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How Walmart Brought the Superstore into a Super App, with Cynthia Kleinbaum Milner, VP of Marketing for Walmart Plus, Online Grocery and Mobile App

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Throughout the years, Walmart has brought the idea of the superstore to life. Its name is ubiquitous, most Americans live within eight miles of a Walmart, and within the store, you can find everything from groceries to automotive services to custom paint production. Seriously, there is very little that you won’t find within a Walmart. And, on this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Cynthia Kleinbaum Milner told me about how that competitive edge is something that Walmart wanted to lean into as it evolved into the digital era. Cynthia is the VP of marketing for Walmart Plus, Online Grocery and Mobile App, and part of what she does is help Walmart use the power of its retail presence to engage with customers in an omnichannel way, this includes on mobile, which we touched on a lot in the interview. We also dove into Walmart Plus, and how Cynthia positioned Walmart Plus different from the competition, by getting the deepest understanding of what customers want and why. Plus we got into Cynthia’s own journey and how she has developed her skills as a marketer to land at one of the biggest global companies ever. This was such a fun episode, I hope you enjoy it!

Main Takeaways:

  • Going Backward To Move Forward: The world changes so rapidly that oftentimes the skills you are using now as the main part of your job will be peripheral or inapplicable in just a few years. Rather than continuing on one path doing only what you know, it might be a better long-term strategy to step back and learn in other emerging areas to make yourself more well-rounded. Even if you have to make a lateral or backward move right now, in the long run you will be a much better and a more skilled worker. 
  • The Full Experience, Online and Off: Walmart is more than just a grocery store for those who go to physical locations. Naturally, the online experience had to be more than just one kind of shopping experience as well. Creating an app that makes the entire experience of shopping better, has to be the goal. Whether that means bringing in scan and go features to use in-store, or an endless aisle to shop from online, or building in additional services like financial help and delivery, there has to be more to your app so that you are providing customers with the ideal experience.
  • Making Membership Worth It: Too often, brands have membership programs that have one or two benefits that customers use every once in a while at best. But if you’re going to have a membership model, you want to make it worthwhile for customers and the business. There should be services that you can’t access otherwise, you should be adding value to your customers’ lives, and you should always be striving to add features and services that save time and money for your customers, which will make them want to use your app and come to your store even more. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

 

“We work very closely with the product team and the engineers to make sure that the app is built in a way that we can actually communicate and engage with our customers. So, while online grocery it’s a lot of traditional marketing full funnel, the mobile app team is working with the product team to build the right features on the app.”

What we think, especially as marketers, is that customers are not an online customer or a brick-and-mortar customer. Customers are omnichannel customers. They want to experience the brand in a very unique way. Some people like to shop online, pick up in store, or go to the store, get it delivered to their house. We can’t dictate how they are going to behave. So, what we are trying to do is make sure that they have the means to shop in any way they want and they still get the Walmart experience.”

“There’s a lot of things that people don’t necessarily associate with Walmart, but when you go to a store and realize the breadth of product and services that we sell, you understand that. In the digital world, we have to make sure that those things came with us, that it wasn’t just a grocery store online but it was a full Walmart experience online.”

“What has been super important for us it’s to test different messages and to let the audiences, to let the platforms that we use, put in front of the prospective customer the right message. For example, some people care about the freshness of the produce more than they care about the price. Some people care more about the price. Also, there’s people that want to know that we don’t have markups. Unlike most of the online grocery delivery services, Walmart doesn’t mark up the merchandise. We either charge you for the delivery or you come pick it up for free, or you are a part of Walmart+, you get it delivered for free. Those type of messages we let the platforms run their algorithms and say maybe for Stephanie the most important thing is to know that there’s no markups because she currently uses a service that has markups. For somebody else, it’s going to be about the fact that we have organic produce. For somebody else it’s going to be about the fact that we have everyday low prices. So, we just try to have a comprehensive view of what are the messages that could work, put them out there and let the algorithms do its thing.”

“Our goal is for the Walmart app to be that app that your thumb goes to. Having two apps makes it a little bit harder, right? Because we have one app that gets a lot of frequency for people ordering their groceries, and we have another app where you have the endless aisle. It didn’t make sense. It made more sense to put them together and give customers the best possible experience so they could choose what merchandise they want. They could see the endless aisle and they can also see what they can pick up today, what they can get delivered today or tomorrow or what they need to wait a couple more days. So, we’re empowering the customers to make their decisions for themselves when we consolidate those apps, instead of telling them no, from this app you can’t get groceries and from this app you can’t get that TV that you wanted. Now we put it on their hands.”

“For us the app is not a shopping app. It’s an app that really helps you manage your experience at Walmart, either if you’re shopping for products, services, or something else.”

“I definitely don’t think everybody has to aim to build a relationship on a daily basis, because what you end up with is all this companies sending marketing emails on a daily basis. That just drives unsubscribes. I don’t need a brand that I buy twice a year from to send me emails every single day. So, I think it’s an easy trap that a lot of brands fall for.”

