Walmart was a disruptor long before the ecommerce boom, combining limitless products and low prices in towns across America. Though Walmart has been the nation’s largest retailer since the late ‘80s, the stratospheric rise of Amazon has posed a threat to the brand’s dominance.
However, Walmart has had a digital comeback over the last few years, even acquiring the Internet’s fastest-growing seller of CPG products, Jet.com.
As part of the WHOSAY ANA Masters of Marketing series we traveled to Walmart HQ in Bentonville, Arkansas and sat down with CMO Tony Rogers to discuss empathy, transparency and the company’s multi-channel future.
“So many people are used to a brick-and-mortar store down the street. It’s going to take a consistent drum beat to move people along the continuum of thinking of Walmart not just as a store, but also a huge website,” says Rogers. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to create more of what we call omni-channel customers.”
ClickZ: With 80% of transactions still happening in-store, how is Walmart making shopping and retail cool again?
Tony Rogers: That’s a really important point that sometimes gets lost in all this conversation about online shopping. In the short term, I think the challenge is to find ways to make it more fun and more entertaining to go to the store. What we call ‘retailtainment,’ where we have celebrities in the store or new products to sample, really resonates with people. The longer-term play is thinking about the Walmart shopping experience in 10 or 20 years. Do we de-emphasize categories that have become a bit more automated and lean more into things that require more of a physical interaction? In the future, I see things like healthcare, restaurants and personal services becoming a bigger part of the Walmart experience.
CZ: How are you planning to influence shoppers to adapt the new exciting technologies and mobile offerings at Walmart?
TR: Many of them are going to be mobile-based, like buying online with just the click of a button. We also believe the smartphone has the opportunity to be the best Walmart associate that ever lived. If someone is looking at where the ketchup is and trying to find a TV to buy, we can leverage artificial intelligence so the phone can play a role in making a great in-store shopping experience.
CZ: What role do social and digital influencers currently play in Walmart’s marketing mix?
TR: We believe the old adage that it’s better to have someone else say something good about you than it is to say something good about yourself. It’s not just about celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon; folks with video blogs and Twitter accounts are also extremely influential. For example, on a trip to London, my daughter didn’t want to see any of the touristy stuff you’d expect. All she wanted to do was get on a train and see this little town in England where her favorite YouTubers live. She wanted to visit the stores they shop at and see the people in the videos. That’s what showed me how powerful social media influences are.
CZ: Diversity and inclusion are huge issues in the industry at the moment. How has Walmart enabled and advanced women and diversity within the organization?
TR: That’s a big area of focus for us. I think 55% of our associates are women We’ve had a big women’s empowerment initiative for the last few years. We’ve also sourced $20 billion worth of products from women-owned enterprises.
I think being a good marketer means to have great empathy for your customer. I don’t think you necessarily need to be a woman to advertize to women, but a diverse team is important. You’d be amazed at how many advertising storyboards come in during football season, for example, that show guys on the couch watching the game and women in the kitchen behind them. Our team reflexively rejects that stuff now, which is exciting to me. We’ve really tried to make our advertising reflect a positive portrayal of American life, not further stereotypes about society.
CZ: What changes would you like to see in advertising and media next year?
TR: I would like to see more transparency and accountability. Traditional media measurement techniques are 30 years in the making. They’re refined, specific and reliable, but some of the digital channels require more cutting-edge techniques. I’ve noticed that not many people are able to reconcile the old and new measurements. We’re trying to do that ourselves. We’re really just asking, ‘If I had a dollar to spend, where should I spend it?’ It seems like a simple question, but it’s not always that simple.