Think you’ve got content
challenges? Imagine trying to tell the story of Walmart, a massive company with
nearly 11,000 stores under 65 banners in 28 countries – plus huge e-commerce
websites in 11 countries.
How does the retailer break
through the noise? Which digital content channels does it use to talk about its
culture, business moves, employees, and philanthropic efforts?
To find out we recently
chatted with Chad Mitchell,
Senior Director, Digital Communications at Walmart, about the company’s corporate
Check out the Q&A below
to find why Walmart built a “content factory,” as well as how it approaches social media, blogging, and responding to critics:
Q: Fill in the blank, the best content _______?
A: The best
content is emotional and thought provoking; it evokes some sort of emotion from
The impression that you’re
trying to leave with your readers may vary – whether you want them to be sad,
angry, happy, joyful, whatever – but in order for people to care about a piece
of content and to share it, it has to evoke emotion.
Q. How does emotional content fit at Walmart? What’s
its role and how do you evoke emotions with your content?
A: We’ve got a great story to tell at Walmart. What
inspires all of us that work here to get up and do our jobs is that we serve 245
million customers around the globe each week. We have 2.2 million associates
that work for Walmart around the globe. We have the ability to change the
world; at other brands you don’t have that same size and scale.
When we do something – such
as make a commitment to hire veterans, or raise wages for associates – the
ability to do it at the scale that we do is amazing. It is emotional work here
and to see the reaction of our associates, to see the reaction of our customers,
to see the reaction of people in the places where a Walmart has been built.
There are a million great
stories that we have the ability to tell. What our team does is work to manage
the company’s reputation and the perceptions of the company. We work to make
sure people understand the true story of Walmart beyond the brick-and-mortar
stores, beyond the e-commerce transactions; that they understand the lives that
we touch, the associates that we employ, the non-profit groups that our
foundation is able to work with.
When we think about our
channels and the content that we create, that’s our mission and that’s our
focus. We then use content marketing and/or promoted content to reach the
audiences who would most be willing to hear those stories. We want people to
engage with those stories, to interact with us, to have meaningful questions
and enter it to a dialogue on topics, whether they’re skeptical of the brand or
It’s definitely not a
boil-the-ocean kind of approach, where we want to create content and distribute
it to everyone. We’re focused on our audiences.
Q: You mentioned addressing people that are fans of
the brand, people that are critics of the brand, and reaching people who just
want to know about Walmart as a company; how do you come up with content that
accomplishes those goals?
Fortunately I don’t do it alone, it’s informed by a lot of data; we’ve done an
exhaustive amount of research.
We have a good understanding
as to who visits our channels, who are the audiences that we need to talk to on
key issues; we then strive to understand which types of content evoke that emotion
that I talked about earlier.
So through things like A/B
testing we can see if the messaging is connecting, and whether we’re best
served by developing an infographic, creating a video, using text, whatever the
My advice for brands is to
spend a lot of time understanding your audience and the kinds of content that
they want. You obviously need to understand your own organization’s mission and
goals, but then you have to understand how your audience is going to respond
when you’re trying to tell your stories.
Q: On your LinkedIn profile you mention having created
a “content factory” at Walmart; can you talk a bit about that process?
A: Well, several
years ago when we started conceptualizing what our digital team should look
like, and what our communications function should look like, we adopted this
mantra of a “content factory.”
Quite frankly, it was nothing
unique, we learned a lot from Coca-Cola and watched them as they transitioned
their corporate website into a digital magazine (Coke Journey). We spent
a lot of time with their team understanding how they did that.
Then we pulled in some in-house
resources as well as some external freelance writers to create content. It’s
quite an undertaking for a corporate communications shop to suddenly become
more of a digital marketing organization.
Initially our “factory” was
more conceptual, but over the past year and a half we’ve been able to get it up
and running. We’ve grown from 3 people to about 11.
Now we can create content in
a much more nimble way – perhaps not quite on-the-fly in real-time, but close.
So if we see something trending, we now have the ability to engage with it.
That speed is so important.
For example, earlier this
week the White House announced an initiative on climate change, and we were one
of the companies that was included in that announcement. If we’d waited weeks
to have a piece of content ready then we would have lost the ability to be
relevant in the moment.
We’ve gotten to a place where
the “content factory” is much more realized than conceptual. It’s still a small
factory, with very few people working in it, but we are a mighty group that cranks
out a lot of content when we need to.
