Big Retail “What should I create?” is maybe the most-asked question in content marketing. Unlike traditional advertising or legacy media where limited channels (television, magazine pages, billboards) defined the content that brands could produce (30-second spots, full-page ads), the digital age is … "/>

How The 5 Biggest Retailers Do Content

Big Retail

“What should I create?” is maybe the most-asked question in content marketing. Unlike traditional advertising or legacy media where limited channels (television, magazine pages, billboards) defined the content that brands could produce (30-second spots, full-page ads), the digital age is awash in choices. All that choice creates a persistent feeling that there’s a single, optimal content strategy that delivers value to the audience, accomplishes marketing goals, scales well and costs little.

Is there?

We decided to do a simple experiment and look at the content strategies and social profiles of the top five American retail brands, based on Interbrand’s well-known brand value rankings. We reasoned that mass-market retailers at the top of the economic food chain would have similar overall footprints—slight differences in customer profiles aside, what works for one nationwide chain’s blog might well work for the others, right?

Not really. Instead, we found a surprising amount of diversity in how these brands approached content marketing, ranging from coupons and giveaways to user-generated content and brand-sponsored posts. Every brand maintains Twitter and Facebook accounts, with varying degrees of success. The superstores far outstripped The Home Depot and CVS in that category; for example, Walmart maintains a steady focus on products and sales while Target attracts users with original content and celebrity connections. By comparison, Amazon mixes product promotion and original posts. Target is informative, friendly, and engaging. The Home Depot supports its DIY branding with a similarly engaging and helpful tone, but Walmart still struggles to separate its corporate identity from its customer outreach.

The big content standout was Amazon: the only top-five retail brand without brick-and-mortar locations and—no surprise—a radically different approach to content marketing. Read on to find out how the five biggest American retailers approach content in their own unique ways.

5: CVS

Of the top five brands, CVS has perhaps the most limited—or focused, you might say—online content strategy. Its blog sticks to deals and shopping tips and the brand leans heavily on its email newsletter for customer outreach, promoting the week’s top deals in a format similar to that of printed weekly circulars of yore. The pharmacy chain’s Facebook page, like its emails, serves primarily as a showcase for coupons and special deals. Does such a throwback strategy work? Over 1 million Likes argues it does. CVS’s Twitter presence is a similar affair with nearly 200,000 followers and an emphasis on coupons and deals. It is noticeably less image-heavy than the other Twitter accounts on our list.

Perhaps the pharmacy’s most appealing and accessible piece of content is the Family Vitamin Center, a Web app that recommends what supplements to take based on age and lifestyle.

4: Amazon

Like its virtual shelves, Amazon offers a vast array of content, from original premiere programming like the shows “Alpha House” and “Betas” to its much more ubiquitous user generated reviews and opinions. Don’t think that feedback is really valuable content? This guy built an entire business from them. With product offerings that range from toys to electronics and even fine art, Amazon has banked a tremendous quantity of customer input, which in turn draws intelligent consumers to their pages. Few other sites can provide the same amount of product detail for such a varied inventory, which makes Amazon a go-to choice for many online shoppers.

In terms of social media presence, Amazon covers a number of verticals. It has individual Twitter accounts for its Amazon Instant, MP3, Kindle, and Local sub-brands, to name a few. The primary Amazon Twitter account, with over 1 million followers, provides info like deals, product images, and some user engagement. The Facebook account features similar content with more of an eye towards giveaways and deals of the day. The Amazon Facebook page has more than 23 million Likes.

3: The Home Depot

Unsurprisingly, the DIY giant’s digital content leans heavily towards instructional material. Its project guides address topics like gardening and basic craftsmanship, but extend as far as lessons in specific masonry skills. The Home Depot also provide extensive buying guides, valuable for a shop that has a big business in power tools. Its Apron Blog is another asset, showcasing longer decorating and project articles that come from external bloggers with their own DIY and interior design portfolios.

The Home Depot’s Twitter account is image-heavy, covering interactions with DIY celebrities, some product promotion, and plenty of home improvement suggestions. The account is approaching 200,000 followers despite a high-profile debacle last year involving a gag tweet that some thought was racist

2: Target

The front page of Target’s image-rich blog, A Bullseye View.

The front page of Target’s image-rich blog, A Bullseye View.

The chain superstore already has a nationwide physical presence, but what about its online marketing? Target has a more sophisticated content strategy than its peers and its most visible manifestation is the blog A Bullseye View, which looks, feels and reads like a publication, not an extension of sales site The blog focuses on fashion, beauty and entertainment and the image-heavy site also has a large photo and video presence. While how-to articles are certainly present, Target’s blog is a stronger news source than any of the other brands we looked at, especially when it comes to entertainment coverage. It doesn’t hurt that Target has sponsorships and other deals with a number of the celebrities and brands to lend it cachet and cred.

The Target Twitter account also reflects these celebrity ties, full of images of movie premieres and other high-profile events. Target also embraces the multi-account approach. While its main Twitter feed carries 1 million followers, the independent deals-focused account alone has over 250,000 fans. Like the blog and Twitter account, Target’s Facebook page is heavy on images and celebrities and includes a smattering of contests and giveaways. The page also features loads of original content ranging from print ads to video clips, and has nearly 23 million Likes. 

1: Walmart

The other big-box store on the list and Interbrand’s top brand of 2013, Walmart’s content presence is enormous. The company uses content created by its name brand suppliers to create the type of how-to and informational content that draws readers. The result is a network of pages that cover suggestions and instructions on everything from auto repair and recipes to beauty advice. Some of the links even lead to off-site Walmart blogs, such as the Walmart Smart site, which focuses on better ways to use technology in the home.

Like The Home Depot, Walmart carries an image-heavy Twitter feed. Its posts are usually related to giveaways, upcoming product releases and deals, and fun trivia. Walmart also has a number of smaller Twitter accounts, similar to Amazon’s strategy, that cover company-centric topics like sustainable goals, and charitable work. The main Walmart account also serves as a re-tweeting hub for the smaller Twitter accounts and carries nearly 500,000 followers. The Walmart Facebook page carries a whopping 34 million Likes.

Takeaways from the top 5 retail brands

What can we learn from each of these? Images are a constant and a way of enhancing other content or bringing eyeballs on their own. Instructional and how-to content is a recurring theme, but even the approaches to creating this content and how it’s presented vary greatly. What they all have in common is that each brand plays to their own customer strengths. CVS plays up its low prices and frequent discounts, while The Home Depot leverages the DIY nature of its product. Target and Walmart are able to harness their size, celebrity and brand ties, and superior discounts into a substantial social media presence. Amazon puts users in charge of creating reviews and commentary. Overall, it’s necessary to have a social media and online content presence, but letting the strength of your product dictate your content strategy may be the best guidance of all.