For the retail media industry, tactics and approaches have had to take a full 180 since the boom of social media. Price changes that were traditionally set quarterly are now reviewed hourly, purchase orders that in the past were reassuringly predictable can today be wildly erratic and shelf placement has moved from static to dynamic. 

All in all, retail has well and truly shifted from physical to online. A brand that sells 400 products per day and juggles 30 variables that change 7 days a week needs to make 84,000 optimizations from Monday to Sunday. This also means that for the people making the decisions, there are more decisions to be made! Pre social media, you’d secure an aisle end in-store with a promotion, purchase a slot in a circular or an ad buy—job done, let’s do lunch. 

Today we have an incredibly fragmented ecosystem that includes thousands of “opportunities” for impact and purchase—which can affect brands as much as sales. These can include shoppable social posts (as media and tech have converged), search results on retailer sites, banners on digital marketplaces and in-store digital. Retailers are now media channels. And media channels are now retailers. We all know what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow. The solution is not, however, to devolve responsibility to algorithms and machine learning. Instead, the answer is “yes, but.”

Essentials for retailers in today’s day and age are systems that automate processes and work at speed, an open and unbiased platform that covers digital operations, digital shelf and media, integrated teams from leadership to design to delivery, partnerships and a buying engine that can execute at scale and respond with agility. I’m sure there’s more. 

However, the most necessary component of modern retailers is creativity. This is because ultimately that’s what engages shoppers, helps products stand out from any shelf and converts the consumer.

A helpful reframing of retail media is to think about it not as media at all. Instead, consider the experience of a placement or activation, and don’t just focus on a single moment but points in a customer journey that build toward a transaction.

To resonate with consumers, retail media requires insights to fuel the creative process. Mars Pet Nutrition and Mediacom in Australia observed a trend on social media for cat owners to turn delivery boxes into feline playgrounds.  So, they partnered with Amazon, and transformed the boring brown box into an innovative media space. Three worlds of play were presented by Mars’ cat food brand Whiskas—a cat castle, office and car. A QR code on the boxes led to a brand page on Amazon, with instructions on how to construct the playgrounds and encouraging sharing on social media. 

Once the creative has been well and truly executed, conversion should be the main priority. In the Mars example above, there was a 70% uplift in ad-attributed sales on Amazon and ROI increase of 4.6%.

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