Affiliate Spotlight: Lauren Cooley of RetailMeNot on Back-to-school & Post-COVID Market Trends

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I think we can all agree, as society slowly reopens, there is ample opportunity for our economy to kick back into gear and move us towards better days. I’m proud that the affiliate industry, in particular, is full of innovators who’ve helped countless brands weather the storm.

And in that vein of cautious optimism, I’m happy to present to you some promising and exciting insights from one of our favorite affiliates in the form of another ‘Affiliate Spotlight’ segment.

Every couple of weeks, Advertise Purple likes to reach out to one of our top affiliates – ones our team thinks highly of and utilizes most in client programs – to ask to speak with someone from their team and have an in depth conversation about their offering.

This week, we’re going to hear directly from Lauren Cooley, SVP of Retail and Brand Solutions at RetailMeNot, who can provide some key findings for merchants looking to capitalize on some of the hottest seasonal trends most poised for success as 2020 carries on.

So, let’s begin.

Q: Hi Lauren, please give me your brief background, how long you’ve been in affiliate marketing, and how much time you’ve spent at RetailMeNot.

A: I joined RetailMeNot in January of this year, coming most recently from iHeartMedia, where I was the Senior Vice President of Sales. My career path has really followed the  consumer journey and how purchasing decisions are made. I started in Marketing selling traditional radio campaigns. My pitch at the time was that I could help get consumers to my clients door, but after that- it was up to them to close the purchase. I spent many years in that space, and loved the concept of driving traffic for retailers and brands. From there, I had the opportunity to  lead a global in-store experience brand, DMX/Mood Media. There, I worked with global retail, restaurant and hospitality brands to enhance the in-store experience to drive more sales. I was fascinated by the connection between brand engagement and brand experience with revenue growth, and started working with partners not only on their in-store experience, but also adding Proximity Marketing campaigns to better engage the right customer at the right time with the right message. From there, I spent 2 years as the COO of a proximity marketing company – Signal 360 – where we did just that. After several years in the proximity marketing space, I went back to “Radio”, joining iHeartMedia as the SVP of Sales. Much had changed in the space, and today iHeart is focused not just on top of funnel, traditional radio, but on layering tactics to drive both awareness and conversion. Better understanding and talking to customers about in-store attribution where we focused on the role music played in driving incremental store sales. 

When the SVP of Sales opportunity at RetailMeNot presented itself, I saw it as a powerful intersection based on all of my past experiences. It also afforded me the opportunity to learn yet another aspect of the consumer journey from the lens of performance marketing in the promotions and savings realm. RetailMeNot is much more than your traditional affiliate publisher as I learned the business which made the opportunity to come onboard just 6 months ago, even more appealing.

Q: What about RetailMeNot is most attractive, both to merchants and consumers?

A: Over the last 15 years, RetailMeNot has built a platform giving retailers and brands the ability to connect with high-intent shoppers through promotions and savings. We are able to offer one of the widest range of discount codes and cashback whether shopping online or in-store. RetailMeNot is ingrained in the shopping journey providing inspiration, entertainment and guidance to our audience. We LOVE our users and they really look to us as the authority in what, where and when to buy throughout the year. Because of this, we are able to work with our partners to help craft a promotional strategy and offer advertising opportunities at all stages of the funnel to achieve their goals.

Q: How has RetailMeNot business changed during the last few months?

A: These last few months have been a wild ride for everyone – our shoppers’ need for savings amplified, while our partners dealt with business challenges requiring RetailMeNot to adapt and be flexible through the change. Our ability to offer turnkey solutions such as cash back offers for partners has been crucial to our business. The times called for different ways to connect brands and shoppers using messaging that was sensitive, upbeat and helpful. Our COVID-19 hub became the perfect way to highlight the most relevant categories, products, promotions and services by our partners, while helping shoppers save money on the things they want and need. It truly was a win-win situation and although unprecedented, I have been really proud of our team and how they have dealt with the changes and challenges.

Q: In what ways has business stayed the same?

A: Our mission is to “Make Everyday Life More Affordable” and we have remained true to that. We continue to reach a high-intent audience across many consumer segments to support savings and connect brands to shoppers when it mattered the most. Beyond this, RetailMeNot has always been data driven- but in a critical time when the past did not predict the future, we leaned into our ability to provide real-time updates and trends across the landscape to help our partners make informed decisions.

Q: What have you learned about consumer behavior during this period?

