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What Walmart Could Learn from Google and Starbucks.

The other night at a dinner attended by several business-owners and marketers, the subject of Walmart came up (see attached new logo). Right or wrong, the consensus by those at the dinner was that Walmart is a company that is unnecessarily tough on its suppliers. Many people around the table shared stories about suppliers who had worked with Walmart and were mistreated or had less-than-positive experiences.

There was one diner who disagree with the assessment. He said that the others were just taking pot-shots at Walmart simply because it was the big kahuna, the top dog, the #1 player.

That point-of-view — that Americans will take pot-shots the top-dog in any industry — has some validity. Americans do tend to build companies (and celebrities) up only to drag them down once they’re at the top.

That said, how do you explain Google and Starbucks? Both of those companies are large quasi-monopolies that, somehow, have maintained a high “like-ability” factor among consumers.

Part of the reason — and this is where Walmart could learn a thing or two — is that they consistently communicate a genuine sense of goodness in everything they do. They don’t just talk about being good citizens, they actually execute it from top to bottom.

Walmart, on the other hand, talks about being a good citizen, but then (according to my friends) mistreats their suppliers behind-the-scenes.

So there you have it. Once again, we learn a lesson about marketing from Google and Starbucks. And that lesson is that you can’t just talk about being a good citizen, you have to execute it throughout your entire organization.

Walmart should take note of Google and Starbucks. Both those organizations have maintained a monopolistic hold on their respective industries but have not suffered the indignity of people around a dinner table trashing their brand. Why? Because they execute that concept both publicly and behind-the-scenes. And that’s something we can all learn from.

  • Robert Becker

    The expressed concerns are not about Wal-Mart’s brand. They are about the modern management science of PROCUREMENT; aka supply chain management, aka spend management.

    Wal-Mart is a procurement pioneer thanks to sophisticated analytics, but certainly not the only one or even the worst offender. Everybody from the corner deli to IBM squeezes vendors (Starbucks too).

    I am not a supplier to or a shopper at Wal-Mart, but I see nothing wrong with their brand. They keep their promise to consumers, and that is all that matters.

    These days marketers tend to invoke branding as a panacea. It gets them into the conversation, even when they have little value to add. I don’t think that procurement strategies are helped by branding, though it does work the other way around.

    Every time you shop for a great deal on something, and you feel the love for your favorite brand, you can probably rest assured that many sacrifices were made in the supply chain and distribution channels to make you happy!

  • Scott Meyer

    The perception that Wal-Mart somehow abuses their suppliers comes as a surprise to me–I have called on Wal-Mart for many years and while their standards are high and they are tough negotiators, they are exceptionally fair in their business practices. I do not know one manufacturer with Wal-Mart as one of their top five accounts where Wal-Mart isn’t the most profitable of the five.

    Wal-Mart’s brand image among their shoppers and among their suppliers are two totally different things.

  • Jamie Turner

    I’m glad to see this entry is generating so much buzz. If Walmart (note the new spelling of the company name) is being unfairly characterized by the public, that’s unfair. But if their characterization is the result of a corporate culture that’s less-than-ideal, then their public perception is entirely fair.

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