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This week marked the National Retail Federation’s 2022 conference, the premiere summit of the world’s largest retailers. Stagwell was listening in, as well as talking with lead retail experts and practitioners from brands like Johnson & Johnson, AERIN, Bayer, Snap, and more.   

So what do marketers need to know? We recap the top five trends and takeaways to emerge from the week below.

If you’d like to learn more, email Beth Sidhu. Interested in more retail insights?  Click here for our retail report card and please sign up for more insights here 

1. Blended Retail Experience is Here to Stay  

The pandemic accelerated a new template for the shopper journey that sees consumers move frequently across brick-and-mortar and digital touchpoints. Consumers want to shop, browse, and discover on their own terms, using the full range of devices, delivery mechanisms, and in-store ecosystems available to them. Expect retail to continue to trend towards convenience – defined on the consumer’s terms – that is supported by digital layers that add function, streamline experiences, or collapse multiple aspects of the purchasing funnel. Marketers need to invest in seamless handoffs between touchpoints urgently 

2. Safety Will Keep Driving In-Store Shopping Behavior  

With variants extending the pandemic for who-knows-how long, health and safety will continue to be top of mind for consumers. Telegraphing your brand’s investment into COVID-19 protocols without veering into the realm of pandemic theater/fearmongering is one way brands can remain in favor with today’s consumers. Marketers should ensure their messaging around safety connects with reality for employees, as the employee-as-brand-ambassador trend popularized by big box retailers like Walmart continues.  

3. If Your Commerce Isn’t Connected, What Are You Doing?  

Enduring supply chain disruptions will put additional pressure on retail shops to adapt technology and digital tools to further connect their enterprises. To keep apace with customer expectations for faster delivery and order fulfilment, brands need to adapt sophisticated inventory tracking and real-time retail dashboards, as well as look to further synchronize marketing and sales activities.  

4. Social Commerce Gets a Lift From Live Streaming   

Live commerce – a staple abroad but gaining traction across the U.S. – will mainstream in 2022 as brands need to bridge consumers’ platform and content experiences with their shopping habits. The models abound, from the 24-hour shopping livestreams that drive billions in sales during China’s major retail holiday, Double 11, to more curated influencer streams that tap into micro and nano influencers to tell the stories behind products in more authentic ways. This engagement renaissance will be powered by integrated payment portals, QR codes picture-in-picture digital displays, and other technology enabling a seamless step-through discovery to purchase.  

5. Retail Cautiously Experiments with the “M” Word  

In the absence of the technology infrastructure to support the much-buzzed about Metaverse, retailers are experimenting with what’s available now – mixed reality tools — to power exciting new experiences that tie the physical world to the digital world. Live events and retail supported by augmented reality can power more engaging shared experiences for consumers, while virtual tokens, avatar outfits, and other digital tokens can extend a brand’s product suite into this burgeoning new dimension of the web.   

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As we reflect on the marketing implications of CES 2022, Web 3.0 is by far the most impactful development that showed up across industries, technologies and capabilities. While in some ways it may be another victim of CES’ shiny veneer versus reality, there are components that are impossible to ignore – namely, the influx of and investment in the metaverse and NFTs.

Stagwell is one of the first movers when it comes to helping brands activate in this nacent space, having supported the launch of MilkPeP’s activation in the Roblox metaverse. On Thursday, January 6, Stagwell convened a lunch and learn, moderated by Axios’ Sara Fischer, to discuss the tactical and theoretical challenges and opportinities presented by Web 3.0. Here are our top 5 takeaways from the conversation: 

  1. COVID WAS A CATALYST, bringing the metaverse into the real world 
  2. BRANDS WILL PLAY A KEY ROLE IN BUILDING TRUST with these technologies and platforms
  3. NOT EVERY BRAND SHOULD BE IN THE METAVERSE, and not every metaverse is created equal
  4. METAVERSE + IRL should be a seamless experience
  5. NFTS are here to stay

Web 3.0 is a nuanced topic, and one that is the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on brand, product, buyer demographic and existing marketing activity, the metaverse and NFTs can fill a very important role (which may be… no role at all. More on that later). Learn more about what it means for brands, creative and the future of the online/offline world.

