It is a British institution founded in 1849, with more than 2,200 stores and a little-known key role in developing Ibuprofen.

But Boots – the retailer offering medicines, health and beauty products, photography, food and more – may have a future as bright as its past.

With its purpose rebooted by COVID-19 and talk of a possible buyer swirling, the company’s chief marketing officer is leaning into innovative ad targeting opportunities.

But, in this interview with me for The Map, Pete Markey says the future is about blending data-driven targeting with relevance-driven brand awareness. Here are the highlights of our conversation…

1. Facing the post-pandemic future

DC: Paint a picture of your brand.

PM: “Boots is in a really strong position as we come out of the pandemic. We’ve seen strong growth across health, beauty and wellness in our online business and we’ve seen people come back in-store to engage with us.”

2. Embracing multi-channel

DC: How has COVID-19 re-shaped your strategy?

PM: “The (in-store) strategy has been very much around ‘How do we create stores as great experiences that people want go to … whether it’s expert advice or support?’

“(For Boots).com, how do we expand what we do online, just through the online services we provide but also to work with new partners? We’ve done a pilot recently with Deliveroo where delivery drivers can pick up certain product ranges from Boots stores and get those to customers’ homes. We hope to do more of that.”

3. Doubling-down on data

DC: How are you exploiting customer data?

PM: “We’re addressing some of the changes in cookies, by getting stronger at what we do in first-party data, doing more with it and encouraging customers to build a deeper relationship with us.”

“One of the huge benefits we’ve got in Boots is a now 25-year-old loyalty scheme called the Advantage Card. We have over 15 million active members.

“(We are) doubling down on what we do with our own data, our first-party data … through our own channels but also through paid media.

“We work with the likes of LiveRamp and InfoSum. We’re able to (buy TV, radio and publishing audiences) mapped directly against our own base.”

4. Relevance fills the funnel

DC: How will you fill the top of the marketing funnel?

CE: “For me, performance marketing is powerful and really effective. But, at the top of the funnel, we still need to drive really strong consideration of Boots as a brand.

“That’s where top of the funnel becomes really important. We need to continue to communicate that Boots is highly relevant today and has solutions and answer for people’s lives today.

“Continuing to invest in that is key, with messages that demonstrate how relevant Boots is for for today.”

5. Mass media powers the performance engine

DC: What is the role of premium mass media?

CE: “Mass media for me is still really important. I think it’s a danger, when we look at the effectiveness and measurability of performance media, that more traditional channels and investing in the top of the funnel can get a bad name.

“I think you need to be doing both. You need to be cultivating and being very progressive in the way you think about performance and how you use data and be at the very cutting edge of what you do there…

“But traditional media still powers, in my view, the engine, powers that the top of funnel, the awareness and persuasion, the consideration and the buzz.

“What’s exciting for me with those channels is, it does feel like the worlds of brand and performance media are coming together.”

6. Agencies should bring innovation

DC: How should ad agencies evolve?

CE: “Boots Media Group has been a really exciting innovation for us. We’ve delivered some really strong results so far … We’re providing something that is in effect unlocking our own media channels … We’ve got the ability to amplify launch and deliver great campaign work for suppliers.

“Innovation and points of distinction are really important in terms of a media agency offering, to show you’re not just buying in a pedestrian way, but a very effective, targeted, measurable way that is delivering on the result for the client.”

7. Diversity is an open door

DC: How can you reach diverse audiences?

CE: “It goes right back to the history and the foundation of Boots by Jesse Boot and the desire to provide affordable healthcare services for people right across the UK … (For) every person and every community right across, the doors are open …

“We’ve worked with Creative Equals on the language we use, the imagery we use; that extends through every channel … Inclusivity extends into things like the skin tones of the plaster range we now offer …

“We’ve also got a cultural calendar where we have moments through the year where we work with specific suppliers to highlight what they do … to help serve those communities.”

8. The future is a rich palette

DC: What’s on your marketing roadmap?

CE: “We’re juggling two ‘T’s – trading and transformation. It’s a lot of exciting transformation work.

“We’ve got big plans for the Advantage Card in the 25th year … We have big plans for our rollout of Adobe Marketing Cloud and what we’re able to then, big plans for the new brand new purpose …

“Working in marketing, there’s never been a more exciting moment in terms of what you’re able to do now with digital technology. There’s going to be even greater ways to connect with audience. I think brands, even the biggest media brands, are going to go on more of that journey.

“As a marketer, we’re going to have maybe almost too many options.”