Walmart.com’s Brian Monahan On Bridging The Digital-Physical Divide

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Brian-MonahanWalmart.com VP of Marketing Brian Monahan provided a glimpse into the retail giant’s strategy for bridging online and offline commerce Tuesday at Ad Age’s Digital Conference.

More than 240 million people in the United States visit Walmart’s stores, clubs, sites and apps on a weekly basis, Monahan said. And as consumers increasingly move across digital and physical stores, Walmart wants to “help our customers get what they want, when they want it and how they want it,” Monahan said.

But the company still has “a lot of work on the advertising and marketing front” before it can bridge the physical and digital divide, he added. A Magna Global and IPG Media Lab alum, Monahan said software plays an important role in helping Walmart reach its goals.

"Media planning today is beyond human comprehension," he said. "There are so many choices for where you can put your precious investment. It's a software problem."

Monahan outlined some of the software and platforms that have come out of @WalmartLabs, the company’s Silicon Valley operation, which has around 2,000 employees.

Its developments include a proprietary search-bid management platform that manages a portfolio of 50 million keywords, which Walmart shares with its suppliers to help them “manage and optimize in real time against a profit constraint.”

@WalmartLabs has also written email optimization software, as well as a program that optimizes and dynamically assembles 15 million creative units a day to retarget people who visit Walmart’s website.

Monahan also described the Walmart Exchange (WMX) that was rolled out last year. WMX is "a digital marketing platform where we share data with suppliers to help give relevant messaging to customers and measure sales results” and also “take costs out of the system," he said.

When asked whether Walmart has the ability to connect online customer activity with offline measurements, Monahan explained that Walmart has a proprietary system that analyzes the effectiveness of the company’s and its partners’ advertising “on sales in the store and online.”

Walmart needs to move fast to compete with digital giants like Amazon and Google, which are also extending their services to the offline world, he said. Other CPG companies, such as Nestlé, Target and Tesco, also have their own innovation labs.

Monahan echoed the mantra of many startups when he noted that it is important for the company to quickly learn from its mistakes.  “We know the customer is coming and … the customer has always been in front of marketers [in embracing innovation],” Monahan said. “So it’s important that we fail fast and learn fast.”

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