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Ideas Data Strategy2021-02-25

Lost in the Supermarket? What the Walmart Connect partnership with The Trade Desk means for Marketers

Dan Elddine

Greeter

In 1979, the great, British punk band The Clash released their third studio album titled London Calling to critical acclaim. On it, a lesser known song called “Lost in the Supermarket” sung by Mick Jones (The Clash’s lead guitarist and second vocalist) opened with the lyrics - “I’m all lost in the supermarket / I can no longer shop happily / I came in here for that special offer / A guaranteed personality.”  

Any modern marketer who’s spent some time combing through an endless list of 3rd party data in a DSP, DMP, or syndicated data store - trying to make heads or tails of which is best based on name (and more often price) alone - or listened to a data provider’s claim that they can build that special segment no one else can, likely relates to Mick Jones’ conundrum.

While a plethora of “off-the-rack” targeting options exist for buyers seeking purchase-level data, few if any offer clear through lines to their impact on bottomline business goals, none get down to the often sought after SKU-level granularity, and unless you’re working with each retailer individually, most are built on broader transaction-level data from credit cards or panel-based longitudinal audiences. When through lines do exist, they often include significant barriers and trade offs like dealing with opaque offerings that marry data plus inventory, large financial commitments on the part of marketers, blackbox measurement solutions, managed service executions, or entirely new buying platforms to navigate—inclusive of their own gaps and nuances. 

While Walmart Connect (fka Walmart Media Group) has operated in the competitive, yet rather opaque retail data and media business for quite some time, their recently announced partnership with The Trade Desk ) aims to further substantiate their footprint in the space. When taken together with their recent acquisition of Thunder—a potential bolt-on solution for dynamic messaging—Walmart Connect is attempting to solve for some of the core challenges facing marketers juggling retail relationships today. And while it’s certainly early days, there seems to be enough to start shopping happily… just as soon as Walmart Connect and TTD are open for business. 

What’s in the (big) Box?

While finer details are slow to emerge—perhaps due to the announcement being a little premature (official launch date is TBD, but will roll out later this year with Walmart prioritizing a subset of their brand relationships) we know through direct leadership conversations that the Walmart Connect offering seeks to address a few of the challenges marketers currently face with retail partnerships head-on: 

  • Decoupled data from inventory - Walmart is indicating they will allow marketers to overlay Walmart data on the inventory of their choosing (and, in fact, will not have their owned and operated inventory available within the Walmart Connect / TTD platform at launch). This is significant, not only given common brand safety, transparency, and commercial concerns associated with data plus inventory deals, but also given marketers’ goals and channel objectives - which can now theoretically include a larger array of goals (i.e. not just lower-funnel sales goals) and channel opportunities (e.g. OTT/CTV) all with Walmart audience data capable of being applied. 

  • Familiar buying platform - As it stands today, Walmart Connect is effectively white labeling The Trade Desk DSP. Marketer partners will have to manage a separate partner account to access Walmart data and measurement capabilities in order for Walmart to maintain their required degree of first party data protection, but all the TTD functionality and capabilities buyers have flocked to over the years are expected to be fully operational within the Walmart version of the platform. 

  • Self-service campaign execution - Above and beyond the white labeled approach, marketer partners are expected to have full hands-on-keyboard control over at least the most basic of requirements such as campaign structures, optimization levers, brand safety parameters, and creative assets. Coupled with TTD’s relative strength in the DSP space and buyer familiarity, the self-service execution should help drive interest and adoption from marketer partners and their programmatic buying units. 

That said, as details emerge it will be important for Walmart’s marketer partners to consider how the DSP offering will tackle other challenges such as:

  • More Advanced Measurement - While we have heard and anticipate that some degree of ads measurement tied to Walmart sales data will be available to marketer partners, details surrounding the granularity of this data, frequency and recency with which it will be made available, and the “real time” nature of it for optimizations are still yet to be ironed out. Furthermore, for brands that have moved towards incrementality-based conversion analysis, we undoubtedly hope to see interest in and focus on the ability to measure incremental Walmart sales driven by advertising executed by the Walmart Connect/TTD platform. 

