John Ross: Retailers Must Embrace Emerging Media Like Consumers Have

Former Home Depot CMO Says Stores Have 'No Choice'

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NEW YORK ( -- Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mediabrands has brought on former Home Depot CMO John Ross to serve as president of its Emerging Media Lab. The move, according to Mediabrands President-CEO Nick Brien, is "phase one" of the unit's new Retail 3.0 solution, something it started devising a year-and-a-half ago.

John Ross
John Ross
"We have been seeing for the last three years just how fundamentally digital is changing not just all forms of marketing communications but consumer behavior in the context of retail," said Mr. Brien, who describes Retail 3.0 as "where retail meets digital and mobile."

Mr. Ross will be charged with not only leading the Emerging Media Lab but also repurposing it so that its consulting and digital capabilities will be fused with retail expertise and understanding.

"This is where it will get exciting," Mr. Brien said. "These huge stores are going to use this emerging technology to become much more involved in how brands represent themselves to consumers."

Mr. Ross recently spoke with Ad Age about the impact emerging technologies are having and will continue to have in the retail space.

Ad Age: Has consumer behavior and in-store shopping behavior changed enough that these emerging technologies will significantly affect the retail experience?

Mr. Ross: Absolutely. The consumers themselves are transforming. It's actually a fact that consumers in many cases walk into a retail location knowing more about the products than the retail associates. Their access to information straight from the manufacturer and consumer reviews is unprecedented. So that more-informed and more-insightful consumer is driving demand on the manufacturing and retail side to come up with new ways to explain their offerings.

In thinking about consumers not as demographics but rather in terms of their social makeup -- like those who are health-minded or concerned about the environment -- [Home Depot] harnessed the blogosphere and social conversations taking place outside the store and turned the thought leaders of that space into brand advocates. That allowed Home Depot to be really effective with its advertising budget and get really strong advocacy on the consumer level.

It allowed us to present things out in the marketplace using a built-in infrastructure of advocates without having to invest in expensive branding or awareness campaigns. Those blog and bulletin boards are not new technologies, but being able to identify those audiences, package them up for the client and present them in a way that you would think about buying a traditional medium, which is what Initiative did for us, that was new, and that's just the beginning.

Ad Age: How are these emerging technologies and programs you are pushing affecting things on the local level?

Mr. Ross: It's ironic that retailers are graced with these new mediums, whether it's e-commerce, traditional banner or search advertising or emerging social-media connections, which are global by nature. Yet the businesses are intensely local, whether they are driven by local assortments, demographic changes or completely different shopping behaviors. And figuring out how to match up an amazingly global marketplace with intensely local needs is something that media companies can help retailers and manufacturers alike to do.

The ability to harness these new technologies, whether it's GPS location within the store or the ability to use their existing logistics systems in inventory infrastructures to help customers find the product using their technology-enabled phones, or whether it's much simpler things, like harnessing existing conversations that are going on, will help retailers on the local level provide an easier shopping experience.

Ad Age: How do you get retailers, who have generally been pretty slow to adopt a lot of this emerging media, to get on board with you?

Mr. Ross: They have no choice. The technology is coming, and it's in their stores today. Consumers walk in with the technology in their pockets. So when we are talking about emerging media that's very much in the mobile space and in their automobile when they drive up to the store. There's no place for retailers to hide, because the consumer is leading that charge.

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