Publisher Forum Nashville Keynote Cara Pratt: The Retail Media Pioneer

Before Cara Pratt was pioneering in the ad tech space, in her adolescence, she was dreaming of becoming a detective. If the fates decided to turn the wheels of destiny a different way, she might have been the real-world Enola Holmes.

Instead, I’m sure the ad tech ecosystem is grateful that she used her passion for deduction and problem-solving to decipher all things marketing and digital media. 

With now over two decades in the ad tech industry, Cara Pratt serves as the SVP, Kroger Precision Marketing at 84.51˚. She has worked in a variety of positions at companies such as Nielsen, dunnhumby and IRI, but she couldn’t help but smile as she reminisced on her childhood passions and how she was able to transform them into a successful career. 

“When you’re 11 or 12 there’s a lot of dreams and thoughts on what seems cool and interesting,” said Pratt. “When you’re older it’s up to you to see how those childhood passions can fit into the business world. For example, to have a little fun with it, impressions and clicks are circumstantial evidence and purchase data is direct evidence. As I think about my personal reflection here, you know, I’ve always been passionate about deeply understanding behaviors, not superficially.” 

The Risk Taker: Early Days

For her first post-undergraduate position, Pratt worked as a database manager at Nielsen. Even this early in her professional career, Pratt learned how to follow consumer behavior. While managing Nielsen’s database, she ensured that CPG brands and insight teams understood consumer trends. 

She stayed at Nielsen for a year until she decided to move to dunnhumby. Her work experience transferred perfectly to her new position at the company. At the time, dunnhumby was expanding into broader CPGs and shifting from syndicated aggregate data trend intelligence into micro behavioral understanding. Although, Pratt said that the move from Nielsen to dunnhumby felt like a huge risk at the time.   

It was early on in her career and Nielsen was an established brand that had a long history of success. They were also the company that organizations, CPGs in particular, were coming to for understanding trends and to influence business planning. On the other hand, dunnhumby was an unknown startup company that was new to the U.S. market. They had a very different approach to what information was most critical to productively influence business decisions. 

“Taking risks as a professional and as a business is really important. I’m a big believer in a calculated risk,” says Pratt. “Of course, do your research and be prepared. It’s a real challenge to transform and evolve businesses because if you don’t change, if you don’t look to the future, if you don’t test and learn and evolve, those businesses are not going to be successful. It’s too dynamic of an industry.” 

The Pioneer: Kroger Precision Marketing 

It seems her calculated risk-taking paid off. In 2017, Pratt started her position at 84.51˚ where she was instrumental in the creation of Kroger Precision Marketing and became a pioneer of retail media.  

“If I rewind time and take myself back to the prep and the actual announcement, standing on stage five plus years ago, the strategy and our focus had always been on business outcomes,” says Pratt. “Business outcomes for our shoppers, our customers that are physically coming through our physical or digital storefronts, as well as our brand partners.”

From the beginning, the goal of KPM was to inspire shoppers with relevant content and to make their brand partners successful marketers. While the evolution of data science and technology has helped improve the capabilities of KPM’s services, the driving force behind creating an accountable media ecosystem has influenced how customers engage with content, how to put appropriate content in front of consumers, and how marketing ad dollars are most effectively invested. 

“To be a leader in the industry means we need to set the pace,” said Pratt. “We need to set standards, and that’s always been a massive passion of ours because we have the ability to truly understand who we’re exposing content to.” 

The Innovator: Retail Media 

After five years of hard work, Kroger Precision Marketing has 2,000 participating brands and was rated as providing the top return on investment measurement among retail media providers. KPM had a head start on the retail media trend which has produced a massive amount of revenue and been lauded as one of the premier solutions for ethically sourcing consumer data under the new privacy regulations. Pratt attributes three components that enabled them to be successful and set standards for the industry. 

The first component was the trusted relationship between KPM and its shoppers. They created a value exchange with their customers through their loyalty cards where they could monitor how customers’ behavior changed over time. In fact, 96% of their sales are connected to the loyalty program which are the ingredients of data science that informs the second component–to create relevant audiences for brands to expose content to. 

“We have established a data science practice for the Kroger Company,” said Pratt. “84.51˚ is the analytic and activation engine of the Kroger Company and the fact that we have had for decades a really mature data science practice to leverage that data intelligence in the right way was really powerful.” 

The third aspect of creating a successful business is shoring up all three legs of the stool: commercial, technical, and operational. Each leg is critical to scale sustainably, Pratt said.

“Five years into our journey, KPM is evolving our business model and investing across technology, operations, and commercial capability — to make KPM easier to plan, activate, and measure,” she said. “All in a way that also ultimately makes the lives of our shoppers easier through relevant, seamless advertisements.” 

You can catch Cara Pratt giving her Keynote Address, “Building Trusted Bridges: How Retail Media Is Revolutionizing the Advertising Ecosystem,” at PubForum Nashville on Monday, Nov. 7.