The Home Depot’s Melanie Babcock on the Rise of Retail Media Networks

The Home Depot’s Melanie Babcock on the Rise of Retail Media Networks

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Melanie Babcock joined The Home Depot in 2013 as Senior Director of Social Media and rose through the ranks to become Vice President of Retail Media+ and Monetization in February of this year. RM+ is the largest home improvement retail media network. StreetFight sat down with the Ann Arbor, Mich., native to get her insights on the rise of retail media networks and her vision for her new position.

Home Depot launched the company’s retail media network RM+ in 2019. What was the impetus behind creating it?
We launched RM+ in 2019 with two strategies in mind: 1. How can we increase the traffic to product information pages and 2. How can we help our suppliers’ products or brands stand out on when a customer is making a purchase decision? These were two challenges that Home Depot suppliers brought to us a year prior to the launch of RM+. They wanted their brands and products to stand out in the digital and physical aisle and convert more customers online.

Are you surprised at the rise of retail media networks from different companies since then?
Suppliers and CPGs want two things: To get as close to a customer at the point of decision-making and measurement, demonstrating that brand dollars drive product sales. This type of access was once only available to retailers. I’m not surprised at the popularity of retail media networks. It makes sense for companies to do this and leverage their first-party data that benefits not only their own company but their business partners as well.

What makes RM+ different from all other retail media networks?
We are a specialty retailer, and our customers have different shopping habits from those who visit a big-box store or a grocery store. Our customers’ intent is unique because they are coming to The Home Depot to solve a problem. For big or small projects, Pro or DIY customers, the shopping experience is fundamentally different and requires research that is done on our website, mobile app, and even in stores.

These differences allow us to provide insight to our supplier partners and our teams to better serve our customers with more relevant solutions in the form of recommended products. Whether you are shopping for a plunger or a full bathroom, remodel, RM+ allows us to better serve that customer.

Share some of the new sources of ad revenue you are responsible for developing?
I am responsible for the monetization strategy. When I think about The Home Depot’s vast number of assets, it is hard not to get creative. We have 2,000 stores and parking lots. A network of rental vehicles like trucks and moving vans. We operate in three different countries and have a large supply-chain network. We know customers who are movers, Pro contractors, remodelers, grillers, gardeners, painters, and woodworkers. There are many assets to consider when thinking of a larger monetization strategy. It is hard to contain the creative exploration of what is possible with monetization strategies.

How are you preparing for the cookie’s eventual disappearance?
I attended a client seminar in 2017/2018, and the presenter made mention of a cookieless future. That one meeting changed a lot of us. We went back to the office and got serious about the organization and democratization of our first-party data, and frankly, it served as the turning point of changing the marketing strategy from a product-centric strategy to a customer-centric strategy.

You majored in kinesiology in college. Were you planning a different career path?
I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I really loved studying health, nutrition, and the benefits of exercise and then discovered I didn’t want to pursue this field. My father worked in the early days of IT at General Motors and suggested that I would find a steady job in IT. This was in the mid/late1990’s when I discovered website development as a career. It was a great combination of technical, creative, advertising, and business problem-solving.

Who were your greatest influences in your life, and why?
Working parents who bust their butts at home and at work. It is not a balance. It is a way of life. My grandfather instilled the importance of a good work ethic and that you must earn your accomplishments. I have a long-standing mentoring group of seven well-accomplished businesspeople who I meet with regularly. They are savage truth-tellers. They have no filter / no-excuses approach that is filled with love and grace.

What’s the weirdest job experience you ever had, and what did it teach you?
I worked for Cardlytics before The Home Depot. On my first day, I was paired with a data scientist. He showed me an algorithm and stood back in awe. I had no idea what I was looking at and proceeded to congratulate him on the work. I walked out of the meeting thinking I made a huge career mistake. That job changed the trajectory of my career. The data science team taught me about customer behavior data and its application to driving media outcomes.

Name three accomplishments are you most proud of in your time at The Home Depot?
I’ve hired and promoted a lot of people. The thought of making big, positive impacts on people’s careers, families, and incomes brings me immense joy. Starting Retail Media+ was not the first team I started. I am very proud of each of the teams and the new strategies that I was lucky enough to build.

The biggest one was changing a 40-year marketing strategy from a product-centric to a customer-centric strategy. A woman told me recently that until she worked on my team, she had never had a female role model who had a big role and was married with (very active) kids. She decided to return to work after having children because I demonstrated that it is possible to pursue career and family ambitions at the same time. That meant a lot to me. You never know who you are influencing.

What are your top goals in your new role?
Continue to deliver exceptional experiences and outcomes for suppliers and associates. There are a lot of decisions to be made about role diversification, processes, and technology to meet our aggressive growth goals over the next few years. Continue to be a positive impact on the business through increased traffic and sales and a positive contribution to the customer experience.

The Home Depot just ended its Spring Black Friday promotion which ran from April 13-23. The hottest item? The Google Nest thermostat.

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Kathleen Sampey