Oh, hey, Walmart. Look at how you’re winning at branding today. I used to work with brands that were sold at Walmart. I know from experience that the “Own the school year like a hero” tagline and point-of-sale sign was never designed to market firearms. With two clicks of a mouse, I confirmed that the sign is part of a campaign featuring back to school clothing items featuring superheroes.
Unfortunately for Walmart, this “display” — likely the work of a cheeky sales associate who did it for the laugh — got lots of negative attention.
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With more than 3,000 stores, the retailer has a tough job keeping tabs on its brand across all touchpoints. This speaks to the need for training and empowerment of all store employees to deliver on the company’s brand promise — every day, with all their actions. This one brand transgression has already thrust Walmart into the spotlight with some negative publicity — at a critical time when families are flooding back to retail to restock for the new school year.
A company’s people are probably the most important part of their brand. In the age of instantaneous news, non-news and social sharing — one bad decision on the part of a single employee can cast a negative impression on the entire brand.
This is almost the same as was happened to United Airlines a couple of months ago, when line employees weren’t truly empowered to do right by their customers. As was the case with United, I don’t suppose that Walmart’s brand will take a significant financial hit because of this one incident, no matter how awful we think it is.
The strategic brand construct consists of two parts: 1) the part the company owns: the “identity,” and 2) the part that customers own: the “image.” One of the goals of branding is to ensure these two aspects match. That requires a 360-degree focus on the brand and requires everyone in the company to be a steward of the brand, from the most junior sales associate on the floor, all the way to the CEO, and everyone in between. When one oblivious sales associate makes a split-second decision to do something off brand, and that image is captured on social media and subsequently shared at the speed of light, that single action speaks for the entire brand.
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For all brands, regardless the industry they’re in, employees are the primary stewards of the brand experience. Train employees on your brand’s vision, its core DNA and the essence of how every customer should feel when he or she interacts with the brand at any stage of the customer journey. Create incentives for employees to deliver an on-brand experience. And correct them — or even dismiss them — when they don’t.