Walmart's mobile promotion puts SMS to good use

When Walmart wanted to promote its new line of gluten-free products in stores earlier this year, it turned to mobile marketing to drive store traffic and engagement. As as added bonus, Walmart learned a few things about its customers along the way.

This was a cross-screen promotion for smartphone, tablet and desktop designed to generate awareness for Walmart's new line of gluten-free products, drive traffic to participating stores during in-store sampling events, and to increase opt-ins to Walmart's gluten-free SMS program. The retailer worked with FunMobility to create the campaign.

Walmart had set up in-store sampling stations at select locations and shoppers were encouraged to text GFWalmart to receive gluten-free recipes and other relevant lifestyle content.

The campaign ran for one week in January and included geo-targeted ads and landing pages optimized for mobile and desktop. Walmart campaigns typically reach a wider audience on desktop than mobile, according to Kevin Almeida, head of mobile marketing strategy at FunMobility. But the response rate to the in-store SMS component yielded some unexpected results.

Those shoppers who engaged with the content on mobile skewed younger and showed more interest than expected. Younger millennials ages 18 to 24 made up nearly 25 percent of the campaign's total audience.

Shoppers found recipes and shared content on Twitter using the hashtag #gfwalmart. Although many accessed gluten-free recipes while in-store, they were largely looking for ways to replace traditionally, gluten-heavy foods. "In other words, gluten-free burritos and French toast were much more popular than chocolate pudding or fruit dishes," Almeida said.

The unsung hero in these campaigns is SMS, as text messaging emerges as a valuable tool in targeting

There's a trend toward utilizing SMS today, particularly among retailers that haven't developed native apps. What makes Walmart's use of text messaging unique is that the retailer has developed apps for its brands and formats, and continues to release new features such as searchable e-receipts, gift registries and in-store pickup schedules.

"SMS is kind of the underdog of mobile marketing," Almeida said. "There's a much higher engagement rate and an instant gratification moment in-store."  

But it's not a one-size fits all solution. Retailers aren't looking to wallpaper their stores with keywords and short codes, but they do appreciate the high user engagement SMS generates, said Almeida. The key is to use the technology judiciously.

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