Walmart Exchange Seems Like Natural Next Step

by Will Doherty, Senior Director Business Development

Last week Walmart announced its own media buying exchange was in beta phase. The Walmart Exchange (WMX) shows the world’s largest retailer tightening its grip on its digital assets, developing a platform for targeting audiences and buying media for itself and the hundreds of companies supplying its stores.
While we haven’t seen exactly what form WMX will take or what it will effectively manage without help from outside tech vendors, taking such an important piece of digital strategy in-house is a good look for Walmart. This kind of a data play should be valuable to all involved, including publishers. Ultimately, WMX is a sensible development that takes advantage of existing programmatic infrastructure and advances it to the service of its partners at scale. Despite the hyperbole suggesting it’s an industry game changer, it is simply the natural evolution of an in-house marketing strategy for the world’s largest retailer.

WMX shows a brand using programmatic not only as an advertiser, but as a data player. Walmart is sitting on huge amounts of consumer data, which the company will be able to ply for correlations between ad exposure and online and in-store sales. The scale will help draw these insights quickly, aiding targeting and optimization, and allowing Walmart to understand which audiences are likely to respond to which messages. Programmatic gives brands agility in integrating their data into more comprehensive marketing programs, which is what Walmart is doing with WMX and its overall efforts to revamp marketing strategy. Because of its exceptional footprint in the market, Walmart has the data to become an active player, and it’s in its interest to develop software to make that data serve the company and its suppliers.

Indeed, for a company like Walmart, this is a natural step forward. Some have suggested that WMX turns Walmart into a media agency, which feels misguided. WMX is a digital take on what the company has been doing for years with sales circulars and coupons. If Walmart is pushing a promotion on Tide, for example, it’s leveraging its marketing muscle over its own customer base to push Tide out its own stores. This didn’t make Walmart an agency and it doesn’t make it one now. But it does show how the retailer is smartly adjusting to the changing landscape to maintain a competitive edge.

Publishers, though, will see new benefits from WMX. It allows publishers to interact directly with marketers across Walmart’s diverse range of offerings, which range from CPGs to high-consideration products. Working with a variety of marketers in one place allows publishers to develop inventory packages that work well for both the sell and buy side, deliverable via the existing programmatic framework

Publishers need to think about how they can tap into programs like this, aligning their engaged audiences with large retailers that want to reach those audiences — whether that be via WMX, a private marketplace, high-impact ad placements, or cross-channel efforts utilizing marketers’ own data sets. And publishers need to be proactive in working with advertisers to develop programs that have more value than just ad space. In Walmart’s case, the company has the scale to analyze in-store purchase data to understand how and when those ad placements work best.

Before brand marketers start hatching plans to launch their own trading desks, we need to remember why WMX is good for Walmart — that’s Walmart’s size. Very few companies are in a position to do the same and expect meaningful results. But regardless, it will be worthwhile for everyone to watch how WMX plays out, as one more way in which programmatic can be leveraged for a company’s unique needs.

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