Any retail media network (RMN) looking to scale must establish capabilities in sales, audience strategy, media activation, and reporting and insights. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for doing that, leaving many RMN teams wondering when to build their own tools or tech, when to buy pre-existing capabilities, and when to work with a partner. Each option has its merits, and a single RMN can mix-and-match its approach across different tools and technology. There are several key considerations for determining which options are best for your RMN business.

Where Do I Want to Have the Most Control?

The main benefit of building is that it offers control over a system’s architecture and capabilities, meaning that you can craft them to suit your needs. Audience strategy and analytics are differentiators in the RMN space and greater control means more options to create what your advertisers seek. It also gives you control over timelines and how nimble you can be. Ownership of reporting and activation capabilities, for example, makes testing and learning an easier, and likely quicker, process than if you work through a partner.

Building or partnering on a capability also allows you to keep information close to the vest and control the narrative. Some RMNs find this particularly valuable with audience segments and insights, since those can be sensitive areas from both a competitive advantage and data governance standpoint.

In general, the more you can own, the more power you have over that aspect of the operation — but there’s a tradeoff in time and resources when you build vs. buy or partner. Digging further into questions about why control is important can help you understand where that tradeoff makes sense.

In What Areas Can I Differentiate?

To add the most value for potential advertisers, prioritize building or buying (and, therefore, keeping more control) in areas where differentiation is possible. RMNs are exploding in popularity, and advertisers have many choices when deciding who to work with. A differentiated offering is critical for enticing advertisers to work with you.

In some areas, like sales and pipeline management, existing partner tools and technology for CRM and OMS are excellent. Barring unusually complex business needs, building your own CRM capability with proprietary processes or functionality is unlikely to set you apart. Instead, consider the areas where you can add value with your own customization.

For many RMNs, building their own insights and reporting environment can create value, especially if it enables closed-loop reporting to connect an advertiser’s media investments with actual sales at the retailer. Audience segmentation is also a popular “build” area where RMNs can leverage their first-party data to quickly construct audiences for brands to use in media activation efforts. These areas show the value of your data to advertisers and demonstrate how they can leverage your breadth of RMN offerings.

Each RMN’s ability to differentiate will vary based on its level of maturity and resources. It’s important to clearly define where your RMN can enhance the advertiser experience before jumping in. While technology resources and budget are critical parts of that equation, it must also include the people on board and the organizational design needed.

What Does My RMN Team Currently Look Like?

RMN teams often vary depending on the maturity of that arm of the business. Some organizations haven’t yet established the infrastructure to have dedicated decision makers and leaders for their RMN. In those cases, a consultative partner can help move the RMN forward and identify areas of opportunity. In other cases, a RMN team may lack delivery members to execute the day-to-day work. The decision to partner or build will likely depend on where gaps exist. For more specialized roles, like in audience strategy, building custom or off-the-shelf audiences can be harder, so a partner solution may be necessary to make progress quickly.

The decision to build, buy or partner is not one to be taken lightly. Organizations that want to build from the get-go because of the control it affords may not be able to make the required heavy upfront investment. In many cases, it makes sense to start with the buy or partner approach and transition into building; capabilities that start as “partner” don’t need to stay that way forever. RMN demand and interest is growing exponentially, and partners offer the expertise and infrastructure to help you get off the ground quickly and capture that demand. As your RMN becomes more mature, you can slowly build your own infrastructure, address your gaps, and bring key capabilities in house. Similarly, buying gives you a foundation that can evolve over time as your organization fine-tunes its RMN offering.

There’s no single right answer to the “build, buy or partner” question, but with careful planning and a strong understanding of your business’ strengths and weaknesses, you can find the right combination to meet your RMN’s exact needs.