How Do We Sift Through the Ever-Expanding Array of Retail Media Networks?

The answer lies within the networks themselves

There was an inflection point within retail media not too long ago when the sheer number of retail media networks teetered on becoming overwhelming. During this period, every week seemed to bring the announcement of a newly formed network. This piling on of sorts triggered an industrywide feeling of inundation. 

It was felt by agencies scrambling to keep up with an ever-growing number of networks. It was felt by brands as more and more retailers were peddling first-party data. Escalation was evident across the board. Aligned with this were a timely string of thought pieces warning of saturation, the idea that there were suddenly too many retail media networks.

A channel that had only recently taken off was now experiencing a glut. But it’s not going to slow down.

Sure, there will be eventual consolidation due to acquisition or survival. But with every retailer now understanding how valuable their data is, the expectation is that more are coming. As long as the profitability is palpable, they’ll keep building.

Media networks will also expand into industries beyond retail. Recent launches within the ride share (Uber, Lyft) and hospitality (Marriott) industries are just the beginning. It’s safe to assume any industry collecting consumer data—financial, travel, etc.—will look for ways to profit from it.

Knowing growth isn’t slowing, how does an advertiser begin thinning out all the options when it comes to available networks? How do advertisers with limited budgets decide where their dollars should go?

Lean on an understanding of the consumer 

For retail media to be effective, brands first need to have a firm grasp of their consumer. Understanding how they research, what they consider and where they purchase, for example, helps guide the investment. Whether it’s a brand loyalist, net new consumer or somewhere in between, a brand that knows their target has a good idea of both where and how to reach them at any point in the funnel.

This level of detail is incredibly important to retail media network selection. If, for example, the brand knows their target consumer is more likely to shop at specific retailers, or if certain retailers offer tactics better suited to reach that consumer, it makes the process of thinning out the options that much easier. 

Grasp the current state of each offering 

Once the consumer journey is mapped and the audience is understood, brands can delve deeper into the tactical differences—of which there are many—that set each best-fit retail media network apart.

These tactical paths can vary wildly simply due to the unique development roadmap each media network has followed. Some have invested heavily in their own ad tech, whereas others lean on third-party offerings. Some have shifted focus toward self-service, whereas others still favor managed. Some have gone deep into analytics, whereas others have only skimmed the surface. 

This in-depth knowledge of the various tactical options can ensure your dollars drive toward the retail media networks that best align with the brand’s objectives. Perhaps a certain high-value social channel isn’t an option via a particular retailer, or another retailer doesn’t have a relationship with the brand’s preferred demand-side platform or measurement partner. 

It’s this level of detail that can slim down the options even further while making the picture a bit clearer.

Focus on analytics and measurement

Speaking of measurement, some retail media networks offer not only third-party, campaign-level outputs but also access to anonymous, user-level impression data that can, once aggregated, help guide the cross-channel approach. This second piece is either in place or part of the roadmap for all larger retail media networks.

The value these holistic measurement solutions—Amazon Marketing Cloud being an example—can bring, in the right hands, is quite inspiring. They can help analytics teams connect the dots (every single dot, to be exact) to help prove the need for investment across the entire funnel. 

This burden of proof can further slim down the list of viable retail media candidates, giving brands visibility into true, cross-channel outcomes that can further guide future investment. Because, like all channels, retail media is iterative. Adjustments need to be identified and learnings reincorporated to ensure subsequent buys are more efficient. 

Understand each retailer relationship 

Brands have a firm understanding of their retail relationships. At a base level, they know their overall retailer array, as well as their top performers. They also know when they have deals upcoming, experience inventory issues or launch exclusive products with a retailer. Understanding the full gamut of these relationships, both the good and the bad, is another essential cog in guiding retail media investment.

If a joint business plan is enabled, there might be a requirement to spend. Ideally, the relationship is strong and there’s a willingness to invest beyond that minimum. But often simply knowing a brand needs to spend X with one retailer and Y with another can help them better devise their retail media strategy.

Brands need to remain in control 

The number of retail media networks will continue growing. Offerings will get more complex. Partnerships will face more scrutiny. This is the harsh reality of a high growth channel. Everyone wants in, which drives the stakes exponentially higher.

Brands need to remember they have the upper hand. It’s the networks that need to invest, evolve and impress. Thanks to the proliferation of retail media networks, brands now have options. They can plan a multifaceted buy with a single retailer for an exclusive product, or they can spread dollars across half a dozen retailers for another. They can meet a joint business plan minimum or decide to far exceed it. They can avoid being inundated with the sheer number of retail networks by focusing on the partnerships they deem the best fit. 

They don’t have to invest in every retail media network they have distribution through. They can pick and choose based on their consumer approach, tactical needs, expected outcomes and overall relationships. It’s about options, not saturation.