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Walmart e-commerce GM outlines digital opportunity at Emerson Group’s Industry Day

BY Michael Johnsen

PHILADELPHIA — It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking about e-commerce as just another store or just another channel warned Musab Balbale, VP and general manager for Walmart e-commerce, but it's not.

"Fundamentally, that's totally the wrong way to think about e-commerce," he told attendees at Emerson Group's 10th Annual Retail Industry Day last month. "The reality is e-commerce is about digital. It's about the fact that regardless of the age demographic, over 70% of Americans use digital to influence their shopping trip."

And roughly half use digital while they are actually in the aisles shopping for your products.

To better capture the perspective necessary to succeed in a digital environment, marketers need to disconnect point of sale from the point of influence. "Does your online presence support off-line sales and does your off-line sales support online sales?" Balbale asked.

And that creates issues, he said. It's one thing to leverage three inches of in-line real estate against four feet of category allotment, to create a package that captures the consumer's eye and helps differentiate against the dozens of similar products on the shelf. It's quite another to do that across an endless aisle. "How do you manage your brand? How do you connect with customers on a site, like ours, that has 36 million products that are competing with yours?" Balbale asked.

It all comes down to customer experience, and how well a branded CPG manufacturer can manage that experience. "All the customer journey mapping that any of you will do about online shopping will show that it's the moment that somebody receives the box that's the highlight of their shopping experience," he said.

Manufacturing discovery is another key component to succeeding in the digital space, Balbale added. "I know brick-and-mortar retail sales, what's the equivalent of an end-cap? What's the equivalent of being in the strike zone in an aisle? What's the equivalent of an FSI? If you're not asking about the analogies that are relevant and relates to your brand, you're not asking the right set of questions," Balbale cautioned. There's a whole host of places on a digital page where a well-placed banner can call out that discovery, he added.

And digital represents the future of both merchandising and marketing, as evidenced by emerging digital-only brands like Casper, an online mattress company. "For any of you who have kids going to college, they're probably talking about Casper as being their first mattress," Balbale said. "We're selling mattresses online. That's a logistical nightmare that 18 months ago we would have never imagined."

Retailers are also re-inventing their perspective, Balbale noted. "One of the places we think we can win is making Americans live easier," he said. "Money was the currency of the '80s and '90s when Walmart really took off. Time, more than anything, is the currency we're all working on today. Walmart, especially, feels that our emerging 'place' is to make time more efficient, especially for busy families."

To that end, Walmart is expanding assortment online and is focused on improving fulfillment. "Worlds are blending," he added. "Our 4,700 stores are not just stores. They're 4,700 distribution points that are within 10 miles of 90% of America. That just changes fundamentally how we think about delivery and fulfillment."

Balbale has more than 15 years of experience in consumer and retail. Prior to Walmart and Jet.com, Balbale was VP of International and Business Development at the Vitamin Shoppe, where he was responsible for merchandising and operations. Balbale began his career in strategy and investing roles at The Boston Consulting Group, Charles Schwab and Summit Partners and has his Bachelor’s Degree from Yale University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

Balbale's presentation talk was part of the Emerson Group’s 10th annual Retail Industry Day, hosted in late September to a packed room of hundreds of merchants eager to discover how to better proposition their products for tomorrow's ever-evolving consumer.

Every day this week, Drug Store News will be featuring content connected to the Emerson Group's 10th Annual Retail Industry Day. The first presentation emphasized the importance behind connecting with people, including employees, colleagues and consumers, in an effort to get at the heart of business with CNBC's Marcus Lemonis.  That was followed by marketer Colleen DeCourcy, chief creative officer for Wieden+Kennedy. She discussed how to keep catching the kind of lightning in a bottle that makes brands spark.

Up next is a joint presentation from L2 Inc.'s  Evan Neufeld and Jane Fisher. L2 helps identify the must-have omnichannel features retailers need to meet the expectations of their consumers and provides insights into the best-practices of brands using disruptive technology.

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Emerson Group’s Industry Day offers roadmap to capturing lightning in a bottle

BY Michael Johnsen

PHILADELPHIA — What if? What if you could break down the process of capturing lightning in a bottle into its base components — the key ingredients that you could combine to be successful over and over again?

Colleen DeCourcy, chief creative officer for Wieden+Kennedy — which AdvertisingAge has described as “the world's most creatively-awarded agency” — joined the Emerson Group in late September to discuss how to keep catching that lightning in a bottle. Wieden+Kennedy is the small agency that DeCourcy said should never have landed the Nike contract that produced the widely successful "Just Do It" campaign. But they did, and its success offered insight into how to make a successful campaign more than a fluke. 

Capturing lightning in a bottle starts with being relevant — something DeCourcy said her agency helped Nike do with its Breaking2 effort, a quest to help an athlete run a marathon in less than two hours. 

"This idea of what does a consumer want comes down to [asking] ‘What do people want?’" DeCourcy said. "People want to see a brand take a risk. They want to see a brand do something that they're not sure they can do. To see human beings try; to make a claim that we're pretty sure we can all do better, it worked for them,“ she said. ”It exploded and redefined [Nike], that they were not an untouchable, weird brand in the echelon of giants. It was just a runner trying to run faster in a very improbable race.”

