April 4, 2024

Marketers Are Getting Back to Basics. The Basics Are More Complex Than Ever.

Following a trip to Shoptalk, GALE’s Director of Retail Media shares why marketers are getting back to basics, even if they’re more complex than ever. He covers the retail media problem, the shift from ‘omnichannel’ to ‘unified commerce,’ and why AI is both overhyped and underestimated in the retail world.

Dan Maguire

Retail Media Director

We hear it all the time: marketing is moving at a rapid pace, and keeping up with what’s “new and now” can often feel like building the plane while flying it. With more ways than ever to connect with consumers – and equal opportunities for them to tune you out – making the right moves can feel daunting.

Amid the many think pieces on modern marketing, however, one truth stands out: Marketers are getting back to basics, although the basics are more complex than ever before. 

This trend was evident at this year’s Shoptalk, where 10,000+ attendees gathered to discuss how today’s consumers discover, shop, and buy. 


One of the key observations was the need for consolidation of the retail media universe. The definitions of ‘retail media’ and the marketing funnel are evolving alongside consumer behavior and increased connectivity, offering brands more opportunities to both succeed and fail. 

In recapping his Shoptalk experience on The CPG Guys podcast, Bryan Gildenberg, CEO of Confluencer Commerce, emphasized this point, highlighting the need for a clearer definition of retail media, saying it’s become too broad to be meaningful.

“Putting an ad on Thursday Night Football and buying a Sponsored Search on Red Media from Hy-Vee are so far removed from one another as to not really be the same thing,” he said. “But we kind of lump them together.”

While this remains a problem for marketers to solve, the average person watching football or grocery shopping is just trying to live their life in relative peace, and will be the first to notice when you meet them at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite the saturated market, with 600+ retail media networks (RMNs) as of 2023, there’s still a ton of potential, with an estimated 22% of global ad dollars worldwide expected to flow into RMNs by 2025.

Case in point? While at Shoptalk, Google’s Global Head of Commerce Maria Renz announced that they’re building retail media capabilities with Lowe’s as a beta partner, signaling that they recognize the need to move to a consolidated, cross-channel and cookie-less solution (with them, of course, being the aggregator hub, connecting all the disparate walled gardens).

The opportunity in retail media lies in transcending the fragmented landscape to seamlessly connect campaigns across your entire footprint, while still providing that precise ROAS-driven 1P attribution data that makes RMNs so appealing in the first place. In short, retail media is not a strategy in itself but an ever-growing series of touchpoints to win over (or lose) your customer.


As Ben Miller, the VP of Original Content and Strategy for Shoptalk, noted, retail media must now be additive to the customer journey, serving as a connective tissue between channels, brand dollars, shopper marketing dollars, and between in-store and online experiences. In this way, he argues, “unified commerce” as a term has truly replaced “omnichannel”.

This brings us back to basics: delivering the right product to the right people at the right time. However, achieving this in 2024 requires a shift toward unified connected commerce rather than omnichannel.

As product discovery increasingly shifts online, retailers must adapt their support mechanisms accordingly. Similarly, while being “customer-obsessed” is not a new concept for retailers, the methods for achieving it have evolved, requiring retailers to provide even more seamless experiences across digital and physical worlds. 

Consumer data is more relevant than ever, driving personalized experiences and fostering brand loyalty. To cultivate true loyalists, brands must demonstrate expertise in every vertical they engage in, and show a deep understanding of the audiences they’re trying to reach.

To achieve this, brands are experimenting with various strategies, from social listening to collaborative partnerships, to authentically engage consumers and reach new audiences. For example, the recent coffin-shaped makeup kit collaboration between Liquid Death and e.l.f. Cosmetics – two whimsical and edgy brands with a deeply customer-first approach to marketing – was a hit and sold out within 45 minutes. 

Crocs has deftfly moved from awareness to relevance by intensely listening to their authentic fans on new items, partnerships, and limited drops. Heidi Cooley, SVP & Chief Marketing Officer at Crocs, said that nine out of ten ideas come from social listening.

Lisa Roath, CMO at Target similarly predicted, "This is going to be a year of a refresh in terms of how our brands show up for consumers. Showing up in more culturally relevant ways and focusing on micro-moments of joy."


So where does marketing’s favorite buzzword fit into all this? The biggest artificial intelligence (AI) takeaway at Shoptalk was that it is both under-hyped and over-hyped. 

Sure, a large majority of the startups at the conference mentioned AI explicitly, and rightfully so, but the white noise around the topic is only getting louder. It is getting harder to distinguish true breakthroughs from lofty and unlikely satisfying promises of a simply nice idea.

Personalization through AI should aim for meaningful engagement with consumers, rather than being a competition for “first.” In that way, AI is not about the short game but rather the long game. In the long run, AI will absolutely be transformative in ways we have not yet anticipated. In the short term, retailers should be task-focused and build muscle memory on how to develop AI, while establishing the right guard rails for brand safety, building a culture of curiosity around use cases, and trying to deliver real value on bite-sized problems. 

Despite the complexity added by RMNs, successful marketers today must get back to basics. By creating a unified retail experience and understanding the role of brand in building loyalty, retailers can thrive within the consolidated RMN environment, and ultimately, win over customers.