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Seen & Heard at Future Forward 2024

At our May event, retailers, CPG brands and other thought leaders brought the latest topics and trends in commerce marketing front and center, including AI, in-store retail media and data. Read the highlights.
jordan berke
Jordan Berke, Founder of Tomorrow

The Path to Purchase Institute's boutique Future Forward event in Philadelphia in May brought the latest and hottest topics and trends in the commerce marketing industry front and center. 

Retailers, CPG brands, solution providers and other thought leaders explored how the industry’s most innovative entities are using artificial intelligence, shopper insights, analytics, retail media (particularly the growing in-store opportunity) and more to unlock new levels of engagement and conversion across the path to purchase.

Here’s a roundup of insights, advice and highlights our editors saw and heard during the event. 

Retail Media

Jordan Berke, Founder of Tomorrow, said during his keynote address: “Last quarter, Kroger announced that 42% of its hashtag EBITDA was from alternative revenue streams, namely, retail media. That means by this time next year, Kroger may be more of a media company than a retailer.” 

"While growth in retail media remains strong, growth among the largest retail media networks is slowing and we're seeing saturation,” Berke said. 

[Read More: The Next Frontier of Digital In-Store Innovation Is the Retailer App]

"If we're going to fail, we fail fast and we pivot. ... We are unafraid of testing new things, building new products,” Parbinder Dhariwal, VP and General Manager, CVS Media Exchange (CMX), said. “It's incredibly important when you're a retailer media network in today's climate to think about how the test-and-learn innovation you're going to drive with partners will continue to advance your organization. ... We [call ourselves] entrepreneurs and we're driving that level of innovation throughout the organization." 

"Transparency is one of those core pillars we stand behind. ... The way that [IAB set up retail media measurement standards], it's not fixed,” Dhariwal added. “You can go at the higher end of that measurement cadence or at the lower end. ... What's important is that you're transparent with your partners about your measurement methodology."

Megan Ramm, Head of CPG Partnerships, Uber, gave advice to marketers, including those new to Uber Advertising, on the rapid pace of change and shifting purchase habits. “Take a step back and look at the consumer behavior. Think about what we see in our own daily life, what we see in shifting expectations as marketers and look at the data. … We [at Uber] might have a much younger audience that you don’t normally cater to, for example.” 

"I want our brands at the end of the day to be remembered ... storytelling is such a great way to connect with our consumers ... and as digital media has evolved we can really amplify those authentic stories," Emily Curry, Shopper Marketing - Walmart, Mondelez International, said.

tom edwards
Futurist Tom Edwards

Artificial Intelligence

Futurist Tom Edwards said he used to talk a lot about how disruption was the new normal in terms of technology disrupting specific industries. He said, “Now, It’s less about disruption and more about convergence.”

On the future of search, Edwards said, “What's happening now with the algorithms — and this is something marketers really have to consider — it's less about the keyword and it’s more about the natural language connection.”

“There’s this real fear that AI is going to take your job,” Edwards said. “The reality is AI is not going to take your job, somebody else who knows how to use the tools will.”

Edwards added, “All generational cohorts are adopting AI for the same reason: ease and convenience.”

"Don't be tempted by AI especially if you're earlier on in your journey. It's an amazing tool, but it's not the end-all, be-all if you don't have that foundation,” Chandra DiGregorio, Vice President, Data Science, Commercial Insights & Loyalty, 84.51, said.

Risa Crandall, SVP of CPG Strategy and Sales, Aki Technologies, said, “Personalization is using technology to anticipate what you want in your content so that it’s relevant, easy, automated and is met with success.”

Bailey Conlon, Associate Director, Personalized Consumer Experiences, The Clorox Co., referenced a recent study on cultural relevance within advertising. “Consumers said that they were 56% more likely to say an ad resonated with them if it was culturally specific,” she said. “And that is in comparison to 18% less likely if it was intercultural or general market. … Personalization is all about relevance.”

future forward 2024
Kraft Heinz's Shobha Kansal (left) and Kroger Precision Marketing's Jenny Holleran (right)

Shopper Insights, Retail Data 

Shobha Kansal, Director of Category Leadership, The Kraft Heinz Co., on making retail data usable across different teams: “There really is such a power in having everybody sing off the same sheet of music.”

"Start with the data. If you don't have the data, don't move into all of these other things because without [data] you're going to be lost. So your AI and your models, and ... your strategy is only as good as your underlying data,” Benjamin Felix, Chief Marketing Officer, Stackline, said.

"I think it's really about understanding your market and understanding your customer. Getting that information together is going to help you develop that relationship with them — whether it's seeing if a new product is resonating or seeing if there's a particular feature that they really love  — actually getting that feedback, but also incorporating it into your larger strategy. ... That's the big thing,” Felix added.

Michelle Morale, VP, Digital Commerce & Omni Shopper Marketing, Campbell Soup Co., on the manufacturer's partnership with Amazon's "Thursday Night Football" exclusively on Prime, where Campbell ran an ad with a QR code that pointed to a new flavor: "This is pointing to the future. The whole term 'retail media.' It’s going to be gone in like three years because it doesn’t make any sense. Because it’s all about how you find consumers and how you make that collapsed funnel, which is what I call it, that much easier for someone to convert.”

