No one I’ve ever met has an unfavourable opinion of Wal*Mart. First and foremost, let me state that Sam Walton is one of my heroes. He was a humble genius who, despite being a multibillionaire, still drove his pickup truck to work every day and frequently took his dog with him.
I never shop at Wal*Mart. I prefer to buy American when I can, which I can’t do at Wal*Mart. I’d rather go see my friend Dan Sorrentino at Newtown Hardware for my sundries than walk the length of a football field to find someone I don’t know. However, I know quite a few people who shop at Wal*Mart on a regular basis. Wal*Mart has an affiliate programme that is acceptable through LinkShare. Wal*Mart has its own blog, Wal*Mart Facts.
Wal*Mart has a pretty big target painted on its back because it is the world’s largest retailer. It’s always getting slammed for its hiring practises or lack of corporate this or corporate that. It must be difficult to work as a Wal*Mart publicist. Wal*Mart is attempting to soften its public image, according to the Strategic Public Relations Blog. It has enlisted the help of Chicago-based Edelman, a venerable public relations firm.
According to the Modern Marketing blog, Edelman and Wal*Mart created the Action Alley programme. Action Alley was created to practise what is referred to as “Outside Marketing” in modern marketing. In terms of marketing:
Traditional marketing is based on the concept of creating a central set of messages and disseminating them throughout the market.
This is a ‘Inside-Out’ approach, in which the communications infrastructure needed to manage brands and image (cameras, editing suites, media, design & creative personnel) is housed within large organisations and used to disseminate information.
The Inside-Out approach is becoming less and less effective as savvy consumers use PVRs, adblockers, SPAM filters, RSS feeds, subscriptions, and customer communities to filter out unwanted advertising information.
Unsurprisingly, some businesses are on the lookout for new ideas. People are turning to Open Source Marketing as they realise that the values of the Open Source Movement can be applied to industries other than technology.
The ‘Outside-In’ approach to Open Source can be described as such. It recognises that in a distributed environment, consumers and other stakeholders produce a lot of information and content about a company or brand outside of the organisation. And that businesses require systems that enable them to respond to this data.
It also recognises that this information is frequently more influential than a company’s or brand’s spiel. Someone looking to book a hotel, for example, is more likely to trust a customer community like virtualtourist.com than a hotel website.
Outside-in marketing scares the living daylights out of marketing people, because it means they’ve lost control of their brand and message, and they’re not just pulling levers and watching what happens.
Returning to Wal*Mart, the marketing nerds there thought that what was being said in the Blogosphere was eroding their brand. They’re most likely correct. Action Alley’s job appears to be to help -ahem- steer those in the Blogosphere to write more positively about Wal*Mart.
According to the Motley Fool, a blogger named Brian Pickrell suggested that the state of Maryland telling Wal*Mart how much employee health insurance they must provide is a bad idea. I would probably agree with him even if I hadn’t read the article. His article sounded a lot like a press release written by Edelman, according to the Fool.
So the kerfuffle appears to be about Wal*Mart’s ruse of feeding news stories to influential bloggers in order to sway their opinions. They certainly do. Everyone else does, too, and to argue otherwise is either naive or stupid. That is the essence of public relations.
While I was laughing at the whole thing, something very cool occurred to me: all the commotion is because a $30 million per day company is attempting to influence a group of bloggers, rightfully believing that they have a lot of influence on the brand but incorrectly believing that they have any influence over them.
You should know that we bloggers aren’t stupid. Your marketing tripe propoganda may be used, but the marketing weenies must understand that we only use it because we agree with it. And, while purists may squawk, I don’t think it’s a problem.
So all of us nobodys can turn a ship the size of Wal*Mart as a group.
Blogs are king.