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How tech and economic downturn are shaking up Retail and what the top brands are doing about it. My Top five takeaways from Mumbrella Retail 2024,

I attended the Mumbrella Retail Summit in Sydney this year, where we heard from top retail and FMCG/CPG brands such as Uber, Coca-Cola, Jack Daniels, Ikea, Coles, Adore Beauty, Dan Murphys, BWS, Super Retail Group and ModiBodi.

Two key themes intertwined most of the sessions at this year's Summit.  The most distinct theme was how technology is disrupting the customer experience journey and the retail media landscape, particularly for Gen Z.  The other theme was the impact of the economic downturn on retail, how brands have successfully responded, and what the future may look like.

Here are my top five takeaways:

1.  The Future of Retail Media.  Remove your commercial bias to maximise your ROI.

The statement "remove commercial bias to maximise your return on investment" seems somewhat contradictory.  Still, it's exactly the mindset recommended by brands that successfully use the new retail media landscape to build their brands and grow their business.  We heard this sentiment from CMOs from Adore Beauty, Uber, Coca-Cola, and Jack Daniels.


As Dan Ferguson, CMO of Adore Beauty, told us, consumers no longer want to hear the hard sell from brands.  They want to be entertained with authentic and transparent content and advice.  Talking about Adore's highly successful podcast, Beauty IQ Uncensored, he spoke of the change required: to show you have your audience's needs in mind, not your commercial goals.  Dan recommended using the persistent value of honesty to build trust with your consumers, which leads to greater personal loyalty (as opposed to transactional loyalty) and, in turn, more frequent visits and sales.

 Uber hosted an informative panel with marketing leads from Coca-Cola, Brown Forman and IPG Media Brands.  The panel started by acknowledging that Gen Z's retail media defaults are digital-first, so their purchase journey differs from past generations.  Gen Z seeks instant gratification and, therefore, shops at the point of inspiration, e.g. social.  We heard that 77% of Gen Z are using marketplaces for inspiration and shopping, as opposed to the search engine behaviours of older generations.  The benefit of this behaviour is that retail media's role has shifted to building both brand awareness and generating sales in one interaction.  Mariano Favia from Brown Forman rightly stated: "If retail media can't link the two, then retail media is no longer useful or successful to brands".


All three brands have successfully utilised the Uber advertising platform and data to intersect their audience at key consumption moments with brand messages that can be attributed directly to sales through the Uber Eats delivery platform.


The Summit also presented the opportunity to delve deeper into two emerging Retail Media channels, Employee Creator Programs and Live Shopping, which are well-developed globally but still under-developed in Australia for various reasons.  Jules Lund from Tribe talked to us about the benefits of recruiting and training employee influencers whose personality and passion for the brands they work for result in relatable, engaging and cost-effective content.  He showed us examples of major UK & US retailers leading the way, such as Walmart, M&S, Macy's and Starbucks.  See examples from 48 global retailers here.



2.  A Frictionless CX is Now Table Stakes.  Overlaying Brand Experience (BX) is What Makes You Distinct.


My top-ranked session was with the Endeavour Group Marketing Leads Joanna Rose, Josie Brown, and Lisa Casey.  They discussed the importance of combining exceptional customer experiences with authentic brand experiences to create happy, satisfied customers who will tell people about your brand and spend more with you.


The role of CX is to reduce friction within the experience.  However, today, consumers regard a frictionless CX as table stakes.  If you only focus on CX, you will just be swimming in the sea of sameness with all your competitors using the same data, insights and tech platforms you are.


Joanna shared that it's the Brand Experience (BX) that makes you distinct and is the springboard for new ideas and innovation that generate brand growth.  Josie, the GM of Marketing for BWS, showed how they activated their new brand positioning, Your Unboring Bottle Shop, over their existing CX to deliver a truly unique and engaging BX. 


