How to Beat Walmart On Facebook

As Walmart Goes Local, Local Businesses Need to Get Savvy

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It's very difficult for local businesses to compete with big international chain retailers. A company like Walmart spends an estimated $2.1 billion on marketing each year, has made major investments in digital technology via its @WalmartLabs, and delivers localized marketing messages through its "My Local Walmart" Facebook program.

Walmart, one of the leading digital brands, is crushing it in social and on Facebook. It would appear that smaller regional and local retailers have no chance of competing with the retail giant online. In fact, they can. And they can do so more cost-effectively than ever before, through social media sites such as Twitter and Google+. When looking to do this at scale, though, there is no better way than through Facebook.

The key lies in the unique ability to use competitive social media intelligence on Facebook to reach the competition's fans with targeted marketing. Through the use of the Facebook Ads API, even smaller local stores can compete with the big chains — by using the big chain's data against it.

Here's how it works: Walmart's Facebook page has 13.7 million Likes. On the most basic level, local business can use Facebook to find the Walmart fans in their area and serve them targeted ads. Facebook provides anonymized insights about ad campaigns that enable advertisers to go a few steps beyond that to develop a deeper understanding of the consumers who like Walmart on Facebook, and then use those insights to form their own Facebook ad strategy.

By segmenting on this deeper level, advertisers can look at the different qualities of local fans to best match their target customers. For instance, a local sports store can use the insights to target consumers who Like running, Nike , and running events, and who also like Walmart. All of this targeting is anonymous, of course. Facebook doesn't provide advertisers data on individual Facebook users; nor do we care about individual identities. All the local sports store wants is to reach the members of the large group of local people who Like running, Nike , running events and Walmart.) The smaller store probably doesn't want to advertise to Walmart shoppers who don't share a passion for sports, so this strategy helps avoid the targeting of unwanted audiences. That's particularly helpful when your ad budget is a lot smaller than a major retailer's.

Even better: local advertisers can beat big companies by finding audiences on Facebook that fit the profile of Walmart fans, but haven't clicked the Like button to connect to the Walmart page. Facebook Insights makes it possible to gain valuable information on the characteristics of a brand's existing customers, while still respecting privacy. Small brands can work with the API or a data partner to go after Walmart-like customers who may not even know they resemble Walmart customers. Such targeting goes beyond the Facebook users that interact with your brand – it's targeting based on competitive intelligence, lookalike modeling, and other advanced targeting techniques.

The practice of advertising based on consumer insights is nothing new. Brands spend millions on market research, and there are several digital companies that help advertisers build audience models. Providers like AddThis and ShareThis compile data whenever users share a piece of content on a social network, while InfiniGraph tracks social users to create advertising segments. In search, Hitwise is a popular tool for learning which keywords drive consumers to a competitor's website, powering the bid strategy. BLiNQ Media's LiFT planning and optimization tool applies a Hitwise-like model to social, translating data into planning insights, media tactics and optimization strategies on the Facebook platform.

This strategy isn't solely for local merchants. National retailers can utilize competitive intelligence to spread relevant messages on a local level. Target can alert Walmart customers on Facebook to new store openings or sales in areas where the two stores battle for customers.

It's widely known that Facebook makes it possible for retailers large and small to deliver localized messaging at scale. This data-driven buying strategy takes local advertising up another notch. Media planning, buying and optimization on Facebook based on audience insights levels the playing field for local retailers, making it possible for them to beat national advertisers on their home turf. Game on, Walmart!

Dave Williams is the CEO of Blinq Media.
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