been on our ads for five whole years, thereby freeing up space.”

He again highlighted the importance of the insight function in this regard. “We spend so much time at work that you want to make it enjoyable, so seeing a business progress is one of the ways to achieve that and you don't achieve that by treading water or standing still, particularly in marketing.

“Because in marketing you’re always going to be expected to shake things up and in the context of insights that takes the form of holding a mirror up to business and showing what’s good and what’s less so. Bravery revolves around saying, “Actually, that’s not good enough, we need to fix this”, and insight is key to that.”

He concluded with his top tips for market research professionals: Be bold, use the platform that you have as an opportunity to help unlock potential in a business. Find those insights that can make a real difference. Help to shape the thinking of the organisation, champion the customer and drive growth.”