Walmart Positioned To Drive Omni-Channel Marketing In Global Retailing
The company's holistic approach is paving the way in retail. But columnist Josh Manion believes Walmart and other brands need to take steps to deliver on the promise of the omni-channel experience.
Shareholders who made the pilgrimage to Walmart’s annual meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, came away with one big message from CEO Doug McMillon. Speaking to 14,000 attendees, the leader of the world’s largest retailer threw down the gauntlet when it comes to omni-channel marketing, forever creating a baseline for the retail industry.
“I want us to stop talking about digital and physical retail as if they’re two separate things,” McMillon told attendees. “The customer doesn’t think of it that way, and we can’t either.”
Walmart taught us how to build a retailing empire, creating the textbook for serving customers at 11,000 brick-and-mortar stores globally. It’s No. 16 on the Forbes Global 2000 list of companies and among the top 20 most valuable brands on the planet. Now the company is committing to engage customers holistically across offline and digital channels, effectively serving notice that “old school retailing” failing to integrate the full customer experience is on its way out.
In other words, Walmart’s announcement makes it clear that omni-channel marketing is fast becoming the de facto standard in retail. Given the complexity of global companies, that’s not easy.
But McMillon put the focus squarely where it should be when he said, “One customer can shop with us in so many different ways — in stores, on their phones, at homes, a pick-up point. But they just think they’re shopping at Walmart, at ASDA, at Sam’s Club.”
Think Big, But Start Small
I believe Walmart is right on track as it commits new investments to technology and the omni-channel customer experience. And if I were to sit down with Walmart to talk about the company’s long-term global marketing strategy, I’d start by acknowledging the impressive steps the retailer has already taken to getting closer to its customers.
I’d tell the company’s team: “You’ve placed big bets globally on mobile with your shopping apps, which is smart, given that more than half of your customers have smartphones. You’ve also placed your brick-and-mortar stores strategically, with two-thirds of the US population living within five miles of a Walmart.”
Nonetheless, I’d conclude by telling the Walmart team how critical it is to bring it all together and develop a single view of the customer. The obstacles to building an omni-channel strategy often have to do with collecting enough granular data at the level of an individual and then acting on it real time, seamlessly, across all channels. It’s a combination of data, analytics and actionability.
Many marketers struggle to make any data, big or small, work for them. Focusing on the sheer volume of information can be a hindrance. Starting with the customer journey is the key to understanding what data is needed and when, and it will help guide marketers to the most effective approaches.
A Single View Of The Customer
For decades, the advertising industry has talked about reaching the right consumer, at the right time with the right message. When done right, it’s magical. When done wrong, at best it’s a one-time lost opportunity. and at worst it’s a forever-lost consumer.
Omni-channel marketing is the key to getting these powerful “micro-moments” right. But to execute on omni-channel requires having a single view of the customer — otherwise, how do you know what’s the right experience and message for that moment? Below are some initial steps that need to be addressed by Walmart and all organizations that are looking to deliver on their brand promise:
• Unify Data Silos. Be aware that the challenge in omni-channel marketing is to have data that are both sufficiently granular and complete. No source should be overlooked in building a single view of the customer.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere listened in on customer service calls during his early months as the company’s new leader, giving him a “visceral window into the public’s angst,” as Fast Company described it, and also acute insight into how he would take on his biggest competitors, Verizon and AT&T.
Of course, you don’t have to sit in on calls to integrate call center data into the equation. Rather, Legere’s experience reflects the fact that no source of information about customers should be overlooked, offline or online. It all needs to be integrated to execute omni-channel marketing well.
• Create User Profiles. It’s easy to lose the thread as individual consumers bounce across multiple platforms, devices, calls and in-store visits.
Having data consolidated at the level of the individual consumer makes it possible to create unified global profiles that enable marketing to deliver more value to each person. These profiles combine data at the user level from many different visitor sessions across multiple channels and devices, as well as relevant offline information.
• Take Action. The end goal, of course, is to act on information enabling you to recognize visitors as individuals. These rich profiles allow for right-time delivery of relevant content or action. They can be used to support a variety of real-time actions out of your marketing technology stack, including content management systems, recommendation engines and other personalization tools.
Omni-channel marketing requires a long-term commitment to execute, scale, manage, measure and optimize these capabilities. The pragmatic view says: Start small, start now, and don’t lose sight of the end game.