Wal-Mart: Always the Low Road
Um, okay. So Wal-Mart is buying cheap land? In an effort to say what, exactly?
Keep in mind that the $35 million Wal-Mart plans to spend is barely a drop in the bucket compared to their annual advertising, merchandising and promotional campaigns. But that's really beside the main point, which is this charade's incredible transparency.
In the first place, Wal-Mart - yet another store with no brand strategy - has been a media victim for years now. The (no pun intended) target of social environmentalists everywhere, Wal-Mart has allowed itself to become the focus of urban myths, the most egregious of which portrays the store as a monolithic predator that moves into small communities, sucks the enterprise out of them and leaves nothing but its skeletal remains once it has finished feeding.
Of course, the proof of that particular urban myth has never been documented, to my knowledge. And the lack of that proof has never been given the same media attention as the myth itself. In fact, it may be that myth is 100% untrue, but then again, who cares? It's the myth that generates television ratings. Scarier still, the myth has gained so much momentum as to actually mobilize typically apathetic urban communities to launch civic movements preventing Wal-Marts from invading their spaces.
Now Wal-Mart is fighting a battle on a second front. It's "Acres for America" is possibly the most pathetic effort to flim-flam the American public since Gerald Ford sought a national anthem to "Whip Inflation Now" (no kidding, if you're not old enough to remember it, the president of the United States actually thought that if he could get enough Americans to sing about whipping inflation, the economy would recover). Apparently, Wal-Mart believes that if enough people watch their TV spot, everyone will suddenly drop their objections to whatever it is that Wal-Mart is accused of doing. This media practice is not without precedent. I believe it was Joseph Goebbels who called it "the big lie." Slap up enough posters with enough lies on enough walls, he maintained, and people will really start to believe it.
The problem is that Americans are as not stupid as Wal-Mart would like to think. Unfortunately, we can't say the same thing for Wal-Mart's management. And to think, both of these fiascoes could have been avoided if only Wal-Mart had a brand strategy.
"Hey," I can hear you saying, "Wal-Mart does have a brand strategy. It's 'Always the Low Price.'" To which I reply, "Nope. What you have there is a tag line and a bad one at that. But it ain't a brand strategy." Here's why:
1. Price strategy is no strategy. For a brand to really work, you have to provide a host of reasons why people should pay MORE for your goods, not less. The minute you hang your hat on price, you're dead meat, because anyone, at any time, can undercut your price. That's what loss leaders are all about. The more reasons you give someone to choose your brand as the only solution, the less important price becomes as a decision factor.
2. When you put your brand out there to compete with low bidders, price is all anyone looks at. Nobody stays loyal because of a low price. It works to the exact opposite purpose: if they know you're only about price, you're actually encouraging them to shop around until they find that lower price. You're literally asking them to go someplace else.
3. If you don't have a brand strategy, you leave yourself open to interpretation of your brand, which is really, really bad. Since Wal-Mart has no brand strategy - they don't stand for anything - they have no track record against which they can rebut the silly stories that make it into the media. In my book, I discuss one of my favorite brands: Sears Craftsman tools. With Craftsman, the quality is guaranteed for life. Which means if your grandchildren have a problem with a wrench, they can take it back for a new one. That's a brand strategy. That's Sears standing behind their word. So you can bet that people think twice before lobbing media grenades at Sears; Sears has a great track record with that brand. Sears gets the benefit of the public's doubt, while Wal-Mart gets petitions to keep them out of the neighborhood.
Same store sales at Wal-Mart are dropping like flies. Wal-Mart responds with stock footage of endangered eagles flying through the sky and a program to snap up a few acres here and there. See, these guys just aren't thinking. What they should have done is import wool hoods from China and sell them at a special low price, and then pray that everyone would pull them over their eyes.