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From Revenue to Community: 6 Insights into the Changing Landscape of Shopping Centres

From Revenue to Community: 6 Insights into the Changing Landscape of Shopping Centres

Nithya Ramachandran

I had the chance to attend the ICSC@Canada conference in Toronto on October 3, and was part of a panel discussion led by Leigh Rosar, MBA. The panel included Jeff Simmonds, Jonathan Laflamme and me, each representing different sides of the retail world – landlords, media companies, and brands through agencies. We talked about all the exciting changes happening in sponsorship, media, and marketing in the retail sector.

Our discussion mainly revolved around the idea of shopping centers as these “third places.” These are more than just stores; they’re essential community hubs that boost mental well-being and bring people together. The big question we tackled was whether brands are opening their wallets again after the impact of COVID-19. And guess what? We all agreed that they are! In fact, we even backed this up with the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study, which showed that brands started investing like they used to in 2021.

Jeff highlighted the resurgence of brand investments post-COVID, especially in industries like automotive, consumer goods, beauty, tech, and telecom. Jonathan, representing the media perspective, pointed out that media spending went down a bit, but there’s a shift towards targeting specific markets and demographics.

Throughout our conversation, we emphasized the key factors for success in the retail world. This includes creating immersive and authentic experiences, offering unique shopping adventures, and using data smartly to attract brands and boost revenue. Brands are all about major markets and using data to connect with consumers more effectively. Here are the main things we talked about:

  1. Media vs. Activations: Brands are moving towards more interactive and unique experiences to engage shoppers instead of traditional displays. We are noticing that brands are mving from traditional centre court displays to interactive experiences like test drive tours.
  2. Adapting to Changing Traffic: The pandemic changed how people visit shopping centres, so it’s all about providing engaging experiences to get more foot traffic. This means being more flexible with event schedules because traditional activation schedules, such as Thursday to Sunday, may no longer hold. Our advice for commercial spaces and media publishers is to stay ahead by using programmatic and data-driven approaches in media buying to understand traffic trends and consumer behaviours.
  3. Balance Data, Insight, and Authenticity: But! It’s not just about collecting data; it’s about gaining meaningful insights and being authentic to resonate with consumers by aligning brand values and mission with action. Take the time to glean insights from the data to get to human-centric truth. One watch out – we noticed that with remote and hybrid work, some folks now have more limited life experiences outside their home set-ups and its sometimes skewing insights with subjective opinions. Make sure you’re balancing data and insight to get to authenticity without subjective opinion getting in the way.
  4. Return on Objectives (ROO): Something we talk about at T1 all the time is the concept of “return on objectives” (ROO) – an essential metric alongside return on investment (ROI). ROO focuses on achieving objectives beyond financial gain, giving space for things like purpose-led initiatives. And all of your partners want to know what you’re trying to achieve besides just making money. So, communicate those objectives and early.
  5. Foster Community Engagement: There has always been a strong focus on nurturing community engagement in shopping centres, with a goal to inspire customers to keep coming back. And truly understanding the lasting importance of creating in-person experiences, especially for the younger generations like Gen-Z is key. We believe that by uniting people around brands and connecting with existing shopping centre communities, we can elevate shopper loyalty and financial success. While we acknowledged the importance of revenue, landlords want to be creative and are flexible when it comes to income generation. They’re willing to forego profits from lackluster experiences in favour of enriching the sense of community, challenging the common belief that ‘cash is always king.’
  6. Teaching Marketers and Planners: We really hammered home the idea of matching up brand partnerships with what makes each shopping mall special. We wanted to make it super easy for marketers and planners to get an understanding of what each property has to offer by creating quick, easy-to-digest educational content and hosting ‘lunch and learn’ sessions.

Our chat revolved around what could happen if we hit a rough patch with a recession, affecting marketing budgets. We all agreed that staying on the same page, learning constantly, and coming up with fresh ideas are the keys to success in retail marketing in Canada. Our main mission? Building a real sense of community and creating authentic and unique shopping experiences.

We dived deep into the detail of the retail world when we thought about how a recession could shake things up. Our top priority remained keeping up with what consumers want and serving up unforgettable experiences. Looking back, our discussion really highlighted that staying aligned, staying educated, and staying innovative are keys to success when it comes to unleashing the full potential of retail marketing in Canada. Plus, we can’t forget about nurturing that community spirit and making shopping centres truly shine!