“I think when you work at a company the scale of Walmart it’s not crazy to say I want to change how America lives, and that’s what we want. We want America to have more time to spend it on whatever they care about so they can live happier lives.”

Bio

Cynthia Kleinbaum Milner is currently VP of Marketing at Walmart, overseeing full funnel Omni-channel strategies across some of the company’s growth-driving business units: Online Grocery, Mobile Apps and Membership (Walmart+).

During her time at Walmart and in her previous roles at Gilt and Bonobos, Cynthia has positioned herself as a transformational leader, someone who is tasked with designing (and in some case redesigning) marketing strategies and organizations that unlock potential and accelerate growth.

As a full-stack marketer with hands on experience across most marketing functions, Cynthia solves problems first as a generalist and then as a specialist, an approach that enables her to lead diverse teams who are tackling unique challenges daily.

As a former strategy consultant from The Boston Consulting Group, she is able to quickly identify and solve complex business, organizational and operational problems.

Cynthia is a featured speaker at industry conferences, in which she shares insights on how to build high performing marketing organizations, how to operate as a startup within a large organization and how to use data to design marketing strategies that work.

She is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.


Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

 

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hello, hello, and welcome to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at Mission.org. Today on the show I’m so excited to have Cynthia Kleinbaum Milner, who currently serves as the VP of marketing for Walmart+, their mobile app, and online grocery. Cynthia, welcome to the show.

Cynthia:

Thank you, Stephanie. Great to be here.

Stephanie:

Yes. I’m so excited. So, I want to start a little bit about you. I want our audience to get to know who you are, what your life has been like. So, I want to go all the way back to Mexico City when you were growing up and want to kind of hear what was life like back then and did you ever think you’d end up working and leading the chart at a Fortune, the Fortune one company.

Cynthia:

Well, to answer your second question, no, I never thought that I was going to work at Walmart US. Also, I never plan too much in advance, so I was just planning the next step. I grew up in Mexico City as part of the Jewish community in Mexico, which is a pretty small group of people.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

Always had a dream to live in New York. I don’t know, maybe Sex and the City, but I wanted to move to New York and I did it through going to business school and then got a job in consulting at Boston Consulting Group and then I stayed here in New York.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Okay, and then what did your path look like while you’re in New York? I think I saw after consulting you got into marketing, and then you jumped over to kind of a startup, I guess you could call it.

Cynthia:

Yes.

Stephanie:

I want to hear about that transition to what got you to Walmart today.

Cynthia:

Well, before business school I worked at Nestlé in Mexico, and that’s where I got my brand marketing chops. I think it’s a great way to start any career in marketing, working in a CPG.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

What you learn, it’s like doing an MBA in marketing.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cynthia:

After business school I went to consulting to understand other industries, to really learn about what I didn’t know, because I had been for four years just focused on Nesquik. Then I thought, “It’s going to be three years of learning how to think in frameworks, how to spend two weeks analyzing a company and being an expert in the industry.” I had all these dreams that were only going to last three years. That’s what happened, I worked for three years in consulting and I wanted to go back to marketing, just to realize that I was totally irrelevant. My experience was not useful because between 2006 when I left marketing and 2011 when I wanted to go back, marketing had been flipped in 10, and it was all about digital marketing. I didn’t know what SEM was, nothing about digital marketing rang a bell. That’s when I reinvented myself.

Cynthia:

First I did a small consulting project at Zocdoc. I don’t know if you remember Zocdoc.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

It’s sort of like OpenTable for, that’s how I describe it, for doctor’s appointments.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

They allowed me to just observe and see what digital marketing was there. I then moved on to Gilt, where … I mean, Gilt and Bonobos, because were smaller companies growing really, really fast and with marketing budgets that were pretty tight, that is the place where you want to go if you want to learn digital marketing.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

You don’t want to go to a place where you have a huge budget and you can not keep a super close eye on it. In Bonobos and in Gilt I learned both the retention side of marketing and then the acquisition side of marketing. Ultimately that got me to where I am today at Walmart because I used … I mean, I think the term that it’s thrown there it’s full stack marketer. I am a full stack marketer because I did brand marketing in the beginning, and then performance marketing, and I’ve done a little bit of product marketing and mobile marketing at Walmart. So, I use all of those tools right now.

Stephanie:

I love that. I love the idea of confidently reinventing yourself and coming out and being like, “Okay, this is such a different world.” I mean, I feel like that’s how a lot of people are right now with how quickly things are changing, and you have to have that mindset to be able to explore and look around and being like, “Okay, what skillsets am I lacking? Where is the gap and how can I just quickly do it?” Which going to a smaller company, like you said, is probably the surefire way to learn really quickly.

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Drink from a water hose or a fire hose and then you’re going to be able to do whatever you want to do afterwards.

