How Walmart Creates Content for a Massive B2C Audience
As content marketers, we spend a lot of time talking about really knowing our audience, narrowing our focus, and sharing valuable information often and everywhere. We talk about knowing what makes your customers tick, and embodying everything your brand stands for.
But ultimately, this is a strategy that inherently favors B2B brands, particularly those with finite audiences and niche appeal. When you’re the largest retailer in the world, things are a little more tricky.
Kay Streit is a senior manager II of content and editorial strategy at Walmart eCommerce. Walmart.com aims to reach an enormous audience, one with wildly varied needs, tastes, and values. Streit faces the challenge of finding common motivators for such a large target audience, while also breaking that audience into more specific groups and delivering tailored content accordingly.
(Full disclosure: Walmart is a Contently client.)
Streit leads a robust in-house team that creates articles, slideshows, videos, buying guides, and other editorial features to help Walmart shoppers with their purchase decisions. She’s found that helping shoppers understand how to make both products and dollars stretch further works, and she leans on her experience in copywriting and psychology to do so.
I recently sat down with Streit at Content Marketing World to better understand what unique challenges B2C companies with massive target audiences face, how they take these on, and what she hopes is on the horizon for B2C content marketing.
Streit, middle, with Walmart eCommerce team members.
What is your go-to source for story inspiration?
You know, everything starts right now with the marketing calendar. We start by looking at all the big marketing initiatives and then we go back and look at what gaps we have. Then we try and pull stories from there. That’s really our bread-and-butter content.
We’re also working on creating a content series that is more episodic in nature—more cross-spots. For example we don’t focus on grocery. We focus on gatherings, throwing a party, having people over in the summertime, and what you can do to stretch your dollar. Walmart’s very much about: How do you throw a birthday party for your kid so that they can have all 25 of their friends come over and still have a bang-up birthday party? We’re looking at ways to give them utility that gives them a way to live a life more fully.
Got it. I’m going to rewind the clock. You came over to Walmart around 2011. What was marketing like at the time at Walmart and what was content’s role then?
When I first came in, the purpose of content was a space for ads. Over time, we expanded to really grow as more of a native advertising brand and content platform. My division has been taken out of marketing and put into customer experience, where we’re really now thinking less about it as a sales tool or a kind of paid content. We think of it more of it as a helpful tool for the customer.
Who is your biggest supporter of content at Walmart? Who roots for you internally?
Internally, probably our biggest partner is still our marketing partners because they understand that a lot of the tactics they have are not as effective as storytelling. At Walmart, everyone knows things are on sale, but that also creates a perception that things are cheap, or that things are less. That the Samsung TV you get at Walmart is of lesser quality than the same model Samsung TV that you get at Best Buy. That’s not the case actually. It’s because of the relationship that we have with that supplier, and that we are able to pull in a large base of customers. They also get a huge platform with us, so they don’t have to pay as much in advertising.
There you go.
The customer doesn’t know that and especially the millennial customer doesn’t know that, so they see it as lower quality.
So one of the interesting things that we discussed prior to this interview is that you come from a background of copy writing. We see traditional marketers trying to figure out journalism, journalists trying to figure out marketing… copy writers aren’t usually part of that equation. How did you jump the fence?
Sure. Actually, my degree is in news editorial journalism. When I graduated, the best jobs were in marketing and advertising, and so that was where I got a gig. What I really loved is that it was a combination of art and science, and it was very much about understanding consumer psychology.
When I first started getting into content marketing, or trying to get into that field, I got turned away by a few people. They said: “Well, you’re mar-com. We think you’re great, but we don’t think you necessarily have the chops to understand content marketing.”
I said: “Well, but I’m all about the psychology of the customer and getting to the heart of the story, of what matters to them. It’s not so much all this digital stuff. You have other people managing those pieces. You actually need to be telling a story, and getting into the customer’s head. Understanding the solutions that they’re looking for.”
That was where copywriting really helped me. It’s the psychological part.
So what advice do you have for any people who may have a less traditional background that really want to get into content marketing?
