Walmart is investing heavily in affiliate marketing, partnering with media companies and influencers to pay them for generating clicks or sales.
“Collectively, affiliates serve our full function of business needs," Walmart E-Commerce vice president of strategic partnerships and business development Sarika Doshi said during a September presentation at the Mobile Innovation Summit in Denver. "They’re curating, they’re helping us retain customers and they’re helping us move overstock.”
The mass merchant is working with a wide variety of affiliates including Vox, Gizmodo, BuzzFeed, Hearst and Wirecutter to reach customers on their own terms and satisfy their diverse motivations. The retailer traditionally groups customers into those seeking value, wonder (inspiration or curation) or validation. Ibotta and online news aggregator Kinja help Walmart reach value shoppers, while BuzzFeed and blogger networks provide wonder, and review sites help shoppers who want to feel that a purchase is valid.
“These aren’t necessarily working in concert," Doshi said. "We’re starting to see the lines blur where you have value-oriented platforms adding content but we think there’s an ability to marry what each of these do and bring these together. That’s where we’re actively hunting for opportunities and investing in partners.”
Walmart is trying to take an even more nuanced approach to driving transactions through Ibotta and Ebates, leveraging data from its partners to optimize tactics based on the target customer with the goal of driving incremental sales. For instance, the retailer has moved to offering category-focused deals on Ebates while using Ibotta to target brick-and-mortar shoppers who haven't made purchases on walmart.com.
Doshi said spending on these tactics is extremely efficient since affiliates are incentivized to make the content work by investing in search. As a result, shoppers searching for "best video game system" or information about Nintendo might find a BuzzFeed article that will direct them to Walmart for the sale.
“There’s something about having someone say something on your behalf that’s infinitely more effective," Doshi said. "It doesn’t feel like paid media. It feels like news. You manage indirectly to tell a very compelling brand story.”
Content-driven marketing is an increasingly important part of Walmart's strategy, with the retailer working with BuzzFeed and Wirecutter to learn what electronics and appliances they should be highlighting. Walmart also wants to bring more brand partners into the effort.
“We get calls all the time when a BuzzFeed article goes live driving shoppers to Walmart asking 'How do I get in on that?'" Doshi said.
Walmart felt they needed to increase its share of voice at BuzzFeed, leading to a partnership with the company's food-focused social franchise Tasty. They created a curated Tasty section within walmart.com, licensed merchandise and produced co-branded media used to target shoppers on Facebook. The retailer wants to do more product development with BuzzFeed and eventually install displays in their food departments that link to Tasty recipes.
“We’re open to different definitions of incrementality," Doshi said. "If you’ve shopped walmart.com, but only for consumables, if we can move you out of that low-margin category into a higher-margin category, that’s incrementality. If loyalty marketing makes you a more frequent shopper, that’s incrementality.”