And that relevance is typically realized by something incredibly obvious, in hindsight.

“This is what we do when we're doing it right. It's usually based in truth,” she said. ”It's profound, it's huge and it's elusive. And when you can capture that lightning, and you can hold it long enough to show to the world, the world will go 'Ahhh!' And that's how you become relevant. … That feeling they feel when it happens is inextricably entwined with the way they feel about your product and the possibilities they have in the universe," DeCourcy said. "Creativity is about connecting things."

And if capturing lightning in a bottle begins with demonstrating relevance DeCourcy said, it ends in delivering on what the consumers want — and not even necessarily by creating the ever-elusive the better mousetrap, but by delivering on how the consumers want to feel when they're engaging with your brand. 

"People want to feel like they're winning again," DeCourcy said. That was best exemplified in the Chrysler commercial below; the campaign taps into the resurgence of Detroit. "When it comes to luxury, it's as much about where's it's from as who it's for," the narrator dictates. "We're from America, but this isn't New York City or the Windy City or Sin City. And we're certainly no-one's Emerald City. This is the Motor City and this is what we do."

But even if companies can be relevant and deliver on how a consumer feels about their brand once, how do they replicate it? 
 
"We are finding that when you go out into the world and actually make experiences for people, and give them things they want to connect to their desires on a fundamental level, that great creativity, that lightning in a bottle, it scales itself," she said.

Once you've captured lightning in a bottle, however, DeCourcy warned against getting too comfortable.

 
“Beware of a strong culture,” she said. “I come from a company that's all about its culture. What I started to notice is that culture became a way to exclude people, temperaments and ideas that were different from ours. That winning had a certain structure to it. Culture is your guide. It's not your output.”

DeCourcy’s talk was part of the Emerson Group’s 10th annual Retail Industry Day, hosted in late September to a packed room of hundreds of merchants eager to discover how to better proposition their products for tomorrow's ever-evolving consumer.

Every day this week, Drug Store News will be featuring content connected to the Emerson Group's 10th Annual Retail Industry Day. The first presentation emphasized the importance behind connecting with people, including employees, colleagues and consumers, in an effort to get at the heart of business with CNBC's Marcus Lemonis.

 

And up next is Musab Balbale, VP and general manager for Walmart e-commerce, who discussed how Walmart and Jet.com endeavor to capture consumer attention in an increasingly digital world.

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CNBC’s Lemonis stresses connection with customers at Emerson Group event

BY Michael Johnsen

PHILADELPHIA  — The Emerson Group in late September hosted its 10th Annual Retail Industry Day to a packed room with hundreds of merchants eager to discover how to better proposition their products for tomorrow's ever-evolving consumer.

They weren't disappointed.

"It's a really dynamic time in our industry right now," said Emerson Group EVP marketing Matt Poli, who reflected on the decade the Emerson Group has been delivering provocative content as part of this event. "The world we live in, brick-and-mortar physical retail, over the last 10 years square footage in our industry has grown 23%. I know that runs counter [to what's been happening recently] but the small format has more than doubled their share of retail square footage and now represents 20% of the retail square footage in the United States. If you look at [these players], these are not retailers where we have widespread distribution."

Consumer shopping behavior has also evolved significantly in the past 10 years, he said. "It creates a lot of complexity. It's dynamic," Poli said. "We have to understand how the consumer is changing. The way we like to define it is 'Connection Capital.’ "The return on 'Connection Capital' is truly understanding how to build loyalty in today's digital environment at a profit."

Leading the all-star lineup of Emerson's 10th Annual Retail Industry Day was Marcus Lemonis, the retail "fixer" who hosts "The Profit” on CNBC, which features Lemonis' attempt each week to turn a failed business around by going back to the basics and making the front-line, customer-facing employees the heroes of each story.

"I don't believe that the key to business is actually our intelligence, at least the learned experience," Lemonis told attendees. "I don't believe that our success in business is based on some empirical data that we learned in business school. I really believe that the connection between people, and understanding how people think and how they're motivated, how to get them to react and how to get them to respond and how to manage with inspiration without intimidation is really the key."

And building a true connection with people means being vulnerable, Lemonis noted. "Business is not about spreadsheets. … It is about your ability to connect with people," Lemonis said. "[The Profit] is really not about business. It uses business as a backdrop, as a vehicle, to get the message across. The show is really about [people]."

That focus on people is the true differentiator for small business, he added. It's how successful entrepreneurs break through the clutter.

"I chose small business because small business for me looks like how I felt [starting out], a little bit of an underdog, limited resources, not the sharpest tack in the shed. That was me as a human," he said. "I've always wanted my legacy to be how do we get people to think differently about business and attach a personal perspective to it. How does that, over time, not level the playing field with 'big business,' but how does the small business owner get an edge?"

Lemonis will be returning to prime time in November when CNBC’s popular hit series “The Profit” returns for a fifth season.

Every day next week, Drug Store News will be featuring content connected to the Emerson Group's 10th Annual Retail Industry Day, starting with an overview of how to capture lightning in a bottle not once, but consistently with Wieden+Kennedy chief creative officer Colleen DeCourcy.

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