Cynthia:

Exactly, but it meant that I had to take a little bit of a step back compensation wise and level wise that a lot of people are not comfortable with. In the moment when I did it I was seeing all my peers getting promoted, and having bigger jobs, and I thought, “Is this a mistake? Am I going to regret forever that I didn’t take the VP job and I’m now a director again?” And absolutely I think it was the right decision, although who knows, right? Maybe it would’ve worked out differently, but I’m very happy with that path.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, okay, thinking about your family back at home, what’s their perception watching you, seeing okay, Cynthia is here, then she’s there, and now she’s going back? What was the feedback there?

Cynthia:

I mean, I think they thought maybe I wasn’t sure where I was going and I was making the wrong decisions. My family is not super I would say well-versed on how to build a career in corporate, it’s all entrepreneurs, some in the medical practice. So, my dad, he’s an entrepreneur, he has a business trading textiles. I have an uncle who is a theater producer. So, for them what I was doing is totally foreign.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

Seeing me jumping from job to job, I think it definitely raised a red flag to them. They thought, “Is she making all these mistakes?” Now they are so proud.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

They think that I’m so important, and I tell them, “There’s a lot of VPs at Walmart. I’m not the VP at Walmart.” But they still think I am the VP at Walmart.

Stephanie:

Yeah. You’re the VP in my heart, so that’s how I’m going to view it going forward.

Cynthia:

Thank you. Thank you.

Stephanie:

So, I want to unpack your title a bit, because it’s a mouthful.

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

VP of marketing for Walmart+, which is the subscription side, then mobile app, online grocery. I mean, to me you’re at the mecca of innovation at Walmart. It seems like you’re-

Cynthia:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

… kind of working on all these startups there. So, tell me a bit about your role. What does it look like day-to-day?

Cynthia:

I mean, I think I have the best job, by the way, and it’s true. I work in the largest company in the world but in the startups within that company. They’re three pretty different teams that we support. The marketing teams are support areas to businesses. The business of online grocery, it’s somewhat new, but Walmart started before everyone else. So, by the time COVID hit last year we already had national presence, we had a pretty solid infrastructure, but if you think about-

Stephanie:

They started grocery pickup in like 2013, right?

Cynthia:

Exactly, we were the first ones, and we also were the first ones to offer it for free, which was a big deal. It was a pretty popular business, however there was still a lot of people that didn’t trust others to pick their groceries, right? So, the marketing that we were doing before COVID looked very much like the marketing I was doing at Nestlé, it was upper funnel marketing, brand awareness. Let’s make sure that people know that this service exist, that they know that they can trust us, how to use it, big TV campaigns, lots of traditional type of marketing. In like the flip of a switch COVID happens, we don’t have to convince anyone because nobody wants to go to do grocery shopping in person, and we had to switch to managing inventories, making sure that people that were searching for online grocery online were finding us. We didn’t have to do convincing.

Cynthia:

Also, sometimes when things didn’t go the way they wanted, apologizing, right? Because the demand was really, really high and we had to make good on our promise to our customers. So, what we currently do is we support a business that has a super, super fast, strong demand. Let me start that again.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

So, the online grocery team, what they do is they support a business that is growing at a very rapid pace and that changes from day to day, just like the COVID situation is changing day to day. So, that’s online grocery.

Cynthia:

The mobile app team is in change of driving conversion and utilization of our apps. We used to have two apps, now we have one app. So, we have the online grocery and the regular Walmart.com inventory on one app. We work very closely with the product team and the engineers to make sure that the app is built in a way that we can actually communicate and engage with our customers.

Cynthia:

So, while online grocery it’s a lot of traditional marketing full funnel, the mobile app team is working with the product team to build the right features on the app and we also do app downloads campaigns and App Store optimization.

Cynthia:

The third thing that I lead is the Walmart+ team, which is the membership that Walmart just launched a year ago. This is a thing that I had to build from scratch, just like the membership. We built it from scratch and we keep improving it, and it’s a full funnel marketing strategy. We are making people aware that we have this membership. We have an acquisition campaign to make sure that people try it, and we have a very robust retention program to make sure that people are using the benefits that are included, that if they’re dissatisfied and they’re going to churn or cancel, we prevent them from canceling, or we reactivate them. So, three very complete and different teams.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Okay, that’s a lot. So if we go, I want to start back to the very first part, thinking about online pickup, and ordering, and retail locations. It’s so interesting because you saw all this kind of rollercoaster ride of okay, it’s only retail, okay now it’s only D2C, it’s online everything. We don’t need retail, and behind the scenes Walmart’s investing a lot of money into retail locations. I think right now it’s like 90% of people in the US live within 10 miles of a Walmart. I think last year you guys had like a huge capex in 2020 investment focused on fulfillment and retail locations.

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Now how important that is, being close to people and being able to kind of utilize that omnichannel strategy.

Stephanie:

What are you thinking when you look at other companies who maybe don’t have access to that? You guys to me feel so far ahead of planning things a decade out in advance.

