Behind the making of 7-Eleven’s retail media network — and what c-store operators can learn from it

2022/12/05 Innoverview Read

Brands have needed a better way to get in front of customers at the point of purchase over the last few years as third-party cookies began depreciating and as consumers increasingly shopped online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies started buying ad space on retailers’ digital platforms, and purchasing the retailers’ first-party data — data that customers willingly give a brand — to reach their audiences

When a retailer gets into this ad-selling business, it’s known as a retail media network. Companies such as Kroger and Walmart — and, of course, Amazon — have had skin in the retail media game for some time now, and others are getting into it as well. According to AdWeek, 74% of brands have dedicated budgets for retail media networks in 2022.

In October, 7-Eleven officially announced its entrance into retail media with its new Gulp Media Network — the first retail media network to hit the convenience store industry, Marissa Jarratt, executive vice president and chief marketing officer; and Mario Mijares, vice president of loyalty and analytics for 7-Eleven, said in a recent interview.

Making the jump into retail media not only makes sense for 7-Eleven, but is a necessary step, said Jordan Berke, founder and CEO of Tomorrow Retail Consulting. He noted that many of the new programs 7-Eleven is developing require investment that needs to be paid for, and having a “thriving” media business is the best way to reach that alternative income source. 

“If you look at all the other ways a retailer like 7-Eleven could make money, this is the biggest share of the pie,” he said.

Personalization and fandom

Gulp Media was built over the past year to complement 7-Eleven’s existing suite of data-driven insights, which already includes its shopper analytics platform, proprietary customer research panel and experience-based Lab Stores. It came in response to a need 7-Eleven saw within the “immediate consumption market,” — also known as impulse purchasing — Jarratt and Mijares said.

“We know retail fragmentation is already complicating things for our CPG vendors — and the immediate consumption market is even more fragmented,” they said.

While building a team to run a retail media network can be difficult — Walmart poached Instacart’s top ad executive in October 2021 — 7-Eleven didn’t seek out new employees. Instead it formed the Gulp team from within its marketing department, tapping those “with a wide breadth of experiences” Jarratt and Mijares said.

CPG brands getting involved in 7-Eleven’s retail media network will be using the retailer’s customer loyalty data to reach their target consumers across the convenience channel. 7-Eleven’s approach to how this is done can be summarized in one word.

“Personalization,” Jarratt and Mijares said. “Not only does Gulp Media look at both demographic, geographic and attitudinal signals, but it can also add signals for what shoppers have purchased.”

As of now, 7-Eleven is focused on connecting its customer database with third-party advertisers through display, social and connected TV ads, Jarratt and Mijares said. They also said they plan to explore in-store media “in the near future,” and know that tapping into fuel pumps is a “big opportunity” — although they declined to share updates on that front.

While Jarratt and Mijares also did not elaborate on specific media campaigns 7-Eleven has worked on with its CPG partners, they noted that tapping into “fandoms and cultural relevance” — especially in sports — is helping build Gulp Media. 

“This ultimately translates to accelerating our loyalty program by providing customers with increased transactional and experiential value,” they said.

If 7-Eleven is using this strategy to grow its loyalty program, that would, in turn, provide CPG partners with more first-party customer data.

“We’re just scratching the surface on fandoms and cultural relevance across the brand, and we have our sights set on more collaborations in the worlds of fashion, sports, music, gaming and more in the coming months,” Jarratt and Mijares said.

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