The decision by a middle-aged female shopper to purchase one brand of cold medicine over another might not be meaningful to the average consumer, but the reason for her choice is valuable to retailers like Target and Walmart.
Armed with massive amounts of consumer shopping data, these companies can make money by selling such information to advertisers, often bundling it with media inventory.
Retailers, for instance, can use their insights to help brands shape products, identify the best channels to reach relevant customers and measure a campaign’s success. When it was building its media network, for example, Target worked with GlaxoSmithKline on its Flonase
allergy product, isolating potential buyers and providing insight on how best to reach them through targeted campaigns and digital channels.
As a result, many marketers are building their own media networks. Best Buy and TripAdvisor have recently expanded such offerings to outside advertisers, even as established media networks grow and rebrand—Target last year rechristened its own media business as Roundel.
Such businesses create “really interesting opportunities for marketers who want a clear line of sight to how they’re reaching customers and a clear line of sight to those customers,” says Jason Harrison, CEO North America of Essence, a media agency that does work for Target.
According to Forrester’s annual predictions report, 2020 will result in the growth of marketers becoming media players; Walmart and Target are already rolling out more self-serve ad tools. Forrester predicts that any retailer with more than 500 million unique monthly site visitors will explore its own media business.
The time is right
Advertisers want to know their money is well spent. Teaming up with a marketer, which has information at the point of consumption and can tie that in with exposure to advertising, provides measurability, according to Harrison. He notes that the rise of digital advertising has helped pave the way for more effective measurement, which is also improving in the TV landscape.
“The Amazon factor is real, the fact that they have shown the world the extent to which they can grow that business and that is the template,” says Harrison. “Other retailers are starting to realize, ‘Hey, I can do that, I have all the building blocks, why shouldn’t I be in on that business too?’”
Some experts also say that the end of the cookie could hasten efforts by marketers to build their own media offerings for advertisers craving more valuable consumer data. TripAdvisor has created a platform that unifies data, makes it accessible and creates relevancy for advertising customers, according to Christine Maguire, VP of global advertising revenue at the online travel agency.
“We have a tremendous amount of travel behavioral data, a homegrown audience manager that allows us to employ real-time targeting, a compliant and anonymized platform, and relevancy due to us leveraging our own insights,” Maguire says. One insight, “lookback windows,” allows client advertisers to better reach users who are in the thick of planning their travel. For TripAdvisor, a lookback window shows the average purchase cycle within travel, a spokesman says.
In order to even offer media services, marketers need to make sure they have a strong command of customer data, experts say. If they’re selling such information alongside media buying, they need to develop the infrastructure—an ad tech stack—to support it. Then a brand will need to hire a sales force and build a team to market to advertisers.
“It’s a huge investment—it’s a people investment and a technology investment,” says Collin Colburn, senior analyst on the B2C marketing team at Forrester. He noted that a chief challenge of entering the space is getting brands to even know you’re there.
Not a fit for everyone
Colburn says some smaller retailers might be better served teaming up with an ad tech company like Criteo, which sells personalized display ads.
“Not a lot of these retailers have the capabilities internally to do what Amazon does and start from scratch,” says Colburn.
Not all categories of marketer are well-positioned to offer media. Automobile brands, for example, have less consumer data because such large-ticket purchases are not very frequent. Target and Walmart, with more regular shoppers, can build profiles for a host of CPG brands. As travel has grown and consumers now have the ability to comparison shop online, there’s more information available about how consumers are responding to ads behaviorally.
“If you’re an advertiser trying to drive transactions on a travel site, that’s valuable,” says Harrison. “That’s a category that’s a natural fit.”
A temporary solution
One chief challenge right now is how fragmented the landscape has become. Advertisers might be willing to use one retailer’s media network for some ads and another retailer’s media network for other ads, but issues arise when the data conflicts or needs to be weaved together.
“Eventually, a new kind of provider will come in and be the aggregator across all of these disparate networks,” says Colburn.