Cynthia:

I mean, that is a competitive advantage of Walmart, right? The footprint of the company, that’s one of them. The fact that the company built everyday low costs. So, we could offer everyday low prices. We are a part of those communities. What we think, especially as marketers, is that customers are not an online customer or a brick-and-mortar customer. Customers are omnichannel customers. They want to experience the brand in a very unique way. Some people like to shop online, pick up in store, or go to the store, get it delivered to their house. We can’t dictate how they are going to behave. So, what we are trying to do is make sure that they have the means to shop in any way they want and they still get the Walmart experience. From an investment perspective, I mean, we had to make use of our competitive advantage, which was not just the footprint that I mentioned before but also the fact that Walmart is multicategory. I don’t think there’s any other retailer that can say that they touch so many categories of product and services.

Cynthia:

If you haven’t been to a Walmart or your audience hasn’t been to a Walmart, it’s important to understand that it’s not just a grocery store. We have so many services. We have auto care center, pharmacy, of course we sell groceries but we sell clothes, and electronics, and services like installation of things that we sell. Two of my favorite services that we have is you can get paint customized to exactly the color you want, so you order it and we make it exactly how you want it, and you can make cakes, personalized cakes, kind of like the Nike app, where you make your cake on the app and you personalize it, that’s how we make our cakes at Walmart. Who knew? I didn’t know before I worked there.

Stephanie:

I actually didn’t know that. That’s cool.

Cynthia:

Exactly. So, there’s a lot of things that people don’t necessarily associate with Walmart, but when you go to a store and realize the breadth of product and services that we sell, you understand that in the digital world we have to make sure that those things came with us, that it wasn’t just a grocery store online but it was a full Walmart experience online.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, when thinking about people all of a sudden getting used to the idea of ordering online and picking up curbside or whatever it may be, how did you have to kind of showcase that in one way to the customer, where maybe they were used to this aisle view and shopping in a very retail specific way?

Cynthia:

Oh, I mean, I think we’re still working on that, but the product team that we have has done I think an outstanding job at personalizing the experience, using product recommendations, using lists so people can find what they’re looking for, and also if they come again and if they always shop the same to make it very easy for them to just add everything at once and not have to again and again look for what they were looking, what they were trying to buy.

Stephanie:

Cool. When building out that experience, what were some of the maybe most surprising moments where you’re like, “Oh, this was actually maybe a hiccup to consumers not wanting to try it, or maybe this simple messaging change actually had a big inflow of new customers who are willing to try it now”?

Cynthia:

Well, I don’t know that there’s one specific thing that didn’t work or that surprised me, but what has been super important for us it’s to test different messages and to let the audiences, to let also the platforms that we use put in front of the prospect customer the right message. For example, some people care about the freshness of the produce more than they care about the price. Some people care more about the price. Also, there’s people that want to know that we don’t have markups. We, unlike most of the online grocery delivery services, Walmart doesn’t mark up the merchandise. We either charge you for the delivery or you come pick it up for free, or you are a part of Walmart+, you get it delivered for free. Those type of messages we let the platforms run their algorithms and say maybe for Stephanie the most important thing is to know that there’s no markups because she currently uses a service that has markups. For somebody else, it’s going to be about the fact that we have organic produce. For somebody else it’s going to be about the fact that we have everyday low prices.

Cynthia:

So, we just try to have a comprehensive view of what are the messages that could work, put them out there and let the algorithms do its thing.

 

Stephanie:

I love that. I was always surprised by how much price impacted me when it came to delivery fees. You get your basket all ready on maybe some other marketplace and you’re like, “Here goes all my groceries.” Oh, and there’s this fee, oh, and there’s the driver fee, oh and now I got to tip. All of a sudden I’m 40 bucks in.

Cynthia:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

Back in the day I would’ve said, “Oh, maybe I’m not that sensitive to price.” But right away I realized quickly that I was.

Cynthia:

I mean, also people shop for groceries, I think on average it’s three times a week. Sometimes it’s a big purchase, sometimes it’s a small purchase. So, adding those fees really for a family that you have, like our target customer is a family that has both parents working, and they’re trying to stretch their money but they also don’t want to spend time shopping every other day, they want to be with their family.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

So, when we build things, we’re trying to solve both for the saving money but also for the saving time.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So okay, now I want to touch on the mobile app piece that you had mentioned. You’ve talked a little bit about the race to the everything app, the super apps where they do everything. I want to hear a little bit about what it looked like when you guys were going through your life cycle. You said earlier you had two apps and now you’re down to one. Tell me a bit about what you guys were thinking around consolidating and how that is improving the customer experience.

Cynthia:

Sure. So, I mean, first of all, from a company perspective everybody wants their app to be the one that people automatically go and open, right?

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

When you open your phone, and where does your thumb go?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cynthia:

There’s too many apps, and most people download an app the one day that they wanted to buy something and they forget about that app. At some point when they run out of storage they start deleting apps, right?

