Walmart's Andy Murray Gives Creative Calls to Action

Andy Murray, SVP of Creative & Marketing, Walmart U.S.

Andy Murray, SVP of Creative & Marketing, Walmart U.S.

Carol Spieckerman's between-the-lines take on Andy Murray's recent presentation:

I’m a big believer in the power of three and Andy Murray appears to be another disciple, based on his presentation to the Bentonville Bella Vista Chamber’s WalStreet supplier group. In it, drawing from his years of experience in the agency world and his first year as SVP of creative and marketing operations for Walmart U.S., Murray shared three takeaways, his three areas of focus going forward and three final calls to action.

As retailers evolve into massive ecosystems that include physical, digital, services, solutions, content, big data, and more, the world of “creative” has expanded far beyond traditional boundaries in order to support all of these areas. At the same time, thanks to unprecedented media fragmentation and the proliferation of digital, social, and mobile platforms, getting the right message to the right shoppers at the right time has turned into a dart throw. Retailers aren’t hurting for venues of expression. Telling cohesive stories is the challenge.

Although Murray was amazed by how well a relatively small team had been managing the complexity of Walmart’s creative ecosystem prior to his arrival, three opportunity areas were immediately clear.

1.       Build a creative engineAccording to Murray, Walmart had been using the creative process to figure out strategy, rather than starting with strategy and then developing workflows and processes that “gave time back” to creative. In addition to revising Walmart’s brief-writing and submission process, Murray formed an ideation team. Doing so instituted a new hierarchy that puts ideas front and center and makes the media for transmitting them a secondary consideration.

2.       Bring back emotionPrice is so central to Walmart’s premise that supplementary ideas can easily been seen as irrelevant distractions. A video snippet from Walmart’s highly-publicized American jobs campaign dispelled the myth that that showing emotion comes at a price. The ad campaign effectively showcases Walmart’s price leadership and its highly-publicized commitment to supporting American manufacturing while tugging at heart strings through real-life portrayals of workers empowered by manufacturing ramp-ups. A follow-up clip from a Procter & Gamble commercial featuring domestic manufacturing of Tide detergent demonstrated how smart brands can ride in Walmart’s wake by tying into its key themes.

3.       Create integrated media ideas Specific media are no longer the starting point for projects and campaigns. Murray’s team now vets ideas based on how well they play across all social media platforms. Story boards are created for each that dictate optimal content formats (video for YouTube and stills for Pinterest, for example) and ensure seamless and synergistic story-telling across all mediums.

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With a year of creative reboots under his belt, Murray outlined the following as his three areas of focus going into year two, all of which signal new ways of working for Walmart suppliers.

1.       Build shopper marketingShopper marketing and its accompanying path to purchase premise have shaped the retail zeitgeist for quite some time, but that doesn’t mean that retailers have mastered their understanding of it. In fact, most have arguably ceded shopper marketing strategy to their brand marketing partners. I’ve predicted a turn of the tables on that front for a while, and Murray seemed to signal a shift at Walmart when he spoke of seeking “alignment,” a “point of view” and “common language” that will define shopper marketing collaborations with suppliers. A word to the wise: Walmart will set shopper marketing standards, and with standards will come accountability. Murray’s visual flash of Walmart’s ten principles of shopper marketing may admittedly have been fleeting, but these principles will become common practice among suppliers soon enough.

2.       Elevate the in-store experience – Murray’s charge that Walmart’s current in-store experience is similar to what it was in 2006 could be fairly leveled at any number of retailers (hey, digital build-outs can eat up resources). Here again, Murray brought up the need for a point of view (i.e. standards) and consistency on the part of suppliers. Murray heralded the end of the “arms race” among suppliers to build the “biggest and wackiest” in-store displays, and a shift toward more customer-centric environmental planning. He pondered possibilities such as developing style guides for PDQs that would support brands’ premises without destroying sight lines, for example. I wasn’t picking up any scorched earth, Project Impact vibes here, but suppliers might well prepare for another wave of clutter-clearing. Soon, stores will function more like media outlets than stand-alone channels anyway, so any jarring inconsistencies there will be seen as compromising brand clarity across other touch points. 

3.       Create sharable contentRetailers can’t stop talking about content, and user-generated content (UGC) is the sweetest of all, as the seemingly endless stream of ALS bucket challenge videos and their progeny make clear. Amazon’s $1.1 billion acquisition of Twitch, a platform whose offbeat premise centers around gamers watching other gamers play games, is another recent eye-popping example of the value that retailers are placing on engaging content. Murray wants to double-down on sharable content that allows and encourages participation, and even better if it comes from suppliers. I’ve been banging on about why suppliers should forge content partnerships with retailers for years, but Walmart stands out as a retailer that has continuously issued open invitations to its suppliers. Murray did so again in his presentation, citing how-to videos, tips, and recipes as worthy fuel for Walmart’s content engine. He also noted that the technologies being utilized by WMX, Walmart’s recently-launched digital targeting, buying, and optimization platform (and ad-world eye-raiser), allow Walmart to pixelate content and advertising and track it to sales. This means that no more “not everything that matters can be measured” excuses need be made by content marketers who partner with Walmart.

When asked to identify additional front-burner partnership opportunities for suppliers, Murray didn’t mine the usual merchant-centric comfort zones. Instead, he mentioned the Internet of objects (more commonly called the Internet of things or IoT). Although Murray tied in a personal story about him jerry-rigging a lamp in his home in order to signal his tech-averse wife to call him, IoT is by no means a fringe movement propelled by the geekier-than-thou. Google’s $3.2 billion purchase of smart home start-up Nest Labs in January sped things along and gave IoT a credibility kiss, but many others, including many major retailers are taking up the mantle in one way or another.

Murray wrapped up with a final trifecta of takeaways that also struck me as supplier signals.

1.       Focus on the workAccording to Murray, it’s in the work that you find your answers, so if you’re an agency CEO working with him, you’d better know your work at the granular level. He is likely to probe the reasons behind font and color choices, and you’ll be expected to understand the technologies that you are working with and be able to demonstrate other creative fluencies as well. Murray may have been talking about agency relationships, but this is an important call-out for suppliers of all stripes. First, C-level involvement will be expected going forward and second, talking heads need not enter. I’ve been presenting a lot about how the retail world will soon be flat(ter), as retailers become more technology-focused and model after the technology start-ups that they’ve begun to fancy as acquisition targets, with Walmart being the most aggressive on this front. The layered organizations that made sense a few years ago no longer will. That means faster decision-making and greater agility on the part of retailers, and a quicker route to top retail decision-makers for companies that are mirroring retailers’ start-up sensibilities. It also means that top-level executives will be more visible and accountable than ever before. 

2.       Speed makes you better – Murray made a short but sweet point here, that the only competitive advantage is speed. He’s right. Getting there first is something you can control, shutting others out of your space probably isn’t. That’s why companies like Amazon are attacking new businesses and categories and worrying about profits later and why upstarts like Uber are doing the same. Walmart is moving faster than many give it credit for, and smart suppliers would do well to follow.

3.       Be a SherpaMurray’s most concise point, that the overarching goal is to get everybody up the mountain, pointed to suppliers’ biggest opportunity: as Walmart ascends to its next creative summit, its suppliers can do the same, right alongside the world’s largest retailer.

Like this article? You'll probably also dig Carol's take on Walmart COO, Gisel Ruiz' presentation. 

Want to learn more about how to put these and other retailer hot buttons into action? Ping Carol for more on her one-day Retail positioning workshops and speaking engagements.