Earlier this month, MediaPost reported the results of an annual survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers, which asked 100 senior marketing executives to list the most important issues in the advertising industry. For the past several years, the number one answer has been "accountability," as more marketers have felt the demand to demonstrate a return on investment for their clients. This year, though, "integrated marketing communications" moved up from a fourth-place finish in '06 to take the top spot by a mere two votes (116 versus accountability's 114). From this data, it looks like marketers are starting to view integration to be just as important as ROI, which may have important implications for in-store media programs.
That these two items would be at the top of most marketers' lists is not exactly remarkable. Even before P&G made their landmark announcement two years ago that they'd be diverting funds from traditional media into below-the-line programs that could deliver a more measured ROI, agencies and consulting firms were scrambling to figure out ways to provide their clients with some way of measuring the effectiveness of their marketing programs. But as the impact of TV advertising continues to decline and Americans continue to augment their traditional media consumption with heavy doses of Internet and out-of-home exposure, the need to prove a particular ad or campaign is working will only increase. Still it seems that many marketers have been working harder instead of smarter, content to blast consumers with zillions of extra marketing messages in the hopes that some of them would rise above the noise, instead of spending a little time to see if there was something better. Fortunately, the ANA survey results indicate that this may be starting to change.
With a tighter focus on integrating different marketing efforts, we should start to see more unified messages coming out of brand marketers as well as more efforts by retailers to reduce the amount of marketing clutter found in so many stores today. For example, chains like Target and Best Buy have already done a great job working with their vendors to create a cohesive in-store experience, while still allowing brands to retain some of their unique characteristics. This creates a more uniform, less busy environment inside of the store. Ideally, these efforts should help customers navigate their way around without feeling like they're being bombarded with advertisements (whether they really are or not).
Ironically, a greater emphasis on the store environment can make things more difficult for the product marketer, who's already responsible for making sure that all of a brand's marketing communications are consistently formatted and present a uniform message to the consumer. Whereas retailers have left the lion's share of marketing decisions up to their suppliers and vendors until now, the increased attention given to in-store media and shopper marketing suggests that retailers may seek more control over how items are displayed in their venues, which could potentially put them at odds with their name-brand suppliers. How major marketers, product manufacturers and retailers will reconcile this is one of the big questions on my mind right now. After all, if retailers are newly-empowered media owners and managers, where does that leave the brands? And if the brands are as concerned about integrated marketing communications as the ANA study suggests, will they be willing to accept less control over their own messages and images in order to contribute to a more cohesive retail environment? Obviously, everybody's goal is to sell more product and satisfy the consumer, but unless suppliers and retailers clarify their roles and responsibilities, reaching the ultimate goal of integrated multi-channel marketing may get harder before it gets easier.
What can we retail media folk take away from all of this? Well, for one thing, if you're pitching a kiosk or digital signage network, whether internally to your own company or externally to a retail chain or product manufacturer, it may be helpful to demonstrate how remotely managed in-store media can contribute to a well-integrated and cohesive marketing environment. Plenty of attention is paid to the measurement aspects of retail media (though there's still ample controversy surrounding in-store audience measurement), but the ANA survey results clearly indicate that measurement and ROI are only one piece of the puzzle. To really catch the interest of your prospective customer, a more holistic approach that highlights digital media's integration-friendly characteristics could do the trick. Also, while integrated marketing communications and accountability were the top marketer issues by a fairly wide margin, a very large number of marketers are still concerned about innovation, media proliferation and building strong brands. Digital media networks can figure into solutions for each of these issues as well, making them particularly compelling to organizations that share these common goals.
You've probably heard the old adage, "when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail." From time-to-time, I get the feeling that some brands and retailers still feel that way about retail media. But in reality, in-store networks are more like a Swiss army knife: a remarkably flexible (though somewhat complex) tool that, when properly used, can solve a lot of different problems. When integrated into retailers' and brands' marketing campaigns, these networks can target and deliver messages in an effective yet unobtrusive way -- while reducing media clutter and improving the in-store environment.