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P2PI's Jessie Dowd (left) and Under Armour's Christiana DiMatessa (right)

Christiana DiMatessa, Senior Director, DTC Channels & Experiences, Under Armour, described an insight that helped change the brand's holiday messaging. "Our approach has always been: What are those really interesting things that people want to buy as giftables? ... We found that consumers weren't actually buying Under Armour [HeatGear] for their kids who were asking for it because they didn't feel like it was a giftable. ... We didn't even think about [marketing] that heritage product that built the brand because we thought of it as just a necessity."

"No one knows the consumer better than frontline workers. ... Customers are more likely to tell store associates what they really feel versus someone coming in and doing research," DiMatessa said. "Don't underestimate the power of the frontline workers. ... They absolutely are the key to unlock real consumer insights.

Dan Sabanosh, Director of Shopper Marketing, Great Northern In-Store, said, “The economy is a big part of driving retail channel shifts. Looking ahead, prices seem to be continuing to increase over the next six months and inflation is continuing to be problematic. People are more focused on the essentials and looking to pare back the non-essentials.”

In-Store Experience

“Less than 1% of retail media is specific to in-store, while 85% of retail sales in the U.S. still happen in-store,” Jordan Berke, Founder of Tomorrow, said. “So retail media is only activating against a small share of the customer traffic/sales it has the potential to influence.”

“The whole concept of impulse buying was invented because of how customers shop in-store,” Berke said. “And unplanned purchases end up being inspired by a promotion at the next level. So, we [at Tomorrow] actually think the opportunity isn't just the 85%, but it's a more engaged, focused and present 85%, which is why we call the in-store moment, the immersive journey.”

“Having customers engage with a retailer’s app as they’re shopping in-store is the next frontier of innovation and growth for retail and also for retail media,” Berke added.  

Christine Sturch, Principal Design and Innovation Team Leader of Store Design, Whole Foods Market, said: “We swung the pendulum pretty far when we implemented the Just Walk Out technology into two Whole Foods sites. We went too far, we did too much and our shoppers didn’t respond well to it. They said it felt cold and counterintuitive to how they wanted to end their shopping experience. It ultimately did not reduce friction in the front end because there was something called receipt latency where the customers didn't get their receipts for an hour or two after exiting the store. … Ultimately, it added friction.”

[Read More: Whole Foods Talks Reimagining Grocery Retail]

“We are constantly pushing the envelope in design, but what's most important is that our customer has a seat at the table [to inform] why we do things,” Sturch added. “It can't just be all internal insights and it can't be all Amazon analytics and data. ... The customer really is the third leg.”

future forward
P2PI's Patrycja Malinowska (left) and Great Northern In-Store's Dan Sabanosh (right)

Under Armour’s DiMatessa also said: "We found that getting our innovation team in the store talking to consumers [had them lining up] to respond and to give us their feedback. ... Instead of pushing products and marketing at them and just selling to them, [we said] let's bring them in. ... We had people in-store engaging with consumers in a different way: 50% of those consumers ended up purchasing that product even though they weren't looking for it because we told them the backstory and asked for feedback."

Patrycja Malinowska, Director of Retail, P2PI, referenced recent proprietary consumer research on the in-store experience, saying, “The ability to see products in person is particularly important for why shoppers prefer going in-store for apparel, for example, while the immediacy of purchase plays a key role in the non-food household essentials category.”

Dan Sabanosh of Great Northern Instore, said, “Older generations tend to resonate more with traditional in-store marketing methods like end-of-aisle, temporary seasonal displays, but we see younger shoppers engaging more with digital screens, video ads, product sampling, the treasure hunt experience and [other experiential marketing tactics]. … It’s critical to understand your shoppers to determine the appropriate merchandising vehicle to use.”

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Acorn Influence's Heather Nichols (left) and Mondelez International's Emily Curry (right)

Other Highlights 

"Engagement from influencer content is 11 times more than just branded assets alone," Heather Nichols, CEO, Acorn Influence, said.

"Brands have been siloing this creator content — it's time to get out of it, to think broader and bigger ... look at the organic content, get those triggered responses, and carry it through to paid media,” Nichols added.

Campbell Soup Co.’s Morale also said, "When it comes to the retailers, we do try to show up with one voice. The way I think about it is: Every company only has one [profit and loss statement]. Every company only supports one set of numbers. They only have one budget. ... The budgets never get bigger; they're just choices. So, the clearer we can get on our objectives — whether they're a brand objective or a sales objective — the better we can align those decisions and the closer you can work with your partner the better you'll be."

Building on Morale's comments, Marci Raible, VP, Integrated Marketing, Campbell Soup Co., shared, "It's really nice when we all sit around the table and you actually have no idea which agency people come from or which team. It really is [about] one objective and one goal. ... Because we're all part of the Campbell's team."

"Getting the right image in front of the right consumer at the right point of purchase is incredibly important,” Rory Foster, Executive Director, CPG + Retail, CourtAvenue, said.

"The original sin of (all) media is ROAS,” Skye Frontier, SVP, Growth, Incremental and Andrew Lipsman, Independent Analyst & Consultant, Media, Ads + Commerce. (Read more here.)

Katelyn Nugent, Head of Integrated Marketing & Communications, Welch's, on evolving as a brand with the times and understanding the next generation of consumers, said, “Being as old as Welch’s is, we’re young in spirit,” and a motto of theirs is “Protect the core and grow for more.”

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