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Navigating the Virtual Endcaps: A Tactical Guide to RMNs
Having recently been asked to speak at MediaPost’s Data and Programmatic Summit in Lake Tahoe, CA, I took a lot away from both the sessions attended and the connections made. There were many great conversations around first-party data, universal IDs, clean rooms and other rabbit hole-worthy topics.

My presentation was a little different. I was brought in to shed a little light on the world of retail media. I approached this by providing a tactical understanding of the retail media ecosystem, along with its various approaches, platforms and objectives.

The room was full of programmatic and data-focused media professionals. Most of the crowd was aware of retail media, but the majority had not delved too deep into the topic to date. Making the content digestible, yet informative was the main goal.

Below are a few highlights from the presentation:

Retail Media and Consumer Journeys

Success in retail media depends on our understanding of the consumer. The best way to accomplish this is via consumer journey analysis. Conducting such an assessment will provide a view into who the consumer is, and their path from pre-market to post-purchase. It also provides insight into when and where to reach consumers, while discovering details around how best to message them as well.

A better understanding of the consumer journey can help uncover insights related to any stage–awareness, consideration, conversion, etc. There are often multiple inputs discovered during this type of assessment that can be incorporated into the retail media planning.

How Retail Media Fits into the Larger Funnel

As noted, the learnings from a consumer journey assessment can help fuel the planning process across retail media. Knowing which audiences fit into the ideal consumer profile, which tactics a brand’s consumers might interact with by funnel stage, etc. can all influence how retail media is bought.

Retail Media Networks (RMNs) have an array of offerings, tactics, audiences, etc. Each will have access to its own unique audience data, channels, platforms and performance benchmarks. Aligning these with tactics across the larger funnel, while also grading them on a similar scale, is a very important part of ensuring retail media can be seamlessly integrated into the larger marketing funnel (instead of being locked up/siloed within a shopper or sales budget).

Ideally, retail media budgets can become part of a larger, discretionary bucket for use across the entire marketing/sales realm.

The Intrinsic Value of 1st Party Data

The goal is really aligning with retailers that fit your audience needs. Every retailer is going to lead with their data–it’s far and away their most unique asset. But harkening back to the consumer journey, which retailer’s data aligns best with the audiences? Which gives the brand the best mix of tactics, performance and audience alignment? Layering on top of this, knowing the brand’s sales and distribution channels, which retailer(s) are they in good standing with, which are they launching exclusives or new products with, etc.?

All these factors come into play when determining who has the best first-party data for each brand.

Going Self-Service Where Applicable

Sensing a shift in the industry, RMNs have been striving to provide more self-service options. Walmart Connect (WMC), Kroger Precision Marketing (KPM), Roundel, etc. have all dipped their toes into the self-service waters in various ways.

Managed service efforts via RMNs have notoriously high minimum spend, long creative lead times and less than agile reporting. Providing self-service options is their path to giving clients the freedom they need without sacrificing functionality or performance.

Leading with Organic, Defending with Paid

There has been a noticeable increase in competition specific to on-site sponsored search efforts within retail media. More ad types are appearing and ad placement options are becoming more aggressive. This is most visible within the CPCs and budgets required to keep such efforts afloat.

One of our recent focal points has been taking a step back. Instead of simply funneling additional dollars into sponsored search, brands should spend time focusing on how they’re performing organically within each retailer landscape. Then use that understanding of organic performance to invest more wisely in paid, where necessary. Third-party and proprietary tools are often required for an approach like this, but they are usually well worth the investment knowing the outcomes that can be achieved.

Using the Data at Hand to Make Highly Informed Decisions

More and more reporting interfaces are being developed within retail media. Amazon is the best example. They have a clean room (Amazon Marketing Cloud), multiple sales-related interfaces (Vendor and Seller Central), along with their DSP and sponsored search interfaces (Amazon Advertising). All this data can–and should–be wielded to better understand a brand’s overall performance by channel.

The difficult part is deciding where to start. With so much data at a brand’s fingertips, how does one decide where to spend their valuable time and resources? Diminishing returns, marketing mix modeling, multi-touch attribution and more can be applied to the available data. But before heading down this path, brands need to ask – what are we trying to solve? Focus on the most pressing need and go from there.

Testing, Testing, Testing

As with any solid media effort, being iterative is paramount to success within retail media. There are a variety of ways dollars can be spent and success can be gauged. A path that continuously improves upon both inputs and processes will always drive the best results.

The shift towards self-service is making this process much easier for brands. Possessing the ability to be nimble and agile with a buy is key. Testing often involves small increments, so to be able to access media without being bogged down by a six-figure minimum commitment is important.