Brand Publishing in Retail: An Interview with Chad Mitchell, Senior Director of Digital Communications at Walmart

March 7, 2017 Haniya Rae

A Walmart Department Manager Graduates to Her Next Step

When it comes to developing a clear content marketing strategy for the retail industry, there’s no need to shy away from all the good stories your company can tell. Chad Mitchell, Walmart’s senior director of digital communications, stands by that statement: since reinvigorating the company’s blog, Walmart Today, he’s seen positive results—including more robust engagement with customers and associates, as well as a lift in reputation for the company as of last year.

In fact, the initial strategy has worked so well that Mitchell says he hasn’t really needed to alter it. “Certainly we’re refining where we can, but the underlying mission is essentially the same,” says Mitchell.

As with many brands trying out their own content channels, Mitchell and his team are continuing to establish Walmart Today as a strong branded publication. Part of their strategy includes being disciplined about what platforms to build content on, the time that needs to be allotted to each platform, and understanding what content performs best on different channels. On the blog itself, each story is supplemented by professional photography and interviews with employees and customers. It’s not meant to be for a primarily business-oriented audience—it’s for everyone. “This includes creating owned platforms and determining other platforms we’d buy or rent to get access to,” says Mitchell.

A Walmart employee rides a bike through the store

Luckily, Mitchell has a lot of content to choose from for the Walmart Today publication. “As the world’s largest and most diverse private employer, we are uniquely positioned to tell stories that other brands are incapable of telling, especially ones that relate to our efforts to assist communities following natural disasters, our $250 billion commitment to domestic manufacturing, and the $2.7 billion investment we’ve made in our associates for training, education, and higher wages,” says Mitchell. Though a lot of brands aren’t able to tell those stores as of yet, the key takeaway is this: learn how your brand relates to its community, and then highlight its efforts to help those communities grow in a number of different ways.

According to Mitchell, that relatability is key. “We know that in order to resonate with our audience, we have to be relevant, meaningful, and standout as we try to tell stories and give people a glimpse into the work of Walmart, which includes our associates and our customers,” he says. But, he notes, that doesn’t mean you always have to pull at audiences’ heartstrings: “It’s easy to say emotional content performs best, but the emotion needs to be relatable, and it needs to draw readers and viewers into the story. In a perfect world, we’d like our audience to learn something new about Walmart and feel good about the role we play in society, so we’ve put tools in place to measure how we’re doing with respect to that criteria.”

Walmart Today screenshot

Sometimes, this means taking a little leap and showing how diverse and inclusive the company is with its employees; it’s a way to be aware of current trends without taking sides. “We created our blog, or digital magazine, Walmart Today, to share important stories about our people, our customers, and the communities we serve to the people who may not be as familiar with them as our core customers,” says Mitchell. “Our most successful stories are the ones that introduce the real people of Walmart to our readers and viewers. We’ve been measuring every step of the way, and we’re constantly checking to see if our storytelling is believable and whether it resonates with our audiences. When it does, we do more of it, and when it doesn’t, we try to quickly pivot our approach.”

“It’s easy to say emotional content performs best, but the emotion needs to be relatable, and it needs to draw readers and viewers into the story.”

But for a corporation of Walmart’s size, building a content marketing strategy that is flexible, timely, and works across multiple channels can be somewhat of a challenge. “Making sure that it’s up to date is no small task, but we have a great team that stays on top of that,” says Mitchell. “Beyond the obvious, keeping all of our channels, from traditional websites to our social platforms, fresh with stories that are relevant to our audiences is an ongoing test.” But Walmart’s currently leading the way for the larger retail industry to build content that matters, and part of that is just making sure that its newsroom, which is currently around seven members, keeps its finger on the pulse.

For retail industry marketing executives looking to build their own content platforms, Mitchell is weary of creating content that isn’t exactly what the audience wants to read. It’s imperative, he notes, to take the ego out of the content. “You won’t have any success building an audience if you keep talking about the things you want to talk about,” says Mitchell. “You need to do a lot of research to understand who you’re trying to reach, where they consume their content, and what kind of content they’re looking for.”

That means that to be successful at becoming a brand publisher, it’s important to see where news about your company turns up within customer feeds and understand what kinds of stories might be most helpful for them to read and share. It also means stepping back and looking at where branded stories end up and what the audience feedback is on them, positive or not. “The priorities we have as a brand need to align with what’s relevant to our audience,” says Mitchell. “Sounds simple, but with how the world changes every day, it’s not quite that easy.”

Touché.

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Featured image attribution: Walmart Today

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