Innovator Interviews: Rich Lehrfeld Reflects on Walmart Connect’s Approach to Empowering Advertisers

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A confusing array of choices, lack of transparency, not enough control — Rich Lehrfeld knows all about the challenges facing media buyers because he once faced them himself.

A confusing array of choices, lack of transparency, not enough control — Rich Lehrfeld knows all about the challenges facing media buyers because he once faced them himself.  

Having spent his career on both the brand and agency side of the business, Lehrfeld has the ideal perspective for his current role as senior vice-president and general manager for Walmart Connect, which is focused on connecting brands more meaningfully in customers’ everyday lives to accelerate shared growth.

The Advertiser Experience is the New Customer Experience

Walmart’s omnichannel media business recently rebranded from Walmart Media Group to Walmart Connect. This new name reflects the company’s aim to foster meaningful connections between brands and customers. With Walmart Connect, advertisers can meet customers at the point of sale, helping them to purchase products that will save them time, money and ultimately help them live better.

“We’re a closed-loop network with both in-store and online opportunities, and we’re adding more connection points every day,” he said. “I think that puts us in a pretty interesting position.”

Self-Serve Levels the Playing Field for All Brands, Big and Small

Lehrfeld is laser-focused on creating a platform designed to enhance connections between brands and customers at scale. Almost two years ago, the company increased advertisers’ direct access to their campaigns and gave them more transparency and control with the launch of their Self-serve Sponsored Product Interface.

Early 2020 saw the debut of the Walmart Advertising Partners program, which enabled the ability to deliver targeted, sponsored campaigns through platform partners such as Flywheel Digital, Kenshoo, Pacvue, and Teikametrics. Brands have been able to consolidate ad purchasing and reporting, as well as get support and see comprehensive campaign metrics. To continue this momentum, Walmart Connect recently expanded the program with the launch of three new partners, Stackline, Tinuiti, and Harvest Group. Lehrfeld said the program has more than 50,000 active campaigns.

The maturation of the technology behind Walmart’s self-serve platform is a way of democratizing the media buying opportunities available to brands of all sizes, he said. While the pandemic may have led more brands to consider their approach to marketing online, Lehrfeld said the growth has not been limited to large advertisers. As a result, WalmartConnect increased its number of net new advertisers by 40 percent in 2020. 

This year, Walmart Connect will be launching a Display Self-Serve (DSS) platform to allow advertisers to activate and manage display campaigns from an automated platform. Advertisers will be able to use the tool to deliver the same omnichannel impact with their display campaigns.   

This platform will be bolstered by the acquisition of the technology behind Thunder, a creative automation ad-tech company. The platform will not only automate key tasks but offer creative version testing and optimization capabilities.  

The Moment for Real-Time Decision-Making is Now

Media buying was once an exercise that involved developing a plan, establishing partnerships, running a campaign, and doing a post-mortem afterward to see what worked. Lehrfeld said Walmart’s advertisers now need to act much more quickly, and proactively to capitalize on potential spending opportunities. 

Using the Performance Dashboard Walmart has provided, Lehrfeld said advertisers can access first-party data to tell them how they’re performing and where they should be leaning in. Lehrfeld said one of the key metrics for success is the ease with which advertisers can manage their campaigns. Ninety percent of advertisers log into their dashboards every day, he noted. 

“They can see their results as they come in, which means they can get insights into upticks in sales across their category,” he said. “By having the data at their fingertips, they can have a lot more confidence in how they make marketing budget decisions.” 

“We are continuing to gain momentum and we’ve had incredible support from suppliers. We are excited about the future and moving towards being solution-oriented to empower our suppliers to succeed in this fast changing world of marketing and advertising.”

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