A: Consumers are resilient and adapt quickly to changing situations. While RetailMeNot and its partners experienced the initial pull back during peak lockdown timeframe, recovery began to quickly follow. Consumers never closed their wallets all together, they instead shifted spend towards categories more relevant to home life such as office, home improvement, entertainment and health. Stimulus checks appeared to boost consumer confidence where we saw a surge in non-essential spending on handbags, makeup, skincare, home projects, hobbies / diy crafts and more following the deposit into bank accounts. Finally, consumers confirmed that even when home they prefer to shop on their mobile devices demonstrated by strong increases in mobile conversion plus the nearly unchanged split between desktop vs mobile demand.

To go a step further, as I mentioned earlier, our data insights are extremely valuable to our partners and that became even more apparent during uncertain times. Partners were seeking guidance amongst chaos as many found themselves navigating tough situations. RetailMeNot knew we could help by providing timely and actionable insights covering consumer trends, promotional shifts and category performance each week called Trends To Watch. For 8 weeks straight we provided real-time data to help partners capitalize on evolving consumer demand or simply to better understand the macro landscape to help adjust plans.

Q: What are some trends or insights you may have heading into summer?

A: I think a common theme you’ll see heading into summer is evolution. Timing of back to school promotions will be different than years past because classrooms may look different. In the same survey I quoted earlier we found the following themes to be true for summer.

Consumers will be critical on price with 64% saying they will wait for a deal to make a purchase. Brands will experience increased competition online with 2 in 5 brands say they are shifting budgets to support online channels and 65% offering more deals this season. Stores will see softer in-store traffic with 52% of shoppers planning to use curbside pickup this season. Brands will be challenged to meet consumers where they are – whether optimizing in-store experiences as the world around us opens up, or promoting convenience and comfort for shoppers who may not be quite ready to leave their home yet. Flexibility is going to be key as this is such uncharted territory. As we learn to navigate it is so important to maintain a flexible calendar and opt for pulsed promotions & turn-key solutions. 

Q: What about opportunities surrounding back-to-school towards Fall?

AWell, to kick it off we are super excited to be hosting the first Rebound with RetailMeNot: Mega Savings event July 23-26. We recently did a study with Kelton Global and the numbers were fascinating. With the Prime Day shift, we saw a huge opportunity for brands to capitalize on consumer spend as a majority of shopping will still take place in late summer.

Lift Up Retail will be a 4-day mega savings event with over 48MM anticipated impressions. We have a full event hub with multiple category buckets like Summer Apparel, Cash Back, Back To School, etc. Shameless plug (ha!), there are tons of ways to get involved and secure exposure– so reach out to your dedicated account manager or the partners team for more information.

Q: Are there any verticals poised for growth as the economy reopens?

A: There is lots of pent up demand for travel, food & entertainment as well as clothing. Travel may look different as consumers choose domestic getaways and rentals over airfare and international trips for the time being. A need for a night out and leisure will inevitably help the food and entertainment industry bounce back. Additionally clothing will make a comeback as stores begin to reopen more broadly with 46% of consumers telling us they are most looking forward to shopping in-store for clothes and accessories more than any other category.

Q: How does a site like RMN who works with major brands also service smaller brands?

A: We specialize in helping smaller brands scale their program and we are currently working on placement opportunities only available to help small brands grow! We have a dedicated team of reps in our Austin office that are available to assist with program optimizations, media buys, & general inquiries through 1 consolidated email address: [email protected].

Q: I know it moves fast, but where do you see the world of affiliate marketing in 2-3 years?

A: I see incredible growth opportunities for affiliate marketing in two categories. First, I expect a continued focus on enhanced data and targeting to deliver more relevant content to consumers, and to increase the efficiency of advertiser spend for merchants. Ultimately, this is critical for both consumers who now expect relevant content and advertisers who must be thoughtful about every dollar placed. Second, I anticipate in 2-3 years we will see a significant advancement of full funnel solutions from affiliate marketers, greatly increasing the percentage of budget directed to Affiliate marketing. It’s exciting to see the affiliate space driving both consideration and conversion, and this will absolutely accelerate as we move forward.

Q: What’s it like working with Advertise Purple?

A: Working with Advertise Purple Team is so easy– they are very receptive to feedback, open to suggestions and everyone is so nice. We have enjoyed building our partnership and look forward to what the future holds!

Thanks so much for your time! Stay safe out there and best of luck to RetailMeNot in the rest of 2020.

 

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