Janine Flaccavento is the senior vice president of media services and new stream media solution lead at Merkle/CXM, a leading data-driven, technology-enabled performance marketing agency. In this interview with the Inner Circle, Flaccavento shares details about her role at Merkle, her leadership style, the retail trends she’s closely tracking, and much more!

Inner Circle: Let’s start by talking a bit about Merkle. What types of services does it offer?
Janine Flaccavento: Retail is in a state of reimagination — one that requires customer understanding as an essential part of every touchpoint. To that end, Merkle focuses its core offering on being a customer experience management company by helping brands understand consumer insights to drive personalized customer experiences. In retail, our experts work to redefine customer experience through identity solutions, technology, and activation as well as help retailers drive organizational change. As a strategic partner, we look for new ways for retailers to drive revenue and increase profits.

IC: What are you tasked with in your current role, and what do you most enjoy about it?
JF: My role takes a lot of the pieces I mentioned above and brings them into one offer — new stream media. The New Stream Media practice aims to develop new revenue streams for a retailer through monetization, whether that’s the monetization of data, insights, digital media, in-store media or personalized creative. What I love is the fact that each week the definition of this job evolves. Each new ad solution, new technology, or new request from a brand has us rethinking what’s possible and reimagining the monetization strategies for retailers.

IC: What are some retail trends you’re currently tracking?
JF: The retail trend that I’m most excited about is the potential to link loyalty and retail media. This is a natural evolution of both programs to eventually comingle. With changing shopping behaviors, loyalty allows retailers to learn more about their customers, far beyond just what they buy. Retail media can then allow a retailer to activate on this data and create personalized experiences for unique audiences. As a marketer, I’m closely watching how retailers are bringing personalization to life. Relevance is always important, but I’m interested to see how far we can take personalized experiences, from creative to offers to different ways to browse and buy.

IC: It’s a fact: Consumer behavior has changed because of the pandemic. Can you talk about some ways you believe it has changed, and how retailers must change to meet consumers’ needs?
There are so many changes to note. New habits is the first one. We all know of the explosive growth of e-commerce and social commerce in the last 21 months, but many habits haven’t reverted to pre-COVID. I still order 80 percent of my consumables and household goods via a service, such as Shipt. And while Target is losing my “surprise and delight” dollars because I’m not roaming the store, it is making up for it in frequency because every member of my household now has the app and adds items to cart throughout the day as things run out.

The second change is a new (older) generation of shoppers who tried brands and retailers they never had before. Winning and building long-term loyalty with these customers, who were previously not interested in switching brands or changing behavior, is all about continuing to make their lives easier with offerings like more seamless technology, click-and-collect, or delivery.

The third change is a need for virtual shopping experiences that rival that of in-store. Who is ever going to try on lipstick in a store again? From makeup to clothing, to furniture, to even sampling, when shoppers aren’t walking store aisles, retailers need to find ways for them to experience new brands on their terms.

IC: How does Merkle meet the needs of retailers that are communicating with a new type of consumer?
JF: Our focus has always been a data-driven one. This allows us to ensure our approach isn’t product centric or channel specific, but instead customer first. We build seamless experiences across channels and use omnichannel learnings to optimize the customer’s journey, regardless of where they’re shopping. In order to achieve business agility, we offer automated and integrated processes that can adapt quickly to shifts in behavior. This is important for retailers scaling new approaches or ways of working, like a retail media offering. Launching dynamic creative — e.g., as part of a retail media network — can help a retailer communicate with different audiences in an automated way that’s easy to scale and hyperpersonalized.

IC: Let’s switch gears a bit: I would love to hear more about your leadership style. How would you describe it?
JF: I’m an entrepreneur at heart, which is why I’ve found a home at Merkle. I look for that spirit in my team and lead with the same energy. I want to hear about new ideas, new approaches, and try new ways of solving our clients’ problems. I work with incredible experts. It’s truly amazing the talent, curiosity and passion they bring to work every day. And because our work requires so many voices — from media, to technology, creative, analytics and media sales — we all learn from each other and are all excited to leave a meeting smarter than we were before.

IC: How are you motivating your team right now, especially with so much uncertainty in the world?
JF: This has never been harder. I like to put out a lot of energy and I also like to get that energy back, and this is something that’s difficult to do via a conference call. We host virtual team meetings to bring groups together to celebrate successes, monthly virtual happy hours to get to know each other outside of work (I stink at online Pictionary), and Merkle has done a great job hosting town halls and team events. That said, I’m ready to get back into the world and see people.

IC: What are you most looking forward to, personally and professionally, as we close 2021 and enter 2022?
JF: Professionally, I’m excited for 2022 to make plans to meet clients and team members at conferences, such as Women in Retail Leadership Summit, and in person. I’m also excited to see what’s next for retail and how the innovations in development this year launch and make an impact.

Personally, I’m looking forward to shutting down my computer for a week and spending some time with my family over the holidays. The NHL Winter Classic is in Minneapolis this year, so I’ll be in the stands kicking off the year right!