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  • birgitkibbel


Digital media is lighting up the retail industry, connecting retailers with customer wallets through brilliant new experiences, seemingly mining, measuring, and serving up rich slices of customer data with ever greater precision. Collected from online sites, third party media, and in-store advertising, the data shines light on consumer behaviours to predict and shape their preferences and purchases.

Wowed by the technology and great intel, there is enormous temptation for retailers to cater to data-described customers through sales-centric strategies promising quick, no-brainer wins. But retailers with a financial, and hopefully, strong emotional investment in maintaining brand health, should consider whether in reaching for low-hanging fruit they risk harming their brands and losing their best customers along the way.

In-store is here to stay.

The grocery industry, in particular, is witnessing the transformation of large retailers into powerful media forces that engage customers through multiple channels. Yet some of the most rewarding experiences – digital media – still play out on location. From product and service retailers to financial institutions and quick service restaurants, in-store experiences remain integral to rosy brand health.

Meeting customers where they are.

As a proprietary marketing tool, digital retail media gives retailers the power to shape and control brand messaging across multiple channels: online platforms, apps, ads, and in brick-and-mortar stores, through displays, wayfinding, and in-store ‘radio station’ ads. Retail media also affords brand safety – retailers’ own ads are featured on proprietary platforms, versus popping up on ad-hoc sites which may be out of context or even off-brand. Let brands meet customers where customers play.

Purely owned and operated, in-store retail media offers retailers a unique opportunity to promote and sell on their own turf, catching customers at in-store or online touchpoints, while they’re present and likely already in purchase mode. Properly executed, retail media will engage, connect with, and persuade customers to add additional items to their basket, try new products or even switch brands.

“Retail media ad revenue to eclipse TV by 2028.”

Retail Insight Network

Monetize that message.

Far beyond informational, in-store digital media is like conventional persuasion and transaction tactics on steroids. Quick service restaurants find profit in sensory appeal through animated menu boards showcasing limited time offers and value combos, and with people-sized touch displays that double as order stations. Banks soothe worried customers in their queues, guiding them to helpful solutions with care and concern, while sport and lifestyle brands like Adidas and Nike energize targets, immersing them in dynamic brand environments through expansive video walls.

Geofencing is a relatively underutilized technology based on creating a virtual geographic perimeter around a physical location for targeted mobile marketing. In retail, customers moving through a designated location trigger an app that sends them targeted communications, from brand messages to specific discounts offered in real-time. As customers become more comfortable volunteering personal data, geofencing may become a more popular and effective retail tool.

Significantly, retailers are taking notice of in-store digital media’s potential to generate incremental revenue streams. Vendors also stand to gain, albeit more traditionally. Armed with baskets of data from a robust loyalty program reward program, retailers are able to present vendors with numerous advertising opportunities, enticing them to stay in the game by spending more promotion dollars to support their products than ever before. Customer targeting is based on by programmatic media buying against segmentation data, with attribution reporting in place to measure results and impact. Margins vary depending on which media model is used, but retailers can expect potential retail media revenue of 0.5% to 2% of their total retail revenue.

Walmart does digital... meaningfully.

Among retailers who do digital well, Walmart is way out in front. They are, in fact, America’s most important omnichannel retailer. Well-entrenched in the U.S. and now in Canada, massive Walmart Connect describes itself as “beyond a media company” and seeks to “connect brands more meaningfully in customers’ everyday lives to accelerate shared growth.”

Walmart Connect is driven by online touchpoints (search ads, display ads) strengthened by an arsenal of meaningful in-store experiences. Boasting 170,000 digital TV and POP screens across 4700 stores, it has formidable power to influence customers on its own behalf or in promoting vendor products. A suite of compelling activations includes TV wall ads, self-checkout ads, in-store demos, pickup & delivery sampling, in-store audio spots, and sponsored community events.

In 2022, the company’s U.S. monthly digital audience reach was 125.4 million. Does this signal a migration to exclusively digital interactions? Definitely not. Walmart Connect’s in-store audience of 212.4 million was nearly twice its digital audience, underscoring the importance of continuing to provide in-store, in-person experiences that resonate.

Walmart continues to adopt new retail tech to blow the doors off competitors. The retailer recently issued a directive to expand the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags from apparel to products sold in most of its departments. Beyond acting as an inventory tool, RFID offers retailers an excellent way to control their brands by communicating directly with customers, providing them with product details and branding information. As a technology, RFID offers fertile ground for exploration.

Canadian retail media interactions still WIP.

Canada’s largest retailers – typically grocery – are following U.S. digital media efforts in their own fashion. Loblaw Advance is rolling out its in-store digital media program that includes banner-wide networks of video screens on freezer doors to complement its PC Optimum loyalty program and media platforms, while Sobeys has partnered with U.K. tech giant OCADO to make its Voilà online delivery offering more customer-responsive. Other major retailers have not made noise to date, but it’s a sure bet their programs are in the works.

When sales are bad for business.

A merchant’s natural urge is to make money where money can be made. But adding to the bottom line through short-term gains is not a strategy most retailers will want to embark on – sure, there’s an opportunity to make money upfront, and some customers may not care, but eventually the brand ship starts to wobble off course and primary customers drift away because their original reasons to believe in the brand have disappeared. At this point, it can become difficult to steer the brand back.

“In 2019, Tim Hortons also launched 60 LTOs—three times the number in 2017, which led to cluttered menus, diluted marketing communications, and incongruence with the chain’s core categories.”

QSR Magazine

A brand perspective. It’s not about how many screens.

The in-store digital media juggernaut is at the door. Are retailers finding the right balance between promoting their own core brand messages and promoting product sales? While it’s certainly possible to generate incremental revenue by selling digital ad space to vendors, it’s critical that retailers never lose sight of themselves – THE BRAND –– while selling to customers.

Before flipping the switch on an in-store digital retail media program and deciding where to mount tech monitors, retailers need to ensure they have a solid brand strategy in place, with thoughtful communications developed around a well-articulated brand proposition. Lest the goal is to confuse or annoy customers, it’s critical to avoid the temptation of creating catchy ads on the fly for a quick buck.

Laddering back to the strength of the established brand is second nature. No matter how or where a brand is promoted, it should always be presented with a consistent personality, and core values that reflect the brand. This is especially true in-store. Unlike traditional OOH billboards, in-store digital billboards are linked to the retailer. The retailer OWNS every message – like it or not.

Critical Retail Media Questions:

  • Are you developing your retail media strategy from a brand-centric foundation (vs. sales & promotions only)?

  • What’s the right mix of vendor vs retailer messaging?

  • What supplementary communications are relevant and effective in retail media?

  • How is your retail media integrated into your omnichannel strategy?

What do I stand for? Why stories matter.

Branded content educates and endears customers to brands more effectively than simply looping sterile promotional details. Digital media is perfectly suited to great storytelling, with the ability to express a brand in multiple ways along numerous customer touchpoints. As the connective tissue that holds a brand together, storytelling allows for the creation of experiences that connect and resonate with customers. By layering in brand messaging around announcements about store events, promotions, and marketing calendar events, retailers can add depth and meaning to their brand. Primary customers actually care to know about a company’s core values, their ESG policies, and their connections to the community.

Many opportunities for diverse content of Retail Media.

Finding the right mix, balance and content is critical.

Combined with a clearly defined brand strategy, a solid digital retail media program will:

· give customers reasons to believe

· promote brand affinity

· build long-term customer relationships

Performed successfully, retail media will strengthen a brand by creating meaningful retail experiences that attract and retain the customers that matter most... and sell more product along the way.

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