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

Our goal is for the Walmart app to be that app that your thumb goes to. Having two apps makes it a little bit harder, right? Because we have one app that gets a lot of frequency for people ordering their groceries, and we have another app where you have the endless aisle. It didn’t make sense. It made more sense to put them together and give customers the best possible experience so they could choose what merchandise they want. They could see the endless aisle and they can also see what they can pick up today, what they can get delivered today or tomorrow or what they need to wait a couple more days. So, we’re empowering the customers to make their decisions for themselves when we consolidate those apps, instead of telling them no, from this app you can’t get groceries and from this app you can’t get that TV that you wanted. Now we put it on their hands.

Stephanie:

I mean, that seems like a good move just from a branding perspective too.

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Because it’s Walmart, I should be able to get everything in one place.

Cynthia:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

Why would there be two apps? How did you think about transitioning users from one app to the other and putting out that messaging for maybe someone who had just downloaded it or just kind of got into the process and learned how to do it?

Cynthia:

So, it took us a few months to transition people through in app, push notification, email. Ultimately the people that didn’t transition and that had to be forced to transition were the people that used it less. People that use your app all the time, they want to use the best version of your app.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

So, you just communicate with them through the regular channels.

Stephanie:

So, how do you view the mobile app world right now? Because that’s a world, back in the day I used to build apps, probably back in like 2011, and back then it felt like it was in a place where it wasn’t as competitive. You could kind of get found, you could do some advertising efforts and find some new customers pretty easy. I have no idea what it looks like today, and it feels very crowded with people launching them all the time. How are you guys navigating that right now and finding new customers? What’s working for you?

Cynthia:

Well, I mean, those are two questions. So, let me answer the first one and then I’ll answer the second one.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

The first one about the environment. You’re totally right. There was a time when a brand that sells, I don’t know, clothing that people buy twice a year would have an app.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

It may still be happening, that brands say, “I want to have my app.” But if people really shop with you twice a year for a wardrobe, you don’t need to have an app. You can have something that looks like an app, but it’s not an app. You don’t need a native app. In the case of what’s coming with apps, I think it’s a raise of these super apps. In China, that has been really successful. If you think about what Alibaba has been doing, or WeChat, where their apps are not just commerce apps but they’re also content apps. I think some examples in the US of companies trying to have super apps would be Uber that has a lot of services within their same app, or even maybe like Instagram or Facebook that have not just their social media but they’re trying to have commerce in their app. The issue there is that commerce is not core to their business, so it feels a little bit like an added-

Stephanie:

Yeah, a little forced.

Cynthia:

Yeah, a little forced. In our case, we have already what is a super app, right? If you think about it, because it’s not just a commerce app. You can do a lot of things in the Walmart app that is not shopping. You can actually engage in financial services, you can do other things. You can use it in the store actually. This is super cool. Have you used our app in our store?

Stephanie:

No, I have not used your app in the store. So, what does it looks like?

Cynthia:

Well, you can get to the store and you can put whatever you want, like search for it and it tells you where you will find it and it tells you how to get there in the store. So, in a Walmart store, I mean, some of them are huge.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

It does save you time if you say this is what I want. Of course most people when they go grocery shopping they shop over and over for the same thing, so you don’t need this help, but many times you need this one-off thing and you’re spending all this time. So, that’s one thing that we have. We have scan and go, that you can just skip the line. You scan while you’re shopping. This is for Walmart+ members. You can take something, scan it and skip the line, just scan when you’re leaving the store.

Stephanie:

That’s nice.

Cynthia:

So you can actually engage and make your store experience a lot better if you have your phone with you. There’s a lot more things coming. So, for us the app is not a shopping app. It’s an app that really helps you manage your experience at Walmart, either if you’re shopping for products, services, or something else.

Cynthia:

So, one of the things that we have that many companies don’t have is we have a ton of traffic on our stores. Creating features in the app that will make the store experience better is a great way to get people to download the app, because I go to a store and let’s say that I’m in a Walmart store and I see a TV. I don’t know, we have maybe 10 TVs that look like something you want, but in our dot-com site or app we have a 1,000 TVs that look like something you would want. That endless aisle you can engage with it on the app. If I tell you, “You don’t like any of this?” Or, “We’re out of stock. Go to our app.” Or we create features like scan and go or the item finder. Those are ways in which we incentivize people that come to our store, our customers, to download the app, but not everybody has that.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

A lot of people use generic words, right? If they’re using Walmart app, we’re going to be there. If they’re using one of our competitor’s app, we may be there, but a lot of people just use generic words, keywords. So, we have to be for those keywords.

Cynthia:

Then lastly, a lot of the search is happening on a mobile phone, on the browsing app of your mobile phone. So, if people are searching to buy something let’s say on your Safari or Chrome on your phone, we have to make sure that our app is coming up as an option for them to just download it as they’re looking for that. Then I don’t think getting app downloads is the hardest part.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

The hardest part is really to get people to use them.