One thing to be aware of is
maintaining quality. The digital landscape has evolved in a way that folks are
creating a lot of content; when it’s not done right, it’s bad. I heard somebody
once call it being a “content polluter.” You don’t want to create content for the
sake of it; it needs to be smart, strategic, and relevant.
Q: You’ve got an excellent mix of stories on the Walmart corporate blog, ranging from
high-level policy pieces to consumer-centric posts – how do you approach
really through trial-and-error. We publish content then watch to see how it
performs, to see what’s resonating. We then take those findings and apply them
next time and to see if it happens again. The key is to not be afraid to admit
when something doesn’t work.
With 11,000 locations around
the world, there are so many things we can talk about; from what’s going on in
our stores, to what we’re doing with associates, to what’s going on with the
products, to all of the things that we do from a corporate standpoint. In the
early days of me joining the team, we probably went a little too far in terms
of the sheer volume of content we were producing; there wasn’t as much
We recently relaunched our corporate
blog, as Walmart Today, and we tightened
its purpose and messaging. We’re trying to answer these three fundamental
questions: What’s happening at Walmart stores? Who is Walmart? And, how are we
helping our associates, our customers, and our communities today?
Q: How do you view social media and paid social in
terms of accomplishing your goals?
A: Social is
integral to how we get messages out and how we connect with audiences. In
particular, we use it to build relationships and reach audiences that some of
our other channels don’t deliver on.
For us, understanding the
demographic and user-behavior differences of the various networks has really helped
to shape specific strategies; we use Twitter much differently from how we use
Facebook and LinkedIn.
We also use social to get our
company statements out in a much more conversational way, as opposed to
traditional press releases. We did this recently here in Arkansas as
legislation was moving through the State House.
In terms of paid social, we’ve
experimented with a number of different things. It goes back to finding where a
heavy concentration of potential readers is, and then developing plans to reach
Your corporate blog is very
unlikely to become a destination spot for people. It’s not the first thing
they’re going to check when they roll out of bed. So you have to look at: where
are people going for their information? And, how do you get your story in those
Q: What’s your favorite piece of content created by Walmart?
A: In terms
of understanding the role that we could play in creating content, it was when we
responded to a New York Times op-ed around 18 months ago.
There were a whole lot of
things in the piece that we felt were inaccurate, that were misrepresenting the
company. We thought through the best response and ended up redlining
the op-ed, much like a teacher would do to your paper in elementary school.
Then we used our blog to publish it.
It was notable for two reasons:
First, it was a bit risky; it definitely broke from the way you would
anticipate a brand responding to something like that. Second, it showed what we
could do when the “content factory” was running – the team conceived the idea
quickly, got it into creative right away, and within a short period of time we
were able to respond.
Another favorite is what we
did in February when we announced
some additional benefits and wage increases for our associates. The way we
are able to work with our CEO to develop content for a number of different
outlets — from our blog, to Instagram, to Facebook – was a true omnichannel undertaking.
So it wasn’t one singular piece of content, it was the ability to take a
content idea and adapt it for multiple channels.
Q: Which other companies do you look to for
inspiration when it comes to branded content and content marketing?
A: When it comes to content
that reinforces or changes people’s perceptions of a brand’s reputation, I
think Wells Fargo is doing a nice
job. For a lot of different reasons really make you feel good about what
REI does some really great
stuff online, some excellent storytelling.
Also, as I mentioned before,
we’ve also always looked at Coke and admire what they’re doing.
Q: What do you think people will be talking about at
Content Marketing World two years from now? What do you think content marketing
will look like in general or from Walmart’s perspective?
A: I wish I knew, because I
could make a fortune. If you were a futurist and knew for certain where things
were going to go, and which channels were going to develop, I’m sure you could
be a millionaire a thousand times over.
As someone with a journalism
degree I have remember the integrity and ethics that were associated with
traditional journalism. The word “journalist” has changed dramtically as the
explosion of digital communications and social media have put pressure on media
entities to get a story first. I don’t like the sensationalized ‘gotcha
journalism’ that seems to have become the norm.
Moving forward, I think we’re only going to see more of it.
Also, what are the challenges
that are going to come up with advertising? I believe that there will
eventually be pretty dramatic steps taken with native advertising; it’s a
tactic that at times can be incredibly misleading. The FTC and the FCC have
gotten involved in just about every other other matter concerning
communications and disclosure, so I believe that we’re going to see a change
there. What that then leads to, I don’t know. If somebody knows then I’d love
to know what it is.
I think we just have to be
nimble and ready to respond; we have to continue to understand where our
audiences are going and how you create content for them.