For this CX x BX partnership to be successful the marketing team quickly realised that a great brand guideline is not always easy for non-marketers to action.  They needed every touch point along the CX to represent the desired BX from team members & store design through to the supply chain & buying.  So, they developed a detailed playbook that clearly explained to all staff what the BX should feel like for customers and invested the time and resources to ensure it was clearly understood and executed along the CX.


They also looked at critical points along the CX where the BX could be amplified.  The beer cool room became a key focus point.  Usually, one of the more unpleasant physical experiences because of the temperature; the team pushed on the celebratory anticipation of consumers picking up the cold drinks on the way to the party.  The cool room became the start of the party with store design, amplified with bespoke activations such as Cool Room dance parties to support store openings and a mobile version to take to community events, enabling more target customers to experience the brand and drive traffic to the store.



3.  Consumer Journeys Interrupted by Generative AI.  New search behaviours and personalisation expectations.


For years, our default search behaviour has been Google.  While Gen Z has been pushing that behaviour to social first, the forecast is that the shift will pivot again to generative AI platforms like Chat GPT.  According to research presented by Douglas Nicol from The Works, 56% of Australian AI users have already replaced traditional search engines with generative AI tools.  Why?  Because they get crafted, curated answers to their questions instead of (paid) links or random snippets of information.  The information collation and interpretation step is being done for us by AI, and consumers appreciate that shortcut.


Douglas warned us that this shift in search behaviour will only increase, and marketers managing CX journeys need to shift their focus from SEO to AI training data to appear in these searches and complement their brand strategy.


Aaron Fuller, GM- Member Engagement from Super Retail Group, talked to us about how Generative AI is evolving consumer expectations regarding personalisation.  Consumers used to be concerned about giving their data away to brands.  Now they understand the benefits of giving their data; they get annoyed if you don't get the personalised messages right.  For example, a BCF customer who uses the store for Fishing doesn't want to receive a message about Camping.


It's quite the shift in expectations, and the SRG has been investing heavily in machine learning to ensure they serve the right messages to the right consumers.  An email campaign that used to have two iterations now has up to 2,000 personalised messages based on these machine-learning capabilities.


4.  Marketing in Economic Downturn.  Hold to Your Vision & Double Down on your Strengths


My #2 ranked session was listening to Kirsten Hasler and Patricia Routledge from Ikea.  They were articulate and generous in sharing their actions and learnings over the last two years of managing the Ikea brand and communications during the economic downturn.


Operating in a category that has declined by 14% YOY due to the cost of living crisis, Ikea has thrived.  Their lessons of success are as follows: Stay focused on your long-term vision and play to your strengths.  Don't change the fundamentals of your business.  Double down on measuring their impact to demonstrate your ROI when more eyes are on the numbers.


Ikea is in an enviable position.  The brand was founded in tough economic times and has a long history in democratic design to keep prices low.  So, they have had a head start on many other brands.  However, the team spoke about how they have not pulled back on core fundamentals while times have been demanding: 

  • They are still investing heavily in research to understand consumer needs, and decision-making is changing during this period. 

  • They follow the Long and Short of It principles, balancing brand-building campaigns with value-driven retail messages with a 60/40 split. 

  • They have increased their marketing investment, so their recovery will be faster as economic conditions improve. 

  • Unlike other retailers currently accused of price-gouging, they stuck to their core value of Meaningful Affordability and reduced prices on 1500 line items.


5.  The Signs of Economic Recovery are on the Horizon.


I'm so glad I stuck around to listen to Stephen Koukoulas talk economics!  He had a tough gig as the second-last speaker on what may not be a favourite topic for marketers.  But I have to say, Stephen, thank you for making economics so interesting and entertaining.


Stephen created a solid case to show that economic recovery is on the horizon and that things should look better for retail in the second half.


And he reconfirmed one of my soapbox passions: Don't ignore the Boomers! They are cashed up and ready to spend. Times have not been nearly as challenging for them as for the younger generations. Those with good savings, superannuation, and no mortgage will come out ahead with money to burn.


I hope you enjoyed my wrap-up of the Mumbrella Retail Marketing Summit 2024. 


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