Stephanie:

Cool, okay. So, then the final piece I want to touch on was around the Walmart+ membership. Going off the three-pronged things, this was the third one. Tell me a bit, for anyone who doesn’t know exactly what Walmart+ is, can you detail it?

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Like how it’s doing.

Cynthia:

Yeah. Walmart+ is the membership program of Walmart. We launched it a year ago. It currently has five benefits that people that join the program get.

Cynthia:

The first one is unlimited delivery of your groceries, free shipping from the warehouses, free and discounted medication, discounts on fuel and scan and go, which is using your app to quickly get in and out of the stores.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

We launched it … It didn’t have to do at all with COVID, but it happened that we launched it during COVID and it was a very useful membership for our customers, but really what we did was we expanded on a service that we had before, which was unlimited delivery of groceries. We noticed that our customers, the customers that were using it were really raving about it. They were shifting market share of wallet from other places to Walmart because we saw that they were shopping more often with us. We knew that we could offer them more than just groceries, because Walmart is more than groceries. So, that’s what we did. We launched it last year.

Cynthia:

We are still early in the days of this membership. I think if you ask me what is it going to look in five years, it’s going to be a really robust membership program with a lot more benefits that people will use to manage their daily lives. That’s our goal. We don’t want a membership that people use once a week or a couple of times a month. We want a membership that you use every day so it becomes that app that you go straight on your phone when you open it, where your thumb goes.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I mean, I think right now if you were to talk to almost any brand, this would obviously be something that they would want, but what if they don’t have everything that Walmart has? They don’t have a bunch of things to be like, “Do you want this? Do you want this?” Maybe a smaller company but they’re still kind of thinking about how do I encourage my customer to engage with me every day.

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

What kind of advice would you give someone like that to entice their customers to come in and hang out with them in their maybe app or wherever their communities, websites?

Cynthia:

I don’t actually think that all brands need to convince or to incentivize their customers to engage with them every day.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cynthia:

I think that they have to find whatever type of relationship they can have with customers. Maybe let’s say if you’re a makeup brand, and how often do people buy creams or beauty products? It’s not every day. They may want to consume content. Some of your customers, the beauty aficionados, maybe they want to consume content on a daily basis, but really the average customer may not want to consume content at all. They just want to find you when they’re looking for the next cream, or they may want to consume content on a weekly basis.

Cynthia:

So, you have to find your own strategy. I definitely don’t think everybody has to aim to build a relationship on a daily basis, because what you end up with is all this companies sending marketing emails on a daily basis.

Stephanie:

Oh yeah.

Cynthia:

That just drive unsubscribes. I don’t need a brand that I buy twice a year from to send me emails every single day. So, I think it’s an easy trap that a lot of brands fall for.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah, I agree. So, tell me about some of the content campaigns, like some of your favorite campaigns you’ve been running at Walmart? And it can be around Walmart+ or the app or anything, just something where you’re like this was a really fun one or this was a surprising one that we didn’t know would really pan out as well as it did.

Cynthia:

Okay.

Stephanie:

Any stories around that.

Cynthia:

I have a fun story.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

I’ll tell you the one from the drive-in theaters that we ran last year, and then we can talk about Walmart+ too because it’s-

Stephanie:

Cool.

Cynthia:

… also an awesome one. So, COVID hits, and we were thinking, how can we continue engaging with our customers in a way that it’s really unique to Walmart? And we had the idea, like many others, to do drive-in movie theaters. What was unique about Walmart was, number one, the scale. I mean, we could do it at a national level. Number two, we have the parking lots. What we made unique was we did an awesome partnership. We partnered with the Tribecca Film Festival to have them curate the movies that we were going to show.

Cynthia:

When we were planning it, it was, I mean, an expensive endeavor, right? It had to be COVID compliant. So, we had to take a lot of precautions. We had to convince the stores to be okay with us closing half of their parking lot. It was a lot of logistics that we thought this may not be something that anybody cares about, or maybe it’s going to be something that people that go in person care about. How can you measure the success of something like this if 150 people experience it in person or 200 people experience it in person? That probably is not going to pay back. If I get 200 people to watch a movie, it’s not going to pay back.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

I cannot explain to you how this blew up on the press. I don’t know if you heard about it, but-

Stephanie:

No. Yeah, how did it blow up? What happened?

Cynthia:

The press that we got, if I had to pay for those impressions it would’ve been more than 10 times more expensive than how much money we spent to launch these movie theaters. The press just loved talking about it. Customers that went loved their experience and they were posting about it in social media. It just became this thing where other partners wanted to collaborate with us. We have a lot of potential deals to do concerts and theater plays. Everybody wanted to use our parking lots to have cultural events because it was such a big success. Ultimately, the good feel that those that experience this, even if they didn’t experience it in person, even if they just experienced it by reading about it was very positive for Walmart. I think it was, I mean, a great way to use our dollars but also a great way to use our unique assets.

