Wal-Mart SVP John Andrews: In Touch with In-Store

The following is newmarketbuilders’ latest blog coverage as the official bloggers for all Bentonville Champion (Wal-Mart vendor) events: 

The last of the Bentonville Chamber Champion’s events for 2007 drew a vendor and media-packed house today as  John Andrews, senior marketing manager for Wal-Mart, presented his cut-to-the-chase presentation:  “Working with Wal-Mart Marketing:  New Opportunities for Growth!” Speaking with Mr. Andrews prior to his presentation I learned that he arrived at Wal-Mart approximately 6 months ago from Raleigh North Carolina, where he was vice president of marketing for Implus Footcare, a start-up diversion in a career filled with supplier-side marketing gigs with biggies such as Verbatim, Eastman Kodak, Sara Lee and Newell Rubbermaid.  His current position at Wal-Mart has him focusing on “dry grocery;” however, thankfully, his presentation didn’t betray that more narrow slant and instead provided a wide view of Wal-Mart’s current marketing direction . . . or more accurately, Wal-Mart’s expectation that its suppliers will integrate with the mega retailer’s current and future marketing direction. 

Those expecting a big reveal of hot-off-the-press marketing initiatives and consumer segmentation model updates may have been disappointed . . . Mr. Andrews stuck to Wal-Mart’s marketing story: They are still targeting the “price/value,” “brand aspirational” and “price sensitive affluent” consumers and the more recent marketing mantra of “Save money, live better” lives on.  I found this a relief.  Did anyone really want all of that to change?  Consistency counts and in this case, it opened the door to more nuanced messages that are just as important for vendors to hear when P.R.I.S.M and store-as-media are all the rage (see last week’s blog posting)

In our coverage of previous Wal-Mart presentations, we teased out the beginnings of a store-as-brand (vs. store-that-has-brands) vibe at Wal-Mart . . . Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn’s presentation a few months ago and more recently, both Chief Information Officer Rollin Ford’s and Soren Mills’ (of dot com see coverage below) alluded to changes in perspective.  Well, our blog tagline isn’t “always right, sometimes early” for nothing . . . One of the first initiatives mentioned by Mr. Andrews was “building the Wal-Mart brand” . . . and perhaps secondarily, building the brands housed within Wal-Mart.   How do you do you accomplish both without getting into a my-brand-is-better-than-your-brand contest with the world’s largest retailer? 

Heeding Wal-Mart vendor marketing passwords, “alignment,” “theme” and “integration” would be a good start.  That is, vendors need to get into alignment with Wal-Mart’s marketing themes and take an integrated approach to implementation . . . and that doesn’t mean that you should bring your already-developed national marketing campaign to Wal-Mart and say, “So where do I plop this digital sign and POP?” Instead, Wal-Mart will make a deal:  If you’ll align with Wal-Mart’s programs and integrate your corporate and category programs accordingly, they in turn will integrate “from shelf forward” and they’ll coordinate efforts internally across merchandising, marketing and operations.  How’s that sound?  . . . Pretty tasty; however, if you think that staying comfy in a buyer-to-vendor world will do the trick, you may be wrong.  Mr. Andrews is challenging vendors to establish relationships beyond the buying office and to include category-appropriate Wal-Mart marketing teams in early-stage planning (I can hear our clients saying “You told me so”).

Loaded questions posed to the audience . . . “How many people are using our style guides?” (Crickets) “How many people know that we have them?” (Panicked crickets).  Ruh roh.  Mr. Andrews called Wal-Mart style guides a “key tool” and Back-To-School 2008 is out now. Now I know what that cacophony of tones I heard from across the street was at about 1:30 today . . . the sound of roughly 200 vendors calling Wal-Mart HQ to ask “Where’s my style guide!” 

Mr. Andrews went on to say that Wal-Mart wants every consumer touch point in the store to be “in brand” with either a corporate look and feel or working within one of Wal-Mart’s themes (there’s that word again!).  Tough decision . . . go the create-your-own route or tap into millions of dollars in multi-channel promotional support by working within Wal-Mart-supported themes. 

Mr. Andrews wrapped everything up by spelling out “next steps” for vendors:

1.    Provide great brands at unbeatable prices (clarified later, Wal-Mart brands fall into this category as well)

2.    Get to know your category marketing team

3.    Tie into seasonal theme programs using style guides, which are coming out earlier and earlier

4.       Create joint planning processes that align your brand with Wal-Mart objectives

 During Q&A, a question was raised regarding the future of Wal-Mart’s controversial “clean store” policy and concerns around how hard it is for brands to market within the store.  According to Mr. Andrews, “clean” is only going to get cleaner and the best way to market within the store is to ensure that your messages are (all together now!) “Aligned and integrated” with Wal-Mart’s “themes.”  He went on to stress that there has been a lot of “noise” in the store and that your brand will come through stronger if “individualized messages” and signing and “one off” marketing is abolished.  He called for a “clear point of view” that is “calmer and more inviting.”  Think “directly relevant” vs. “random.”  

And we say that while you’re at it, you might want to start thinking “the future of in-store marketing” regardless of channel!  As Wal-Mart goes, so goes . . . 


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