Why education is critical to the retail media revolution

The scale of the opportunity in retail media is vast and is expected to reach $100bn by 2025, according to BCG. As e-commerce thrives, the benefits to brands, consumers and retailers are clear to see, and media agencies in the US, EMEA and APAC are embracing the possibilities of retail media.

There are issues to address when faced with such rapid growth. Not least in terms of educating agency talent. That's why Criteo, which operates the Criteo Retail Media Platform, is launching Retail Media University, a three-stage program of interactive virtual courses to equip people at agencies (although this course is open to all) with critical knowledge and strategies.

The Drum caught up with Michael Balabanov, vice-president, agency development – retail media at Criteo, to find out more about the course and how agency talent will benefit.

Why has Criteo launched Retail Media University?

Retail media is probably the hottest phrase in media today. We‘ve put a lot of resource, time and effort into creating this program because when we talk to agency partners everyone is just trying to get more education.

Being the market leader we really needed to take a step forward, and provide an education service to our agency partners. For me, the biggest ask we get from agencies is “how do we bring people on and get them trained?” when they‘re hiring new people in the middle of a talent shortage. With Retail Media University they‘ll get that.

It's also important because retail media is so different from a programmatic buy. There are nuances and differences in what it looks like to purchase and think about retail media compared to buying across the open web or on a search platform.

What will agency teams learn when they take the Retail University course?

It‘s a three-module virtual program that talks first about retail media in general and explains what it is, and why retailers, brands, and consumers care. It really sets the foundations of retail media, and it‘s a module that‘s meant for everybody, whether they‘re hands on or high-level and will never touch the platform.

The next two modules go much more in-depth into our self-service Retail Media Platform, which we launched in the US in May 2020 and in EMEA in 2021. It‘s grown tremendously in the US and EMEA, and 85% of our clients are self-serve on the platform in executing campaigns. The second module goes into the details of how to set up a campaign, and module three into even more detail on how to look at attribution, optimization, product multipliers, and advanced analytics.

Our course was designed with agencies in mind and we‘ve had them test the program, and work through with us to ensure the content is useful and beneficial to them. There are exams at every step, and when you pass all three modules you take a final exam. That‘s important because agencies and their people really want to get out there and say they are certified.

And agency people are already talking about how valuable the course is proving. Briana Finelli, group director, US commerce lead at Wavemaker, says: “Criteo has been at the forefront of retail media for years, and the last two years of accelerated growth have been no different. Retail Media University (RMU) is exactly what brands and agencies need to have retail knowledge at their fingertips. At Wavemaker, we’re proud not only to partner with Criteo on RMU, but to be a test partner and first-adopter for its new programs to collaboratively create the best possible products for our people and clients. RMU provides much-needed training in a virtual world to upskill our people and keep us at the cutting edge of retail innovation.”

In more general terms, why do you feel the rapid growth of retail media is so exciting?

Retail media is a place where a lot of dollars are going for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the shift to e-commerce since Covid-19 meant a lot of brands had to figure out how they were going to be successful in an e-commerce-led world. Number two, it‘s truly actionable, it‘s media that you can measure, that isn‘t reliant on third-party cookies. Brands can feel really good about serving an ad because someone clicks on the ad, buys the product, and it‘s all measured together.

Each region is on its own journey but we‘re seeing significant growth across the US, EMEA and APAC, because retail media fits the best Venn diagram in terms of what a retailer wants, what a user wants, and what an advertiser wants, combined in one package.

How well placed are agencies right now in terms of understanding retail media?

You have the holding companies who are figuring out how to handle commerce; they‘re building out groups, and cross-company functions to work it out. And there are specialist e-commerce agencies that are popping up that have handled mostly Amazon before but are expanding their breadth and portfolio to handle Walmart and Criteo. But with that there is no solution out there, nothing that will get people the basic knowledge and then start upskilling in that retail media world.

What then is so challenging about retail media for agencies?

Every retailer is different, and has their own nuanced way based on their customers and what they want to do. There‘s also a lot of difference in terms of how ads get attributed to sales. Because you‘re dealing in an environment that‘s a closed loop system there‘s a need for more understanding of how an attribution model is working, and how to validate results. There are just more variables than when you‘re running a search campaign.

And retail media is not just pulling in trade budgets, which was its cornerstone, but also advertising, marketing and other budgets. In certain agencies looking at where it fits can be an issue because it has no place in the usual display, search, or social umbrellas. The speed at which it‘s exploded raises the question of “how do agencies and clients adapt to think about it differently?”

And, finally, how will better education address these issues?

We‘re trying to solve a lot of the challenges in retail media through education because, as retail media comes to life and forms a bigger part of the digital marketing ecosystem, it‘s about having it grow up. And part of that is everyone speaking the same language, and having a common understanding of what it means when you say “retail media”.