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1. COVID was a catalyst, bringing the metaverse into the real world

The metaverse would have come eventually (in fact it’s already been here…hello, gaming community!), but the pandemic undoubtedly accelerated the timeline. With the majority of the world going digital, tech companies were pushed to develop products, tools and software that allowed us to do so much more from a virtual setting, exposing a more urgent demand for expanded virtual experiences and capabilities from brands.

the role of brands, as it has always been, is to create culture and pioneer what could be coming and help people imagine the art of the possible. They create links for consumers and act as educators for navigating the new space.

Brendan Shields-Shimizu

President & COO, Observatory

2. Brands will play a key role in building trust with these technologies and platforms 

There’s a significant opportunity to live your brand values in the metaverse. If done well, brands will ensure their presence is connected and consistent with the way they show up in the real world, ultimately leading to greater consumer loyalty and retention.

 3. Not every brand should be in the metaverse, and not every metaverse is created equal

Direct-to-consumer relationships are more important than ever as we move into a cookieless world, so there are real business reasons that support having a presence in the metaverse. But it comes down to understanding your brand’s role, identifying your objectives, and how entering this space would aid in achieving those, and finally, implementing a process for facilitating, tracking, and measuring success.

4. Metaverse + IRL should be a seamless experience

Let’s face it, some consumers are nearing a point of digital saturation. So, it’s important to note that the metaverse is not meant to be all-consuming. People value in-person experiences – there will be points in time that make sense to utilize the metaverse in addition to other consumer touchpoints, while there will be moments where we can come together in the real world and physically be a part of something. Blending the two seamlessly: now that’s a real win.

 5. NFTs are here to stay

As these advancements become more democratized in their accessibility, brands will start to use them more, whether it’s for loyalty, or to reignite an old concept or product. Industries will adopt NFTs as a creative means to build community and connect with people who support and protect their brands.

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ARound aims to help brands turn augmented reality from an individual to a communal experience.

At CES this week, holding company Stagwell debuted a new augmented reality technology it believes will provide a low-barrier entry for many brands and marketers into the metaverse.

The technology, called ARound, is a platform that eschews the often highly individualized AR experience and instead seeks to open it up, allowing venues and retailers to create attractions in the virtual space for their live events, better capturing guests’ attention, personalizing their experiences and increasing brand engagement.

“The purpose of ARound is to change augmented reality from something you do alone in a room with a headset into something you can do as a shared experience, because we believe the most effective experiences for brands, marketers and advertisers are those that are experiential, persistent and shared,” explains Beth Lester Sidhu, chief brand and communications officer with Stagwell.

The technology allows venues, retailers, and others with large spaces that would typically see plenty of traffic to capture that space, build an AR version of it, and then layer different experiences – such as games, direct purchasing, and other interactive elements – on top of it.

As an example, Sidhu cites the MLB mascot race, which typically involves a limited number of participants on an actual baseball field between innings. Rather than being limited to physical space and a small number of participants, teams – including an unnamed franchise which is already employing the ARound platform – can open the experience up to many more participants. H&M was also among the retailers involved in a test conducted last year.

While the applications for the platform are “tremendous,” says Sidhu, “there’s a lot of education.”

“Clients are interested in the product and how they can use it,” she explains. “Marketers want to be at the forefront of what is interesting to consumers, and consumers are excited about AR. But it is hard for most brands to figure out how to play in the space.”

While ARound isn’t a turnkey solution, it is “a scalable way for brands to interact with AR with relative ease and without spending millions of dollars.”

“The power of ARound is in connecting our physical spaces with AR. If we bring those two things together, we can create amazing opportunities for brands, consumers and marketers – really, anybody who wants to be at the forefront,” says Sidhu.

ARound is part of the broader Stagwell Marketing Cloud, which was fully unveiled at CES this year. A suite of integrated SaaS products, it also includes Harris Brand Platform, which provides daily insights on KPIs like brand perception, equity, sales funnels and the impact of marketing campaigns on customer behavior and perceptions; Koalifyed, an end-to-end influencer marketing application; and PRophet, a PR application that uses AI to predict media interest, sentiment and spread of a press story prior to pitching.

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