If they haven’t already, Carol Spieckerman says suppliers to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. better figure out how they fit into a new “transmedia” world she thinks will dominate the way large retailers operate in the years to come.

Spieckerman, president and CEO of Bentonville-based Newmarketbuilders [2], spoke Wednesday (Feb. 13) to more than 60 students, faculty members and media gathered at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville.

Her topic, “The Transmedia Transformation: How Retail Will Drive a Decade of Disruption,” was a synopsis of how the intersection of technology and social media has and will continue to change the way retailers connect to and interact with consumers.

The Distinguished Speaker Series at the UofO was sponsored by enactus and Phi Beta Lambda.

“Retailers are leading the charge in terms of new thinking” about how to harness technology and social media, Spieckerman told the crowd. “And this is a fairly recent development.”

Retailers are, according to Spieckerman, focused on building “platforms” that include numerous methods to recruit and retain customers, while building positive brand awareness. The platforms include connections between social media, television, video, digital advertising, in-store marketing, and numerous other venues that deliver a product and/or brand message.

“Platforms are the base for the coming transformation,” Spieckerman said, noting that Stephen Quinn, chief marketing officer for Walmart U.S., has said his goal is to create an “experience platform” for Walmart shoppers.

CREATING ENGAGEMENT
Where once it may have signaled the end of a career for a designer to work with a discount store like Wal-Mart, top-name designers are more comfortable joining a broad retail platform because of the intrinsic value of increased market reach. For example, Wal-Mart can connect more than 200 million households and 3,600 stores with a broad platform that magnifies its overall reach. The big designers want to be part of that.

“Cartons of milk are now driving designer sales,” Spieckerman said.

One of the purposes of a platform is about creating an “engagement rather than a transaction,” Spieckerman said, suggesting that the retailer creating a richer information environment will eventually generate more interaction – sales – with the consumer. The goal of a platform, she noted, is to keep people contained within the platform.

Also, and possibly most important, the various parts of the platform generate data about a person’s interests. Those interests are, according to Spieckerman and other retail watchers, more indicative of future purchases than their past purchasing behavior.

This “big data” is then fed back into the platform to further the connection between retailer and consumer, Spieckerman said.

The use of platforms and technology have also created what Spieckerman calls a “clicks to bricks” business model. With this model, retailers first open an online presence to test products and processes, measure consumer interest, interaction and other behaviors. With that data, they then open physical locations.

CONTENT IS KING
Part of a platform includes sales and marketing content that goes far beyond the traditional public relations jabber. Content in the new platform must be more of a story or other presentation device about products and branding that doesn’t come across as traditional commercial.

“Content right now really is the new currency. … And there is an insatiable demand for content,” Spieckerman said, adding that the demand is growing fast for content that speaks to brand “quality, quantity and diversity.”

She said retailers are looking for journalists, English majors and others with strong writing and research skills who are capable of creating content that creates an experience instead of coming across as a sales pitch.

In an interview after her remarks, Spieckerman said suppliers to Wal-Mart interested in supporting the retailer’s transmedia shift “may want to take a step back and look at the big retailers and see where their best position is on the platform.”

For example, relationships are now somewhat isolated between vendors and Wal-Mart buyers, and turnover among buyers doesn’t help, she said.

To avoid being solely at the mercy of a buyer, Spieckerman suggested a supplier “form relationships in the new roles” by finding ways to collaborate with Wal-Mart to maximize one or several points within the platform. That could include working more directly with Wal-Mart on a social media campaign, she said.