You know, as I see this industry take off, there’s so much room for so many different types of people. At Walmart.com, I’ve helped grow the organization from four people to team of fourteen. So in the last three years, not only have we impacted the value that the business places on content, but we’ve also shown how many different roles need to be displayed within a team that creates content. That’s whether you’re working with third parties or not.
You need people with a bunch of different skill sets. You need your test person to understand how that comes together. You need your SEO. You need your content marketer to understand the distribution. You need a team to manage, and create, and project-manage the content, and then you also need your creatives. I think there’s so much room for people to play many [roles] and specialize, too.
Let’s talk about the science. Walmart’s a company that’s known for its expertise in data management and understanding the customer. How do you understand what’s working within content that you produce?
We need to get better at that. I’m here at Content Marketing World to learn more. Right now, we use SiteCatalyst. That’s what the business uses. We are really looking for more ways, and we’ve actually talked to you guys about how we can get more qualitative. That’s really something that’s on the top of my docket going into next year: understanding. I want to know our customers, and I want to know where Walmart.com has the authority to talk to them about things.
We’ve got loads of data, but really understanding how content changes a brand perception is harder. At the end of the day, my team is being held accountable for frequency driving, so we’re really going to have to understand that psychology of the customer better rather than just data.
Would you say the B2B guys have it easier?
I envy them a lot, because it feels like the B2B side has been so catered to by the content marketing industry. There are so many tools that are developed for them. It’s such a niche. I’m even jealous of niche retail brands—I look at someone like Dot & Bo, somebody who can do things really focused.
It’s definitely difficult for Walmart, knowing the broad range of customers we have to serve, knowing the broad range of products that we carry. Content helps certain product categories more so than others; which are the right ones? It’s a whole big thing to piece out, and the scale of it is very challenging. So, on the B2B side, I’m jealous of how much they already have on their plates to actually help them day-to-day, and also just how streamlined their programs are.
What are you grateful for on the B2C side?
(Laughs) I am grateful actually for the opportunity to have to figure it out in a way, too. As much as I was just complaining, I really kind of like being in an underdog position. I kind of like that it’s so unknown because it’s hard. I’ve had many jobs that are easy. Actually, that is kind of why I left copywriting, because it was a little too just kind of “meh” for me. I need something that’s a little more. It’s like me having to chase the cattle around the field every day.
I think there are retailers that are doing a good job with their content, but I don’t think anyone has just cracked that nut, and really made it something that everybody’s like, “That’s the gold standard! We all need to follow that best practice!”
There’s so much room for exploration and improvement. We can only get better, and that is exciting for me.
I like that, and that’s why we come to places like Content Marketing World.
What’s your biggest takeaways from the last couple of days here?
Kristina Halvorson basically said everything that I’ve been thinking about. Her paper towels example, how “it’s a commodity and a utility.” It almost encapsulated everything that’s been going through my teams minds in the last few months. It’s that whole, “Where does Walmart have the place to do content?” We can do all of the articles around which crib to buy, and how to choose your mascara, and other things like that. It just seems so flat compared to what we could be doing.
The other cool things that I’m just being reminded is how important it is to get out. Again, I’m in Silicon Valley. I’m surrounded by all kinds of leading thinkers and all kinds of new technology, and still feel so walled off from the rest of the world sometimes. It’s really great to see what all these great brands are doing, what all of these great thought leaders are, jarring our minds and making us think into the future rather than our day-to-day. It’s just so important.
Perfect. You just touched on my last question I’ve been asking everyone here. Content marketing has been the underdog of the industry for a little while. We’re all a part of it. We’re all rooting for it. What are you hoping continues to evolve or change for the better in 2016?
I just want to see more measurements and more “Here’s how content works.” More playbooks. More of the kind of things that are laid out, you know, formulas that you can follow to make things work.
Even though I was saying I like to explore, it would be nice to start to see things being nailed down a little more, the way they have been in social. Also, it does feel a little bit like it’s hard to kind of keep up to the point where you can land. Somewhere to breathe so we can get something right. Just a little wind so we can actually move on.Image by Niloo/Shutterstock