  • Audience Targeting Options and Transparency  - Some degree of Walmart Audiences are expected to be available to transact on in the platform, however the taxonomy, granularity, and degree of customization that will be available to Walmart marketer partners is still to be determined. More advanced marketer partners will want greater visibility into how audiences are constructed, which could include elements such as types of goods purchased (ideally down to SKU-level data), recency/frequency of purchase, purchase location (i.e. in store vs. online), basket size, and so on. 

  • Data Connectivity - Although the Walmart Connect / TTD platform should help reduce frictions between brands’ retail-focused efforts and other media efforts by way of offering a familiar platform and self-service functionality, there remains uncertainty around how much brands will be able to actually blend data from Walmart Connect campaigns with other campaign data from their primary TTD accounts as well as the degree to which Walmart Connect/TTD will allow granular data to be passed to client ad servers such as Google Campaign Manager. While this lack of data harmonization across ecosystems is not surprising, it poses another gap brands will invariably have to solve for that feels quite similar to operating across other disparate buying platforms today (between TTD and Amazon DSP, DV360, or social buying platforms for example). 

  • Engagement levels and commercial models - Lastly, as it stands today, there is some uncertainty around how billing will be handled with clients of Walmart Connect and The Trade Desk—i.e. will media, platform, and data fees be separated across Walmart and The Trade Desk? It's also unknown the extent to which commercial models will also incorporate service levels and support from both Walmart support teams and TTD support teams as well as how they would be structured across a brand’s standard TTD and Walmart Connect/TTD platform accounts. In an ideal world, billing and support would be centralized through a single team to streamline processes and allow brands to benefit from increased investment with TTD as a whole.   

Welcome to the Club (Card)

Broadly, the Walmart and TTD partnership speaks to the notion that retailers, like their brand and publisher counterparts, recognize not only how valuable their first party data can be to fueling targeting and measurement efforts, but also the need for that data to be accessible in environments buyers are comfortable with. In The Trade Desk, marketers have mutual controls and guardrails, and campaigns can be aligned with broader marketing objectives and investment decisions. As the impending end of third party cookies nears and the impacts on performance media in particular are fully appreciated, the Walmart Connect/TTD arrangement could become the blueprint for similar arrangements with other retailers and across a wider array of organizations that can use unique data access to help connect previously missing pieces of the consumer journey puzzle. Buyers will certainly appreciate the implicit turnkey nature Walmart Connect and TTD should provide vs the alternative of introducing yet another demand-side platform to manage.

That said, there are some clear considerations for marketer partners wanting to engage with Walmart Connect as well as for the future of the retail data ecosystem at large. Separate platform entry points and limited ability to connect data across systems may not be the same as a full walled garden, but does introduce some rather tall hedges to overcome. Mitigating this lack of data connectivity could require brands to consider consolidating more media buying efforts in the Walmart Connect platform, but that may not make strategic or commercial sense. Furthermore, while transparency and quality questions around syndicated 3rd party data are valid, the speed with which buyers can test, learn, and swap segments does benefit campaign management. Retailers will have to balance the demand for customization and ease of use amongst all other considerations. Lastly, and most broadly, Walmart and other retailers will need to remain quite conscious of the impact media offerings have on consumer sentiment. Above all else, retailers should offer consumers transparency around how their data is being stored and used, clear opt-out rights, and strict data governance processes to ensure consumer trust is not eroded. 

All told, like much of the industry response so far, Essence is intrigued by the Walmart Connect integration with The Trade Desk, and we are excited to see more details emerge over the next few quarters. On the whole, we support solutions that help marketers form fewer, bigger, and better partnerships; reduce fragmentation across platforms; and offer more transparency and control. However, we recognize that Walmart is just one of a few in the space, and as a result are prepared to engage in different ways with different partners through mechanisms like clean rooms and shared data environments that offer both data privacy and analytics sophistication or other joint business partnerships that provide strategic value to clients.