Stephanie:

Yeah, wow. I mean, that also shows the power of partnerships and really unique ones where you’re kind of wondering if it’s actually going to pay off.

Cynthia:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

And is this even a good partnership? That’s probably the best ones to even enter into and try out.

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Did you stay engaged with the people who came to these-

Cynthia:

Totally.

Stephanie:

How did you stay engaged with them afterwards and keep in touch, and what did that look like?

Cynthia:

We let anybody come to the events. We didn’t ask them for proof of purchase, they didn’t have to be Walmart customers, but when they came they provided us with their email. We also gave them a goodie bag with products. Through email and push notifications we continued communicating with them and tracking if they were coming back. But honestly it wasn’t meant as a let’s see how much money we can get and if they place an order within a week after going there. It was really more of a let’s give back to the community and let’s give back to our customers, and if we can build some awareness of this great program and feel good sentiment around the brand, that’s excellent.

Stephanie:

So, let me hear now about the second campaign-

Cynthia:

Ah, yes.

Stephanie:

… that you’re also excited about.

Cynthia:

Yes, so Walmart+. When we were going to launch Walmart+ we were thinking about what was the right campaign to launch something this big for Walmart, right? One thing happened that made us adjust our campaign, which is COVID, that we couldn’t actually have actors. We couldn’t go into a studio, which meant we needed to record people using the membership program in their daily life. The second one was we wanted to have a true representation of who the Walmart customer is, which is basically everyone.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

So, we have to cast about 20, I think it was about 22 families doing their thing and seeing what impact Walmart+ had in their lives. Some of my favorite stories are we were in the house of a family when they brought a baby home, their fifth baby. It was actually a rainbow baby, which was so touching. Imagine we have the camera man and the director there and they bring the baby home.

Cynthia:

And how much having Walmart+ helps the mom be able to get everything she needs to fulfill the role that she plays in her house. So, the 22 families were diverse and they each showed us how Walmart+ makes their life better. But what we had to decide was, do we stay at the functional level? This is something that in marketing we talk a lot about, right? Is it a functional benefit or is it an emotional benefit? If you think about the Maslow hierarchy of needs, whatever you sell it’s going to fulfill a need at the basic levels, right? In this case it’s food. I mean, how much more basic it gets than getting you the food you need?

Cynthia:

However, when you create a campaign that stays at that lower level of the pyramid, there’s no competitive advantage, right? Anybody can deliver groceries.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

I mean, there’s a lot of people delivering groceries. If you create a campaign, or that’s what we thought. We thought that if we created a campaign that talked about how our membership helps you higher in the hierarchy of needs, people are going to feel more connected with the brand. So, instead of showing you hey, we’re going to give you groceries, or we’re going to get them delivered to you, which is a little bit higher in the funnel, we’re going to save you time. We could’ve stayed there. We decided to go one level higher and show what people do with that time, because people are not getting delivery just to save time for the … What, do they have a … Like they’re in a competition and they’re trying to save more time than others? No, they are trying to save time so they can spend that time doing whatever they care about. When we surveyed customers, talked to them in focus groups, in person, they told us, “I want to spend more time with my family. I want to be a more active member of my community but I don’t have time.” So the campaign showed them what they could do with the time. You see it, it’s 15 second, 30 second, even a one minute ad where the grocery is being delivered, it’s not prominently shown the entire time of the ad. Most of the ad you’re actually seeing people enjoying life.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I think always figuring out what’s behind the actual want or need, but then not getting too far in that. You think of the Super Bowl campaigns that are so heart-wrenching, so emotional, and you’re like, “Who was behind that again?”

Cynthia:

What are they selling? Exactly.

Stephanie:

Yeah, like oh, I don’t think I’m going to go buy a Cadillac, but that was a really nice commercial, but I don’t get the tie. So, that seems like a really good balance you had there of keeping it functional but also tying it to everyday life and authenticity.

Cynthia:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

How are you thinking about campaigns going forward now? I mean, because it seems like it’s kind of a blessing in disguise having to go into the homes of people, and not having studios, and everyone is kind of saying, “Maybe this is the model going forward.” How are you guys thinking about content now over this next year?

Cynthia:

I mean, we’re still using a lot of real footage, people living their lives, but I still think that there is room in any marketing strategy to have highly produced advertising that looks beautiful and that you can manage a little bit more the storytelling. However, in these day and age

Cynthia:

With everybody having a megaphone and communicating authentically to their audience, if they’re telling one thing and you’re saying something else, then you’re just confusing and you’re not really cementing what the valuable position is in the minds of the customers.

