Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More (Way More) on Branding

I read a lot of branding books and articles. I love to talk both strategically, tactically and intellectually about branding (yes, I'm a marketing geek).

This Business Week story, if you believe the "branding experts" should officially mark the beginning of the end of Wal-Mart.

Exhibit A:

"[Wal-Mart is] updating products and remodeling stores to attract more affluent shoppers"
This marks a departure in their brand promise and how they deliver their retail experience. More affluent shoppers don't want, need or like the current shopping experience at Wal-Mart - that's how Target built THEIR brand. While my comments may contradict the following:

"Wal-Mart studied its customer base closely last year and discovered that many of its shoppers were quite affluent"

I'm betting that even though affluent folks shop at Wal-Mart every so often, it just can't hang as a brand that can deliver an experience that affluent shoppers expect. This seems to me to be a classic blunder that many brands make (confusing what your brand delivers, how it delivers it by watering the brand down with divergent brand strategies).

Perhaps they should create a new brand focused on affluent shoppers that can actually deliver. I was reading an article in 1 to 1 Magazine (free registration required) about 1-800-Flowers. They've been very smart in how they've built other brands that leverage their infrastructure, but do not conflict with their core brand - building brands like Plow & Hearth, Hearthsong, Popcorn Factory, and others.

Exhibit B:

"Wal-Mart finally recognized that retail is not just about prices..."

Ok, now this is just silly! Wal-Mart's brand is all about prices - in fact, their own tagline is "Always low prices, Always." I especially love how they emphasize "Always" by putting it twice in the tagline - it's a great touch. Granted, the quote above isn't from Wal-Mart execs - it's from a fund manager, who is hopefully selling stock in Wal-Mart, because if branding history teaches us anything, Wal-Mart's stock value is about to go the wrong way. Oh my god... I just realized that I own stock in Wal-Mart... I must call my broker immediately.

Exhibit C: Wages

Then there is this entire bit about how raising wages will make Wal-Mart an even better place to work, and that the higher wages will allow Wal-Mart to serve "more affluent" customers.

"It's really an image thing," says David J. Abella, portfolio manager at Rochdale Investment Management, which manages more than $2 billion in assets.

This is killing me... So is it a PR/Image thing, or is it brand strategy? I'm a common sense guy... this makes no sense. Let's pay people 6% higher salaries, and we'll suddenly become a great place to work (you need a better PR strategy than!) and affluent customers will beat down our doors because we now have great service, because we pay 6% higher. Ummm, yea.

Exhibit D - The Early Results:
  • Wal-Mart's newer stores' sales per square foot slipped a little in June. Considering these are likely the ones with the new store redesign in place, it's a worrying slip. Yep, sure is worrying!

  • Charles Grom, an analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities, says that existing stores could see soft sales too, because of the extensive remodeling that will go on over the next few months.

I agree with Barry who says:

"Wal-Mart is trying to have something for everyone and in the process it will lose its current customer"

    In writing this post, it's not my intention to bash Wal-Mart - only to analyze their branding strategy out of intellectual curiosity and to see how it applies to my current employer. Then again, maybe not - maybe Wal-Mart will prove that brand divergence is a false theory making stacks of books obsolete.

    So how does this apply to Non-profit marketing? How many times have you taken a floundering campaign and added elements or new types of users only to find that you've taken a step backwards? It takes discipline to step back and look at your brand, figure what it stands for, where it stands in the marketplace and craft a strategy that will raise more money or drive more awareness.

    For instance, Team In Training is a fitness brand - and one that appeals to high achievers - folks who want to commit to running a marathon or completing a triathalon and who tend to be female. Those same folks are expected to raise several thousands of dollars as they train for their event! We constantly battle against each other looking for "new marketings" - expanding Team In Training in it's current form 24-year old single males who play video games all day doesn't make sense! If we want to go after that demographic/consumer, then we need a new brand - that's brand divergence - and most likely, the level of training, staff support and fundraising would be significantly different (sounds like a new program to me!)

    As for some of my other mistakes - we tried to launch a Team In Training film school/video mash up site with no luck at all. Why? High achieving females who are busy training for marathons and raising thousands of dollars don't have the time, ability or interest in creating fun, viral videos. Oops :) Hey, we all make mistakes once in a while. Hopefully for Wal-Mart's marketing staff, this isn't a billion dollar branding blunder. Perhaps a better strategy would have been to launch a video remix site for 24 year old video gamers who want to create video game versions of our PSAs in World of Warcraft. Or, maybe not!

    What am I missing about Wal-Mart's strategy that makes me look like a fool for posting all this stuff? Comments are open so bring em on!

    Tags: , ,

    Links to this post:

    Create a Link

    << Home