Q&A   //   February 14, 2023

Instacart CMO Laura Jones on the company’s evolving shoppable ad strategy

Instacart is making large investments in shoppable ads, as its advertising business expands and matures.

When Instacart first got into advertising, “it started as sponsored product listings — and it was a very kind of nascent way for brands to stand out on the platform and start to shape customer behavior,” as the company’s chief marketing officer Laura Jones described it.

But Instacart’s brand and full-funnel array of advertising solutions have gotten bigger over the past year. Earlier this month, the grocery delivery platform launched its first series of shoppable tv commercials with Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Michelob Ultra, which aired during the NFL playoffs and were also meant to drum up excitement for the brewing giant’s Super Bowl campaign.

In March 2022, Instacart also launched shoppable recipes in partnership with TikTok and others, that let food influencers link to Instacart shopping lists in their content. In August, Instacart launched a new collection of inspirational shopping content and experiences with popular music artist Lizzo under the tagline “The World is Your Cart.”

Talking about the success of the Lizzo campaign Jones — who joined Instacart from Uber in 2021 — told Modern Retail that “it was a great example of finding this moment in culture where something really incredible was happening and thinking about the role that we could play in that moment. With Lizzo, seeing how much she has welcomed people into her life, her home and sharing her vegan recipes and her mom that just felt like such a fit.”

This year, as the company hopes to build out more shoppable ad campaigns, “the hot topic in the virtual halls of Instacart is building the brand and doing so in a full-funnel way that we drive performance out of it,” Jones said.

In an interview with Modern Retail, Jones spoke more about how Instacart hopes to evolve its ad business and the advancements it has made to its shoppable video strategy. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What have your priorities been since taking over as Instacart CMO officially in July?
I did take over the role in July, although I have been managing the entire marketing team for over a year now. The priorities are really threefold. I think first and foremost is scaling profitable growth — that has been a key company theme. And, obviously, marketing is a core engine for growth in any company. So, that is my top priority.

And then really shaping the brand itself. I am a believer that brand matters, brand can be a differentiator. And I think especially as a company matures, and as an industry matures, you have to move from just being a transactional service to something that people can fall in love with, and really have deep preference for. So, that has been another huge focus area and investment area.

And then the last is the team itself. As I mentioned, I brought together the marketing team under my leadership just over a year ago, and a lot of it has just been capability building and making sure that we have the right folks in place, the right skill sets and the ability to really scale our impact.

Why did Instacart choose to partner with Michelob Ultra for its first major CPG co-marketing campaign?
We’ve always had a really strong relationship with Anheuser-Busch, which is the parent company of Michelob. They were one of our first customers of the sponsored product [ad listings]. For Ultra, specifically, it’s actually been the number one most purchased beer on Instacart for the last nine months. So, we were confident that, with NFL playoffs being a large beer consumption opportunity and Ultra being a favorite of our customers, this would be a really great launch partner.

How has Instacart’s shoppable video strategy evolved over time?
As the team has evolved, as the business has evolved, we’ve been moving into different formats on our own platform. We’ve launched shoppable display, shoppable video and brand pages to really help move from just that low-funnel to more of a mid-funnel retail media experience. That helps people who might not be considering a product to move into that consideration, and then move through to purchase. So not just capturing that — ‘I was about to buy a beer anyway.’ But, ‘ooh, actually, beer sounds pretty good. I wasn’t thinking of having a beer. But I just saw that beautiful palm, and now I need one.’

So, we’ve definitely been on that journey on our own platform. And this next phase, I think, is a natural evolution of that to say we’ve really opened the funnel on our own platform. And we go even further up funnel, and really make all media shoppable, and really be the conversion layer for our brand partners. So to the extent that a brand partner is investing in linear TV, how do we help them capture that intent in that moment, and get that product into someone’s hand in under an hour. So, we’re just really excited about the ability to fulfill that demand in real time.

Specifically, how does Instacart plan to achieve these conversion goals?
I think it’s putting together different pieces, some of which have existed and some of which are newer capabilities. So if you take the Michelob Ultra series of spots, the user journey is: you view this ad and there is a QR code at the end. We all know what to do with the QR codes, thank you to the pandemic. The user can scan that QR code and land on a brand page. And that I would say is the ingredient that made this possible.

You can land on a page that Michelob has curated that is retailer agnostic, so depending on what your preferred retailer is, or what region you live in, you get to shop that merchandise from the appropriate retailer. It really takes out any complexity of having to accommodate the different geographic footprints.

What are the parameters by which you would gauge the success of this new campaign?
It’s all the classic things that as an advertiser you look at which is, of course, looking at purchases coming from that specific QR code, from that brand page. As well as looking at things like category share and share growth. And, incrementality is a big theme for us — and it’s something that we pride ourselves on being able to measure. For each partner that we work with, there will probably be different objectives: be that trial, be that continued engagement, reaching a new demographic, and with our own first-party data, we’ll be able to help them understand the impact.

What factors will be crucial in defining Instacart’s marketing strategy for the next few years?
One thing we’re talking a lot about is ‘brandformance,’ as we call it. This is recognizing that I think there’s a false dichotomy between brand and performance. The way that I want the team to be thinking about our marketing is integrated, full-funnel and really recognizing the role that each media touchpoint plays in shaping behavior.

Have there been any cutbacks in Instacart’s marketing division in response to the more general resetting of expectations e-commerce platforms are dealing with post the pandemic?
We feel confident about the future of the business. We’ve now proven that we do have sustained growth. And so, for me, as the head of our marketing team and really thinking about this investment, it’s not about cutting for us, it’s about making every dollar work harder. This is where, as the CMO, I feel a lot of kinship with the CMOs of our CPG partners, because we’re all in the same game. We’re all focused on ROAS, we’re trying to really make sure that the efficiency of every dollar is felt and adds to our profitability and our growth as a company, while also building that brand.

Is there any part of this job that still gives you sleepless nights?
I love the creative aspect of the job. The best sleepless nights are when you’re so excited about an idea that you just can’t get to bed, because you’re so excited about the potential and that’s something I really am trying to harness. I think the Lizzo campaign was a great example of finding this moment in culture where something really incredible was happening and thinking about the role that we could play in that moment.