Albertsons: Content Is Retail Media's Next Big Wave


Many toiling in the retail media trenches are relatively new to the game. But Kristi Argyilan, senior vice president of Albertsons Media Collective, who moved from the agency world to retail media channels ten years ago, has a much broader perspective. She tells Marketing Daily what she’s watching most closely in the fast-growing industry.

Marketing Daily: Retail media networks may be huge -- expected to hit $140.04 billion this year -- but relatively new. You’ve got one of the longest RMN resumes I’ve seen. How did you get started?

Kristi Argyilan: I have been in the sport of retail media for a while, going back to Target and its shopper marketing capability. I was at the NewFronts when we re-introduced Target’s network as Roundel.

Marketing Daily: You joined Albertsons two years ago. What kind of team are you building?



Argyilan: Until I came on board, Albertsons had been outsourcing retail media. Now, it has become a strategic priority for the company. We say we have a late-mover advantage because the marketplace has already changed a lot.

Most of the people in my leadership team have done retail media somewhere else. So, a lot of pre-learning and market testing has already happened. We know the best partners to bring into our tech stack, and what we need to build in-house.

To have all that before we even hit “Go” has been an advantage. We are also entering the marketplace at a time when the ad community is screaming for a non-walled garden approach. So everything we have designed has been done with the philosophy of transparency and openness. We want clients to know they're getting the right outcome.

Marketing Daily: How big is your team?

Argyilan: There’s 173 of us. There are a couple of new platforms coming to market that are taking out the reliance on headcount. That was part of our announcement with Capgemini, our agency for media planning. Again, there’s that late-mover advantage. We can think about things in fresh ways.

Marketing Daily: What’s your elevator pitch when people ask you why they should choose Albertson’s over another RMN?

Argyilan: First, we’re a pure grocer. We have 2,300 stores, 40 million loyalty club members, and 35 million customers we see every week -- two and a half times a week, on average. That is a lot of data.

Albertsons also has a unique local story. We have multiple banners, all empowered to reflect the needs of their customer base. That local relevance is very powerful. Then you add in our enormous investment in engineering. We are not just offering digital displays on our app and our website. We’re also leaning toward CTV and social media.

Marketing Daily: What role is content playing?

Argyilan: It's an area that is coming at us fast and will play a huge role. As retail media expands to more channels, there will be a need for higher-quality content. It can't just be banners with prices. There will have to be a rich experience, even influencers. Why else would anyone view something? It is the trickier piece of this business because we’re tech people and data people. Content will be the hot topic in the year ahead.

Marketing Daily: What brands do you think are doing an excellent job with content right now?

Argyilan: Us, with the work we're doing with Pinterest. We can incorporate recipes, and it makes a rich, actionable experience. But nobody is doing content well consistently.

Marketing Daily: Let’s talk about customer-centricity. The perplexing thing about retail media is that while it is good for your CPG customers, it’s a nuisance for shoppers -- your primary customers. No one woke up this morning and said, "Gee, I hope my grocery store’s website is clogged with ads I don’t want to see." And that’s especially true since we’ve all been trained to crave uncluttered, seamless digital experiences. How do you balance that?

Argyilan: That's important. We spend an enormous amount of time with our customer experience team. A promise we've made to our customers is that advertising experiences will be creative. If people are looking for recipes, we can put recipes in front of them and have Campbell's sponsor them. Or if they're more price shoppers, we can make it easier to find promotions.

It's a delicate balance. The second you start to put more advertising in front of a customer versus helpful content, your business will begin to erode. We're very conscious of making sure it's an elegant experience.

Marketing Daily: How has the retail media’s relationship changed with corporate higher-ups? Most people think of marketing as an expense. Yet retail media is a revenue stream. Is there a different power dynamic?

Argyilan: What's interesting to me is that who the boss is has changed. Initially, retail media reported to the CMO. Now, more commonly, it’s the chief digital officer. We just made some shifts here, and I now report directly to the person overseeing marketing, merchandising and our digital offerings. So retail media is almost its silo. It’s more of an alternative growth business than a marketing capability.

Marketing Daily: It seems like there has to be an RMN shakeout. Do you agree?

Argyilan: I’d call it a balancing of investment to outcome. The middle and long-tail retail media networks will tend to gravitate toward some of these existing aggregators. They’ll have minimal management teams on board, who can toss the business to aggregators, and then it becomes a kind of passive revenue generation. The biggest retailers will invest full-tilt in talent, tools, technology and infrastructure. They want to own the network so it can fuel other business areas.

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