Cynthia:

So, I think there’s a full-funnel approach where at some places, in some channels you’re going to have highly produced with actors, and in other places you’re going to have people that you hire or that you partner with, and then in other places people are going to make the content on their own and you won’t be able to control the narrative as well.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), completely agree. It’s always good to be aligned. So, where does Walmart want to be in the next couple years? What are some of the big bets that you see being made that you’re really excited to watch play out? Maybe within your groups that you run.

Cynthia:

Yeah. I mean, I really want to see people using all the benefits of Walmart+, because we are adding things based on what they are telling us. Our customers and our members, they tell us what they want. I think when you work at a company the scale of Walmart it’s not crazy to say I want to change how America lives, and that’s what we want. We want America to have more time to spend it on whatever they care about so they can live happier lives. So, that’s what I want. I want everybody to join Walmart+, everybody to use all the benefits and use the money that they’re saving and the time that they’re saving to be happier.

Stephanie:

I love that, okay. Then what’s top of mind for you right now, maybe within your role? What kind of new maybe skills are you and your team working on, or kind of shifts you’re having to make right now maybe personally within your team?

Cynthia:

I mean, we have had to build a team with people that have a growth mindset. Of course I want marketers and I want to hire people that have some of the technical experience that is required, but more than anything what we want in these teams are people that are eager to learn more and eager to stay ahead of everyone else in terms of what’s coming with technology, what’s coming with trends. So, we hire people that are willing to learn on the job, that are willing to build the plane while flying it.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

Then we pivot all the time. If you think about Walmart+ when we launched, we had three benefits. We’ve added two. Those two changed our marketing strategy, and we’re going to be adding more, and that changes what we were doing before. So, the only constant is change with Walmart+ and with all these, the three worlds that I’m leading. So, it’s really a matter of finding, hiring the right people that can change, that can grow, that can pivot quickly, that don’t get disappointed if something is changing again, that actually get excited because something is changing. Some people don’t like change. Don’t come work at Walmart+ if you don’t like change.

Stephanie:

I love it, yeah. I feel like that’s a perfect role from what I know about you and I’ve seen change is good, and I feel like you thrive in that.

Cynthia:

Exactly. So my family didn’t like my change, right? Well, now I change even within my job.

Stephanie:

Yeah, and they’re probably still like, “Yay Cynthia, our only VP.”

Cynthia:

Only VP.

 

Stephanie:

We have a final piece to do here. So, we’re going to move on to the lightning round.

Cynthia:

Okay.

Stephanie:

The lighting round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Cynthia?

Cynthia:

Minute or less to answer. I mean, I will not be more ready than I am now, so let’s do it.

Stephanie:

Okay. First up, what’s the best piece of marketing advice that you heard and you tell others?

Cynthia:

Everything communicates. So, for example, packaging communicates. You see now luxury brands that have entered e-commerce and you buy this luxury product and it arrives in a cardboard box with paper filling the empty spaces. You can’t do that. Everything you do communicates.

Stephanie:

That’s a good one. Love that. Okay, what is one thing that you don’t understand today that you wish you did?

Cynthia:

Well, I don’t understand why people, women are wearing mom jeans now. How can I follow the trends? I don’t understand Gen Z fashion sense. That I don’t understand.

Stephanie:

Hard to keep up. I don’t know either, Cynthia. It’ll be-

Cynthia:

I thought skinny jeans were here forever.

Stephanie:

When I became a mom I was like, “Am I supposed to wear these now?” I don’t, I’m still with the skinny jean phase. We do what we want.

Cynthia:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

We forge our own path here. If you or Walmart were to have a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Cynthia:

I think Walmart could do a really good podcast about the path that people can take in their careers. I say this because Walmart, I still think it’s the largest employer in the US. We have jobs for everyone, right? And you see the path of people that start working in a store and then end up working at corporate. You see people from all backgrounds. So, I think that if any company can show every person in America that they can build a career in a company, that is Walmart. [crosstalk].

Stephanie:

That’d be great. I love that. All right, and the last one. What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you?

Cynthia:

Inviting me to this podcast. No.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Cynthia:

What’s the nicest thing? So many things that have been done for me.

Cynthia:

I mean, the nicest thing was my dad raising me.

Cynthia:

So, yeah. My mom passed away when I was one and my dad raised me, so how nice is that. I mean, it was his job too, but he did a pretty good one, I think.

Stephanie:

I’d say so. Yeah, you can tell he did a good job. Good job, dad. All right, well Cynthia, it was such a pleasure having you on the show. Really fun to hear what’s happening behind the scenes at Walmart and all the cool innovative work that you get to do within the company. Where can people find out more about you and all the fun work that you’re doing?

Cynthia:

Well, first, everybody has to sign up for Walmart+.

Stephanie:

Do it, everyone.

Cynthia:

Walmart.com/plus. Download the Walmart app, and then I’m on LinkedIn, Cynthia Kleinbaum Milner. That’s it, but most important is sign up for Walmart+.

Stephanie:

All right, everyone. You heard it here. Thanks so much Cynthia.

Cynthia:

Thank you, Stephanie.

Episode 151