Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Meet the Revolutionaries: Ollie Shayer, Omni-Media Director of Boots UK

LiveRamp, in association with New Digital Age (NDA), is spotlighting the men and women championing a data-led revolution in the marketing industry. ‘Meet the Revolutionaries’ focuses on the efforts of the industry executives who are helping to push digital marketing into a new era of data collaboration, with respect for the customer at its very core. 

Here, we meet Ollie Shayer, Boots UK’s Omni-Media Director, and find out how best to encourage and execute innovation inside an organisation…

Can you give some examples of times that you have driven innovation in your professional life?

Around 10 years ago I worked for Diageo and we were looking for a way to leverage the trend of more people making mixed drinks at home. We discovered that there wasn’t actually much content online on the subject of mixing drinks, despite the fact that lots of people were searching for it. We took a business case to Diageo to create a single site to house all our mixed drink content for the UK market and basically take ownership of some very significant search activity. The site ended up attracting around 200,000 unique visitors a month. 

Prior to joining Boots, I worked with ECCO, the shoe manufacturer. During that time, they wanted to accelerate their global ecommerce offering, but hadn’t really developed their approach to driving growth marketing online. Over the course of 12 months, we carried out a global growth hacking exercise where we A/B tested our way towards creating the best possible journey and experience for customers in each of our territories around the world. Ultimately, we improved conversions globally by around 75%.

In my current role with Boots, there’s lots going on right now that I can’t talk about yet, but one of the big innovation projects I’ve driven in recent years is bringing together all of our consumer data. Boots’ Advantage Card loyalty programme means that we have lots of consumer data at our disposal, so we wanted to house all of that data correctly and make it as useful as possible. We partnered with LiveRamp to do that, and also pulled in other data sources, such as our transactional data and our onsite consumer data. That has allowed us to create really clear profiles of our customers both offsite and onsite, and then connect those profiles to our media activities. When I joined Boots, only about 5% of our media activity used first-party data. Today that’s closer to 60%. 

By taking a more innovative approach to data and bringing multiple datasets together, we’ve been able to drive really significant improvements in performance.

What challenges to innovation have you encountered along the way?

Innovation, by definition, means that you’re attempting to do something that hasn’t been done before in your organisation. When there’s no proven methodology to fall back on, people inevitably will ask the question: are you sure this is going to work?

My advice is to utilise the data you have around you to try to demonstrate the potential of the thing you are pushing for, but be realistic with it. Start with something small, prove that it works and grow things from there. Don’t try to boil the ocean all at once.

Is the current economic uncertainty a drag on innovation? 

Whenever you are asking people to spend money without any guaranteed result, it can quickly become a challenge. My approach has always been to deliver about 80% of investment on things we know will guarantee return, around 15% is spent on things that we’re pretty sure will work and the remaining 5% is on ‘pure’ innovation, where we don’t really know what the outcome will be. It’s important to strike that balance because, in the world of digital marketing, today’s 5% could very quickly become tomorrow’s 80%. The key for me is to always be learning, even during the tougher times.

How can an organisation better support innovation?

One of the things that’s really critical is understanding how any particular innovation links to your customer. For example, a channel like TikTok might be seen as quite innovative for some advertisers but, for brands in the beauty marketplace, TikTok is incredibly relevant to our audience. So you always need to be sure that the innovation activity you are advocating is relevant to the consumers you are trying to reach.

I don’t think it should be the sole responsibility of any one individual or group of individuals to drive innovation within a company. At Boots, we work to make sure that all of our teams from across the organisation feel that they can put forward ideas. The best companies enable a culture of innovation by creating forums or moments where you can get people together to share their experience and their thoughts and ideas about the future.

How do you think the role of the Digital Marketer might evolve over the next few years? 

Probably the biggest change will be the increasing use of AI in the work that we do. I don’t think it changes what you want to do from a consumer perspective, but I think the activation will evolve. I think future marketers will need to be very strong in how they understand the data which is fed into the algorithm, as well as the creative, which helps you convey your message to the customer. Maximising the potential of the algorithms on various platforms will become a key part of our toolkit.