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Media Retail Retail Deep Dive

How can we make measurement standards in retail media a reality?


By Katie Hurle | Chief strategy officer

November 17, 2023 | 9 min read

ISBA has made a good start at standardizing retail media measurement, but there’s a lot of work still. That’s according to Katie Streeter Hurle, chief strategy officer of SMG.

A shopping basket, filled with plump tomatoes

/ Konstantin Evdokimov via Unsplash

Let’s face it: standardization in retail media measurement isn’t going to happen overnight.

But to sustain the growth that we have seen in retail media this year, and where it is predicted to be in a few years when ad spend in Europe is forecast to reach €25bn by 2026, there’s no doubt more consistent standards in retail media need to be met. The launch of ISBA’s Responsible Retail Media Framework is a positive first step in creating a roadmap for what is needed for responsible retail media with standardized measurement.

Sitting in a unique position where it represents both brands and retailers as advertisers, ISBA has collaborated to create a clear guide that it firmly believes should not be viewed as a rule book. Instead, ISBA’s ambition is to champion the creation of an open and consistent landscape where brands know what to ask for, and retailers know what to aspire to.

Speaking at our Retail Media Summit event held in October this year, Clare O’Brien, head of media effectiveness and performance at ISBA, said: “There isn’t a penny spent in media today which isn’t upheld by measurement in some form. Entering a new media ecosystem without the expectation of standardized measurement is not easy for brands to work with.”

With ISBA’s mission to encourage positive action towards responsible retail media investment, the goal is to improve everyone’s ability, particularly brands’ understanding, of how their investment contributes towards output goals and, of course, knowing what they are actually buying.

But, working within a diverse retail media ecosystem adds its own challenges when it comes to the maturity of the retailers and the technology that is deployed. As Clare says, “This is why it’s difficult to be uniform except in the ambition, and this is what the framework represents.”

Why standardization is not possible today

At SMG, we understand how important it is to have consistency and transparency across the measurement journey. We work closely with brands to help them plan, execute and evaluate campaigns. Through our agency, Threefold, we have first-hand experience of the barriers preventing these standardization changes from happening at speed. There’s often a perception among advertisers and industry bodies that retailers are obstructing the development of enhanced media measurement (with a sense that it might not be advantageous to them commercially), but in my experience, that’s not the case.

Firstly, many retailer technology stacks have often been stitched together over the last decade, and so for insights teams to extract the simplest of data, such as impressions and clicks, this can be a long and manual task. Moving forward, these tech stacks must be updated, which can be both costly and time-consuming. But the good news is that many retailers are embracing this, investing behind it, and moving this forward. But it will take time.

Secondly, unlike the US, where loyalty card data coverage is high – around 90% - here in the UK, while there has been a lot of progress, the market is less developed. Without the right loyalty data coverage, it’s highly challenging to measure the effects of retail media at a 1-2-1 level.

Lastly, navigating the complex retail media landscape means working with multiple different media owners who all have different tech stacks and different KPIs and measures of success. While we want standardization and consistency, we also don’t want to lose sight of what we are hoping to achieve – understanding how the media has performed in the most robust way.

What can we do to move this forward?

We need to prioritize what matters most.

I truly believe that ISBA with OMG has given us a solid roadmap to work towards. And there are certain basic metrics that should be at the start of every retailer’s campaign measurement strategy.

The fear of first-mover disadvantage was historically a concern among retailers. But for standardisation to work, there has to be transparency and excitingly, the market is moving in this direction. Our evaluations for the past ten years using the same test v control methodologies have allowed us to measure the true impact of retail media in a consistent way.

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Is there a risk that brands will use data that isn’t favorable as leverage to reduce spending? Honestly, no. They’re more likely to drop spending if they don’t get measurement. There needs to be an understanding that not all campaigns will pay out in the short term. Instead, we need to learn from those campaigns so we can take action for the future. That transparency is really important to drive things forward.

If anything, in my experience, transparency drives investment and builds trust. So, rather than being used as a tactic to reduce spend, brands and retailers should use this data as a collaborative learning experience to improve future campaigns.

Brands also tend to come with a long list of requirements when it comes to measurement. But the reality is they often have more data than they can process. The most helpful thing advertisers can do to drive this forward is to be clear on what matters most when it comes to delivering the KPIs that really matter for their campaigns and the data that will enable them to make the right investment decisions in the future.

But right now, it may not be possible for the retailer to provide flexible attribution windows. Therefore, brands need to understand what attribution window retailers are using and, by using the same one consistently, be able to do like-for-like comparisons. If you can’t achieve consistency, prioritize transparency.

We must also be honest that not all campaigns will pay out in the short term, and sometimes, the uplift isn’t as good as expected. This can be down to a whole host of factors – the timing, the integration with the promotional plan, the audience selection and the creative. The vital thing is to begin to build up databases of results (good and bad) to identify trends that enable optimization of investment over time.

Because retail media does a lot more than just deliver short-term KPIs. I think that’s something that the ISBA framework has done brilliantly; it sees beyond this to customer lifetime value and the inclusion of longer-term metrics. As retail media evolves, we must continue to research and evaluate new methodologies to ensure we are measuring that long-term effect.

ISBA has created a brilliant framework to use as both a short-term and long-term roadmap. Yes, genuine barriers are at play preventing this from happening overnight, but retailers are moving fast to try and overcome these.

We shouldn’t lose sight of that true, effective and impactful retail media is omnichannel. As such, the approach to standardization across retail media should be multifaceted, addressing standards online and in-store.

To sustain the growth we are already seeing across retail media, the key is to re-imagine the relationship between retailer and brand. ISBA’s framework should certainly help to strengthen this.

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