The data difference
Market Track enjoys a broad view of the increasingly dynamic retail and consumer products universe.
The Chicago-based provider of business intelligence solutions, once known primarily for monitoring retailers’ print advertising, has spent the past decade building a portfolio of capabilities spanning advertising, e-commerce, brand protection, pricing and promotional activity through a range of homegrown enhancements and 10 acquisitions. Retail Leader spoke with Market Track CEO Dennis Moore and Jared Schrieber, co-founder and CEO of recently acquired InfoScout, about what’s next for retail, the pace of change and data-driven value creation.
Retail Leader: Market Track works with so many different retail and consumer good companies. That must give you a broad view on the overall market. What’s your take on the state of the industry today?
Dennis Moore: It depends on where you sit. If you are a traditional consumer goods manufacturer or retailer it is pretty tough. It is tough for big brands and for people who are selling predominantly in physical stores. For manufacturers who are more local in their production, or retailers who have a good balance between physical and online, they are enjoying a lot of success. We have 2,100 clients so we see a wide range of experiences. Sometimes you hear a lot about how traditional center store grocery brands or traditional grocery retailers are having a tough time, but there is a flip side to that story, and there are other retail formats and manufacturing formats that are actually doing pretty well.
RL: What behaviors are you seeing from companies, be they retailers or consumer goods companies, large or small, who have best positioned themselves for growth in 2018?
DM: Two things come to mind. One relates to understanding the bifurcated American consumer. You see a lot of retailers and brands doing well by focusing on one end or the other of income distribution. The other way to perform well in this environment is to find the right use for digital. Digital affords a lot of targeting opportunities and there are companies finding a way to make it work for them.
RL: What is the right way?
DM: If you really understand your audience, digital is a great way to reach them. Once you have a focus you can use digital to your advantage to increase targeting. People who are exhibiting some degree of skepticism about digital are performing better. A few years ago there was an over exuberance with digital, and people started spending a lot of money and lost sight of how much more the industry was charging for a targeted impression versus a general market impression and there was distortion in pricing. Major advertisers pushed back on the Googles, YouTubes and Facebooks of the world to understand more about where their ads were appearing, who was seeing them and making sure it was the right people. The people who are doing it best bring some skepticism and ask for more insight into what is going on in the digital landscape.
RL: What are some of the other top challenges your clients are expecting you to help them solve today?
DM: I’ll come back to digital and include omnichannel. One focus of our business is tracking advertising activity and 10 years ago it was mainly about television, magazine and radio ads. Every one of our clients now is asking us to track digital advertising. We do, but it is harder in a programmatic world when ads are very targeted to collect and maintain a representative library of all the ads that are out there. That is what clients are asking us to help them understand, who is doing what in the digital space.
The other thing that we hear repeatedly is people want to understand how volumes move between physical and digital. Everyone knows that online sales are growing, but in what categories, to what extent, and among which consumers?
RL: Is that why you bought InfoScout?
DM: It is one of the things that made InfoScout appealing. Its panel contains purchase information from an individual’s in-store and online activity. Market Track is a company that as recently as five years ago was a promotions tracking company, but we recognized that the way people were using our promotion tracking information, which is largely to benchmark and verify, could be applied to other pockets of sales and marketing activity where there is a similar need.
RL: For example?
DM: As there is more and more promotional and online pricing activity, many of the 10 acquisitions we have done involved companies that track advertising and provide pricing intelligence. Because of all the targeting implicit in digital and all the complexities of the changing retail landscape and the shift of volume online, the market intelligence needs of clients have changed. They need information on different things in different ways than they did before. Many traditional sources are not as well suited for the digital and e-commerce world. The most obvious place that we felt there was an unmet need was with consumer panels. To really be on top of what people are buying today you need to see what they are buying in stores and what they are buying online, and if you are in the food industry, you need to see what they are buying in restaurants. You have to re-imagine what a consumer panel is for this new environment and InfoScout has done that.
RL: How so?
Jared Schrieber: By capturing data from consumers via their receipts. It is a more passive way to gather information and get a greater volume of data about what people are buying in stores and online. InfoScout brings a source of sales data to Market Track that is uniquely qualified to serve the market needs of today.
RL: How does the panel work?
JS: The panel was built five years ago when smartphone adoption was accelerating in the U.S. We made a bet that engaging people through fun, rewarding smartphone apps would simplify what it means to be a consumer panelist and make it fit into how they live their everyday lives. We created a simple, engaging experience where people could earn rewards for taking pictures of their receipts and it allowed us to build a much larger, representative purchase panel than had existed before. We have a portfolio of apps that create different experiences for different kinds of people because everyone has different interests and motivations and we try to appeal to those.
RL: How do you ensure people use the apps consistently so the panel has integrity?
JS: We rely on game mechanics to create systems of rewards and leveling up to drive positive, reinforcing engagement. It doesn’t hurt that we pay people, but the real key is gamification.
RL: What made Market Track appealing as an acquirer?
JS: Market Track looked at us from the perspective of what could you do with a consumer panel in the 21st century. They asked how does panel data link up with all the market intelligence needs that clients have in terms of the type of ad campaigns that are running, how they are performing, in store promotions and pricing, all the different ways that brands connect with consumers and the role that a panel could play in that. We felt that was a unique perspective that would allow us to get the most out of InfoScout for years to come.
RL: Dennis, post the InfoScout acquisition, where are you at now it terms of capabilities and holes you need to fill? Are you looking to acquire more companies?
DM: The thing we are most focused on now is integrating and growing with InfoScout because it is one of the largest acquisitions we have done. That said, our private equity owners bought Market Track to make it a bigger company. There is nothing imminent, but I expect we will do something of interest in 2018.
RL: Let’s come full circle with your thoughts on retailers’ future use of circular ads that used to be the core of Market Track’s business. Will we still have print circulars in the future?
DM: Absolutely. Circulars exist to drive traffic in stores and they remain a great vehicle to push offers to consumers whether they are at home or stores. You might see the number of pages diminish, but they are never going away.