Getting close to the customer - personalization ploys in action at Boots and Real Madrid

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett November 12, 2021 Audio mode
Giants of the football and retail world are using Adobe to get closer to the customer

Real Madrid
Michael Sutherland

At the Adobe Experience Makers EMEA event this week, healthcare retailer Boots and football club Real Madrid revealed how they are overhauling their approach to customer data to offer a more personalized experience.

Boots has been running its Advantage loyalty card for almost 25 years, and the scheme has been a cornerstone of the retailer’s insight into customers since 1997.

The Advantage Card, which has more than 10 million active users, has been a great starting point for personalization, according to Dave Robinson, Head of Customer Engagement Development at Boots UK, offering insight into different customer groups and breaking performance down into segments. He added:

Powerful as it is, the advantage card isn't the only opportunity we have to understand our customers. Digital data provides us incredible insight into their behavior online and critically what decisions they're making along the way. Patient data allows us to understand better how we're meeting a customer's health care needs, whether that's through the medicines they trust us to dispense or the services we provide to look after their wellbeing, their sight, their hearing. Increasingly we're finding ways to connect data beyond Boots, to know more about how our customers live their lives and what's important to them.

Boots uses all this data in a number of ways to help run its business more effectively, from shaping the strategy for the different categories it operates in, to identifying customer segments where the biggest opportunities and challenges lie.

But what hasn’t been as straightforward for the retailer is how to use this data to change what each customer experiences. Communications are often common to all customers, and Boots has a limited understanding of how online and stores connect in the choices customers make. According to Robinson, these challenges have often been based on gaps in the firm’s technology, as well as organizational structures and working practices that have maintained silos rather than blending expertise within teams to deliver a common objective. He explained:

We're driven by a clear goal to ensure every customer gets the best, most helpful experience, which meets their needs, knowing them better to serve them better with the best health and beauty solutions. Getting there requires effort, commitment and a recognition that there isn't just one thing to get right but many.

Six point plan

Boots is now undertaking six key changes to reach this goal. The first of these is shifting from customer demographics to customer need states, he explained:

The same customer needs different things from us at different times, and it's these needs rather than their age or their gender, which best help us shape the right conversation to have with each individual at any given point in time.

Second, the retailer is strengthening its data foundation, working to discover new customers and connect the different data sets together into an accurate, accessible single customer view.

It is also transforming the technology it’s using to personalize customer experience, adopting Adobe Experience Cloud across channels to enable connected conversations.

Fourth, Boots is evolving how the business is organized, with the introduction of specialisms in key areas to ensure expertise can develop and flourish.

That goes hand in hand with the introduction of an agile approach to marketing comms development and delivery, bringing those experts together as collective teams to build plans which work across channels and connect brilliantly for the customer.

Finally, the firm is focusing on building even stronger partnerships with its suppliers via the newly launched Boots Media Group, an advertising offering that lets supplier brands deliver connected marketing campaigns to Boots UK customers. Robinson said:

The introduction of new technology is a cornerstone of our strategy. Adobe Experience Cloud is now powering our CRM activity and enabling us to create an experience based on the customer journey. We're shifting from a templated approach driven by our trade plan to a personalized one, triggered by customer behavior. It's helping us to extend the impact of our data across channels, with emerging changes to our online shopping experience, tailored to the customer and responsive to their behavior.

Since the first phase of implementing Adobe just a few months ago, Boots has already added bolt-ons: Movable Ink to deliver dynamic content, and generating copy using artificial intelligence with Phrasee. Robinson said: 

One benefit we're seeing from these tools is an encouragement to test and learn, experimenting, trying out new things, building as we go. This is especially motivating for colleagues who want to develop their own skills, understanding and exposure to cutting-edge solutions. We're applying these capabilities not only to retail, but also to healthcare. The power of personalization in this space is enormous and it's incredibly exciting to be working on it.

While Boots is introducing some very significant changes, the firm is keeping what has worked and adding new capabilities. Data will continue to be an essential enabler for the firm, and combined with the changes underway to become more connected, agile and iterative, it is helping deliver a better experience for each customer.

Robinson shared lessons the retailer has learned so far from its transformation project. Firstly, technology and business change go hand in hand, each needs the other and they don't work in isolation. Secondly, delivering together as a team doesn't mean generalization:

On the contrary, it's allowed our colleagues to develop real depth to their expertise, and when these specialists come together and create together, the outputs are incredible.

Finally, change must be seen as ongoing, he advised: 

Changing the technology and the working approach is not an overnight fix. In our minds, it won't ever be complete, there is no finish line. We're learning to manage a platform and a capability, not a once upon a time deliverable, and that will be critical to long-term success.


From the pharmacy to the football pitch: over in Spain, Real Madrid is working out how to use technology and data to build better relationships with its 600 million fans across the globe. Michael Sutherland, Chief Transformation Officer at Real Madrid C.F, said:

It’s very hard to have a relationship with 600 million individuals, and that's not only going to be online. It's really in an online/offline environment, a really multichannel omn-channel approach.

As football becomes more integrated into so many different aspects of society, from culture to music and art, Real Madrid is also evolving from being just a football club into a global brand, he added:

We need to start rethinking that model of being an entertainment and lifestyle brand, and really starting to expand beyond just the 90 minutes of football. To our fans, we’re a football club first and foremost, we also have a basketball team, we have a woman's football team, but we're also an aspirational brand for many people.

The club is aiming for a hyper-personalized experience, treating each individual fan out of hundreds of millions as though they're a unique individual who has a unique relationship with Real Madrid. For this, the organization needs to understand the behaviors of its fans, the influences in the market, which platforms they're going to, and how it should engage with them on those channels.

Real Madrid already has two core ways to help build this understanding. The football club is a member-owned organization, so instead of answering to shareholders, the club is owned by its 100,000 members, who are incredibly important stakeholders. There is also the Madridista loyalty program, offering various rewards and discounts for an annual €35 fee. Sutherland said: 

These are fans that are really engaging at an even deeper level. So we have these really rich profiles of people that we want to be able to give the best experience to.

But we also want to know that someone visited us in one of our retail stores or that they visited us on our online store or that they are using our application, because that information gives us a better idea of how they want to engage with us and the ability to deliver a better experience to them, which in turn turns into value for our customers and for us as a business as well.

Real Madrid plans to use the Adobe Customer Data Platform (CDP) to create real-time fan profiles to better understand how fans engage with the brand, when and through which channel. The club will then use this data to deliver highly personalised content back to fans.

Our CDP becomes the heart of our operation, we put the customer first. There's two core pillars: one is the obsession around the fan and one is data-driven insights, and the two of those go hand in hand. So we think of the CDP almost as the heart, the brain of the operation. What we like about the platform is this real-time ability to ingest that data and act on it in real time.

Sutherland cited the club’s recent foray into NFT smart tickets as an example of how it wants to use the Adobe platform to scale new experiences:

What it really spoke to was this idea of creating this connected experience across a whole ecosystem. And that's fundamentally what we're looking to the Adobe Experience Platform to deliver. When that fan arrives at the gate, we scan their tickets and we know that fan has just arrived. What do we want to do, how do we want to make their journey a bit more special, can we surprise and delight them in that moment? How do we take that data, that event that happened, and make sure that we're personalizing that experience through their app, through the stadium app, through all of the different digital touch points that we have.

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