CAMPAIGNS: Judge and Jury - Non-aggressive PR could have us rolling down the Wal-Mart aisles

US retail giant Wal-Mart needs to be well aware of our PR culture if it is to win the hearts and pockets of the UK consumer, says Gabrielle Shaw managing director of Gabrielle Shaw Communications. The press coverage of Wal-Mart’s bid for Asda has been largely positive.

US retail giant Wal-Mart needs to be well aware of our PR culture

if it is to win the hearts and pockets of the UK consumer, says

Gabrielle Shaw managing director of Gabrielle Shaw Communications.

The press coverage of Wal-Mart’s bid for Asda has been largely

positive.



Most often, the key issue in promoting a US concept or brand in the UK

is capturing the magic and excitement of US innovation.



Introducing a brand overseas is a very tricky balancing act as the first

assumption is more often than not of an aggressive US company coming to

take the UK by storm. By focusing on the culture of the company and the

folksy small town lifestyle, Wal-Mart’s PR team has tried to personalise

the customers’ perception of the brand.



I do think however it is very early days for Wal-Mart in terms of making

a distinct brand personality for the UK market.



The most important thing is that they are listening and trying to

understand the UK market and consumer, and will enter this country

humbly. Sure, it is one of the world’s retail giants but it will not

appeal to widespread UK consumers unless it actively shows it is

adapting the concept to work locally.



As a North American who has spent nearly a decade in this country, I

know that company creeds like ’an aggressive hospitality’ would make the

average reserved Brit run a mile. It must therefore approach the press

strategically to communicate the benefits of its customer service using

words and imagery that work specifically for the UK.



Wal-Mart faces a tough road ahead press-wise. In North America it has

had enormous backlash for changing the way of life in small communities

and putting independents out of business. Wal-Mart will quickly need to

show it is listening to the UK consumers’ needs so it can capture the

essence of what everyone loves about America, asgreat US brands such as

Levi’s, Gap and Starbucks have done. It will be an interesting campaign,

and should have dramatic consequences on retailing, more so outside

London in non-food sales.



Wal-Mart’s UK entry will encourage UK retailers to re-evaluate their

current service and pricing propositions. However, I think it would be a

mistake for local retailers to mirror these aspects of Wal-Mart’s retail

strategy but rather differentiate themselves on quality and lifestyle

platforms such as Sainsbury’s current ’Making Life Taste Better’

positioning.



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