How Walmart uses content marketing to sell – lessons for retailers

When the largest retailer in the US is building its strategy on content marketing, maybe it’s time for other retailers to sit up and pay attention?

Walmart, the American retail superpower is creating personal journeys for individual customers using big data and even bigger content.

“Content has ascended the marketing throne. Customers love content, they trust editorial content.” Donata Maggipinto, Creative Director, Content, Walmart.com says. ”We want content to be where (our customer) has a question, problem or needs an idea.”

This means serving up the right content, at the right time and right place on her journey through the Walmart.com site. “We sell millions of products across thousands of categories. These solutions are about going across the aisle into real life”, Maggipinto says.

“We know what our customer loves (based on buyer behaviour) and we curate content based on those unique needs. Set her on the path to purchase. Content needs to be fool-proof so she has confidence in her actions.”

Content marketing to attract and retain customers

Of course the ultimate goal is to attract and retain customers. “We use content at retail to build customer trust and guide the customer on the path to and through purchase”, Maggipinto says.

“Our audience are women fiercely loyal to home and family. Our content is geared towards helping them save money so they can live better”, Maggipinto says.

Walmart’s branded content chaperones these customers along the sales funnel as they plan, search, act, convert and engage with the brand. This requires ‘different types of content’ along the way.

The aim is to offer “Never-ending inspiration, beautiful imagery and intriguing ideas”, she adds.

Omni-channel content strategy

So how does it all come together? Maggipinto describes the ‘One Walmart, omni-channel strategy’ which creates a full content ecosystem around one big idea which threads through every other platform Walmart is on.

“We always start by asking ‘what is the customer thinking?’ For example, if it is Thanksgiving, will she be serving a sit-down meal? Is she so busy she’ll forget things? These questions give us the content she’ll need. So we create content like How to throw a simple dinner party. Positioning the content into the customer mind-set helps elevate it.” Maggipinto says.

The Adam Richman Meat campaign had over 2m views on YouTube with an average completion rate in the mid-80%. It was one of Walmart’s most successful to date.

Content hubs such as Food & Entertainment and Mother & Baby are “highly trafficked, have deep engagement and drive purchase in store”, she says.   Here customers can find recipes, slideshows, videos, checklists, community galleries, and a dynamic grocery list (introduced a year ago). The customer can download recipes and add ingredients to a grocery list. It’s also a rich advertising location for suppliers who want to attract customers when they are close to purchase.

Over time content continues to work hard, building page rank for specific terms. “Evergreen content on Walmart.com since 2010 is still doing well”, Maggipinto says.

Content sells an idea, not just a product

How Walmart uses content marketing is geared to selling an idea, not just a product. So, for example, the Hillshire Farm Vine videos sold the idea of a ‘Tailgate party’ that led to other product sales for paper plates and napkins.

Walmart also embraces ‘emotional storytelling’. “For example Growers’ stories help to create a connection with real people as well as the brand. Through video, customers can meet the farmers who grow our fresh produce. This helps crystalise reasons to believe. It humanises the brand”, she says.

“When Walmart shot its TV ads this year, Maggipinto says they shot everything else they needed for each channel, to get the greatest value from the content budget. She calls this ‘liquid content’. “If you can develop different types of content that will work across different channels at one time it really pays off”, she adds.

Content enhancing online ads

Customers also flock to Walmart’s weekly online ads. “We enrich these ads with content to upsell. E-commerce within content drives product-specific purchases during visitor lifecycle”, Maggipinto says. So, for example, an ad for peaches might link to content for peach jam, some of which is sponsored by suppliers.  Customers may need other ingredients too, so positioning content in this way leads to increased sales.

Another example of branded content is a beauty special for women planning to dare to bare their legs during the summer. The ‘Summerize your Legs’ content campaign resulted in 93% interaction/click.

Must-have content tips

For any company thinking of embracing a content marketing strategy, Maggipinto has this advice. “The content has to come from the voice rooted in brand. It must strike the right balance between utility, emotion and entertainment. It must be actionable. Content brings the brand’s purpose to life.”

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About Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is Managing Director of 256, a Dublin based Strategic Content Marketing Agency. An award winning journalist and publisher she has 25 years experience in creating hard working content assets for clients. She is Ireland's leading expert in content marketing strategy.