Wal-Mart adopts flexible approach to branding

16 June 2010

BENTONVILLE, Arkansas: Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, is taking a targeted approach to branding and advertising in each of the countries in which it has a presence.

The discount giant currently owns stores operating under a total of 54 banners across the globe, but does not intend to consolidate this portfolio under one brand name.

"Retail is an incredibly local business and a shop's franchise is based around people's experiences," said Rick Bendel, the corporation's international chief marketing officer.

"We are protective of the fact that our business has been built up locally."

Such a model also applies to its ad agencies, as Wal-Mart employs different partners in every nation as it seeks to derive the maximum benefit from its $2.4bn (€.20bn; £1.6bn) in annual marketing spend.

"I don't believe that working with a single global agency would give value ... It's lazy to copy," Bendel argued.

While the company entered the UK in 1999 through its acquisition of Asda, it has previously abandoned efforts to break in to Germany and South Korea, and has found the climate in Japan particularly difficult.

However, Bendel suggested the firm has had more success in South America, India, China and Central America.

"We go into places where there are big economic challenges and recruit people from the area, so we all share a mission try to help people by making things affordable and accessible," he said.

"When we arrived in India five years ago, there were 2 million mom-and-pop shops, and in Mexico, there were 1.5 million mom-and-pop shops, but big supermarkets did not exist."

Wal-Mart has thus brought certainty to its customers in these countries, be in terms of the products which are made available on its shelves or with regard to the shopping experience as a whole.

In a bid to leverage the best practice learnings from its entire network, the company has also established a "marketing academy" in the UK.

"Everyone involved in marketing around the world, from CMOs to graduate trainees, comes to the academy for at least two and up to eight weeks," Bendel said.

"I interview all our new CMOs and bring them to the UK for eight weeks before sending them out to their own markets."

These employees work for a month in a branch of Asda, with the exact remit of their role reflecting whether they will then be active in emerging or developed economies.

This strategy has offered a unique insight into how consumers in very diverse countries display similar needs, but has also shown that executions must be tailored to suit local tastes and preferences.

"In China, where they love theatre, we have a big hand on a stick, with a finger pointing to the quicker checkouts," said Bendel. 

"In the UK, we are experimenting with webcams so that people can check how busy the store is before they leave home. It's the same concept, just applied differently."

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by Warc staff