Walmart CMO Tony Rogers on Time, Money and Message

Ten years ago, Walmart embarked on a mission to establish an emotional connection with its customers. It struck gold in the form of an archived video from 1992 capturing founder Sam Walton’s comments after receiving the medal of freedom from George H.W. Bush.

If we work together, we’ll lower the cost of living for everyone. We’ll give the world an opportunity to see what it’s like to save and to have a better life
— Sam Walton

Since then, Walmart’s mission to “save people money so they can live better” (and its edited version, “Save money. Live better.”) have served as a multi-purpose mantra for Walmart globally, across every corporate division and consumer touch point, even as its business continues to evolve far beyond its brick-and-mortar base. It may have taken time for Walmart to craft a crisp statement of purpose, but based on Walmart's Chief Marking Officer, Tony Rogers' recent presentation, the end result was worth the wait.

TENDING BOTH SIDES OF THE HOUSE

Delivering on the promise to help customers “save money” is becoming more difficult as shoppers compare prices online and as free shipping and free returns for online purchases become table stakes. Shoppers’ relentless expectations for value are more resolute than ever. According to Rogers, money is always top-of-mind for Walmart shoppers.

That doesn’t mean that its “live better” premise gets a pass, though. Rogers pointed out that time has caught up with money in terms of importance, and the two are, in many ways, inextricably linked. Shoppers want to save money, but not at the expense of their time. According to Rogers, online grocery shopping, and the ability to have items brought out to shoppers’ cars at a nearby Walmart store, has time-starved customers saying, “you’ve brought me back.” Walmart currently offers this service in 50 markets, with plans to roll it out further, along with its much-publicized mobile wallet service, Walmart Pay.

CONVENIENCE CONUNDRUM

Retailers have been experiencing a bit of a convenience conundrum as different customers define convenience in different ways and as a single customer defines convenience differently depending on the usage occasion, time of day, category being shopped, or countless other variables. Walmart is making bold moves to close any gaps by attacking convenience on multiple fronts and leveraging its considerably physical scale in order to make it happen.

SHIFTING SEGMENTS

As shoppers have a multitude of options today, the creation of effective customer segmentation models is a moving target for retailers. Rogers revealed the four main customer segments that Walmart is currently tracking:

  1. Busy families – Rogers put busy families are at the top of the list, since, with 26 million households in the U.S., it is the largest consumer group and the hardest to cater to. If Walmart can earn the dedication of busy families, the remaining populations should be easier to satisfy.
  2. Active savers – At 43 million households, active savers comprise a diverse mix of young and old singles and couples, many of whom are planning and saving for kids or retirement.
  3. Older unconnected – There are still households out there that don’t shop online – about 21 million of them. These folks are over 55 and more concerned with savings than with managing time constraints.
  4. Urban connected – Mostly kid-free and predominantly middle class, the 30 million households in the urban connected segment comprise young and older shoppers who live in dense urban centers.

BETTING ON BUSY FAMILIES

Rogers provided additional color on the much-coveted busy families. The segment mainly includes large, multi-cultural, middle-income families with millennial and Gen X parents who have college or post-graduate degrees. For busy families, saving money is a priority, but at the same time, life is a juggling act, and time is precious. Convenience options like the ability to shop online and pick up in a store parking lot has proved “life-changing” for these shoppers so it is no wonder that Walmart is accelerating rollouts for the service.

MARKETING'S HEARKENING

Walmart’s marketing effort hasn’t created buzz for a while, but based on Rogers’ presentation, all of that is set to change. Actually, the day after Roger’s presentation, Walmart created stir in the ad world through the announcement of its partnership with mega-agency, Publicis Groupe. The relationship promises to consolidate a large portion of Walmart’s U.S. advertising and creative work under a newly created entity within Publicis. Interestingly, the Martin Agency, Walmart’s agency of record since 2007 and the agency credited with producing Walmart’s workhorse slogans, “Save money. Live better.” And “Low prices. Everyday.” is purported to be on the chopping block or at least will be working at a greatly reduced capacity with Walmart as a result of the new Publicis partnership.

In the meantime, Rogers outlined three “vectors of work” that guide Walmart’s advertising and communications strategy beginning this back-to-school season and extending into the back half of the year.

  1. Item/price – Rogers showed several versions of 15-second spots that reintroduce an animated “smiley” and focus on price and usage occasions. Rogers noted that these bite-sized ads aren’t just less expensive, they’ve also proven more effective than longer versions.
  2. Quality – Any retail watcher who hasn’t been hiding under a rock knows that fresh is a hot category in retail these days and one that Walmart is determined to dominate. In this regard too, Walmart is cooking up short-form ads that draw attention to the quality of its fresh offerings, along with local sourcing. Each ad ends with the invitation to “try it at Walmart’s low prices” and here, Walmart’s “spark” icon takes center stage rather than the former smiley.
  3. Brand experience – Rogers indicated that ads focusing on brand experience will accelerate later in the year, with a major ramp up around the holiday season. The focus will be on the “live better” vibe, drawing connections between Walmart customers, associates and communities.

Rogers said that “the next big thing” will be the ads Walmart runs during the Olympics and encouraged attendees to watch for them.

Walmart has announced a steady stream of big things over the past several months. Now it is putting some real marketing muscle behind them.