By Courtney Crossley, The Mars Agency
For many shoppers, the act of buying has become a fluid activity across digital and in-store environments. We’ve returned to a “net normal” where many consumers have become hybrid shoppers, flexing back and forth between the two channels in search of convenience and satisfaction.
For marketers, 2022 represented the first year in which a truly integrated strategy became necessary. We’re no longer defaulting to digital activity because of COVID-driven shopping behavior, but we can’t swing too far back to a brick-and-mortar focus because even in-store shoppers now leverage digital tools (just in different ways than they did before).
At the Mars Agency, we’re working with clients to ensure their brands show up consistently at all the key consideration points for both in-store and digital shoppers. We’re making sure they provide a connected commerce experience for those shoppers, no matter which modality they might end up using to make a purchase. Having that kind of audience strategy — a method to the madness of your upfront planning — can pay dividends in terms of incrementality throughout the year.
Retail media is a great way to make this happen because it provides opportunities to reach shoppers not only when they’re ready to buy, but also when they’re farther up the “funnel” (I know we all roll our eyes at that term, now). For example, when they’re visiting a retailer’s website to build a list or do research before making a trip to the store; in that case, your goal is to drive awareness and influence the shopper mindset.
Retail media also lets you start looking at off-site advertising that can drive traffic to the site (or even the store), especially as more retailers launch the self-service programming models that are so useful for reaching core audiences.
Even more unique, however, is retail media’s ability to let brands align their in-store and digital activity — their shopper and trade activity, if you will — with their retailer partners. This is our bread and butter at Mars: uniting retail media planning and in-store planning to deliver a seamless experience for shoppers and stronger partnerships with retailers.
Lately, I think we’ve seen a bit of a resurgence with “old school” media being presented in a new school format. Retailers now understand the benefits of aligning media with merchandising and are starting to build both traditional and new in-store opportunities into their formal network offerings. They’re also pairing more traditional digital media like onsite ads, social activity and digital coupons with re-imagined “old school” media types such as CTV, streaming audio, and off-site video display that drive brand engagement with in-store and digital shoppers in their preferred environment.
That’s why a holistic approach to in-store and digital strategies is so important now: even the in-store shopper is very likely viewing your digital media, but through a different lens than the digital shopper. To address this, we need to provide as cohesive an experience as possible — and that requires sound strategies and audience planning across the full year of media activity, in and out of the store.
The key to all this is the closed-loop attribution that retail media delivers, the ability (at least potentially) to measure true incrementality by letting you target specific buyers in a closed-loop environment — so you know what types of shoppers are actually driving that incremental business.
At The Mars Agency, we often talk about putting the “retail” back in retail media, connecting your efforts there to what you’re doing in-store. We look for ways to use digital to prove concepts or test ideas, so you have closed-loop reporting to measure the response from shoppers before rolling new something out to stores. If you’re trying to sell in a new item, you can drive volume digitally to show the category buyer it deserves more share of shelf. Or if you’re developing new creative — even for national buys — the retail media environment is a great place to A/B test various ideas against a closed-loop, neatly packaged in-market audience.
Thinking even more strategically, retail media also provides an opportunity to keep your top-line business objectives in mind as you plan out your calendar. Typically, each event in the media plan is focused on solving a particular brand need (like capitalizing on a key pulse period or tentpole event). You do, of course, need to tie the media that you’re selecting to a specific KPI, because media metrics do drive media performance. But you also need to understand how that KPI relates to the bigger picture, the larger business goals that you’re trying to deliver over the course of the year.
Sometimes we get caught up in standard routines: “Let’s run this program against a brand buyer, and switchers, and some competitive buyers, and hopefully that delivers a good ROAS.” But at the end of the day, that might not be the right mix if your bigger business goal is to introduce innovation or increase household penetration.
We push our clients to align their top-line goals with their annual retailer plans so that we can select the right times, flights, and specific media buys that will set them up for success by finding the audiences to deliver on those bigger business objectives. From there, we can decide the relevant KPIs to evaluate success — ROAS is important, but it’s not the North Star for achieving your top-line business goals across the year.
Too often, marketers focus on the media aspects of retail media. They forget that they’re working with a retailer, which makes this a very unique vehicle that can simultaneously deliver on retail goals, media goals, and top-line business goals. Closed-loop measurement makes it all possible. It is extremely important for us to make this understanding a more prominent part of the conversation going forward.
About the Author
Courtney Crossley is Vice President of Commerce Media for The Mars Agency, where she develops holistic, business-led strategies across all client touch points with the goal of driving top-line results. She brings a wealth of end-to-end experience from prior roles at KPM, where she helped brands better connect with shoppers, and at Google, where she advised c-suite leaders across a diversified client portfolio on adopting a digital mindset. Courtney has a passion for empowering brands for innovation in the digital media arena, both individually and through their relationships with retailers.