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
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’