Who am I – now that I’m not who I was? As indicated in my last post those words form the title of a new book by a friend. Everyone reading this can aptly ask their selves that question because we are indeed never who we were at any point in life. However, certain milestones in our developmental journey through life that stands out more prominently than others. The onset of the midlife quest for self-realization is one such milestone.
I have proposed that brands as well as people experience developmental milestones. To survive, brand personalities must evolve over time to stay in sync with changes in the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times.
From the world’s most recognized brand Coca-Cola to P & G’s Tide, successful brands continuously change. Sometimes changes are superficial, like they are when the only New and Improved! is a revised container design. In other cases, changes are systemic and of such magnitude that few aspects of the company behind the brand are unaffected. Walmart is a case in point.
Walmart began life as a value-based brand: Everyday low prices everyday! It remains committed to that brand promise. However, Walmart appears to be transitioning to a more mature-minded and socially responsible brand. Some colleagues of mine are more cynical. They believe that Walmart has joined the green marketing brigade strictly for bottom line reasons.
That response raises an issue that marketers need to be careful about in changing a brand’s image. Unless changes are consistent with the market’s past perceptions of the brand’s personality consumers may consider the changes to be inauthentic. Walmart certainly faces a big challenge in that regard as it steers toward a more socially responsible path. Its history is checkered with charges of unfair labor practices, worker exploitation, sex discrimination and other alleged sins against society.
Nevertheless I do believe that Walmart’s more mature self is genuinely concerned about social issues. Walmart surprised many when it was one of the first major companies to endorse the idea of healthcare reform. It has dramatically changed its practices regarding worker benefits. It is having a large and growing impact on the green movement. For example, it took the lead in negotiating with Phillips and GE, the world’s largest makers of incandescent lights bulbs, to phase them out over time. This was a huge accomplishment given the annuity value of a product that has to be continuously replaced over short periods of time.
In a sense, Walmart (in my judgment) is transitioning from its brash, arrogant, ambitious youthhood into a more reserved, respectful and balanced personality of the kind associated with people well along the Jungian path to self-realization. It has long been one of the world’s most admired brands in the business world because of its astonishing record of success. However, it has also from suffered intensely antagonistic attitudes in communities foresworn to block them from setting up shop within their boundaries. Even many customers have had strongly negative feelings about Walmart even as they could not resist shopping at a Walmart because of its pricing.
As I see it, Walmart is maturing as a brand personality in a manner that is in sync with the zeitgeist. It stands as a model that marketers of other brands would do well to study. Again, Who am I – now that I’m not who I was? Walmart appears to know the answer for itself. What about any brands you’re associated with?