Maybe it’s because I work in marketing, but it seriously bugs me when I go into Walgreens and the cashier, standing in front of a wall of cigarettes, tells me to “live well”. Often this person also tries to push 3 chocolate bars at the sale price of $2 right before wishing me a future full of healthiness. Pretty obvious there’s inconsistency and a bit of hypocrisy in this brand experience. The strategy to position the aggressively expanding national chain as a neighborhood focused drug store that truly cares about the health of its customers is smart and meaningful. I get it. And I see the potential. But it remains only a concept if the essence of the brand is not fully embraced.
It takes hard work and a lot of tough decisions to build a strong brand. It’s difficult. The very strongest brands don’t break their promise. Ever. At every touchpoint with brands like Starbucks, Disney or Apple, you get the consistency of an experience that compliments not contradicts the company’s brand promise. Even when it doesn’t seem to make great business sense. Example: a family in my neighborhood went to Disney World last summer. One evening the restaurant they planned to go to was over booked and the wait was too long for three hungry kids. After leaving the restaurant, they found a Disney employee to ask about other places to eat. During the discussion they let the employee know the kids were a little disappointed to not get to go to the original choice. After giving them more dining options, the employee asked them to wait a moment and then stepped into a retail store. Within a few minutes the employee came back with a handful of Disney souvenirs for the kids and park passes for the adults, smiled and told them to enjoy the rest of their trip. Now that’s a powerful, reinforcing brand touchpoint. Made possible by a park employee understanding and embracing the company’s promise of always delivering fun family entertainment.
With Walgreens, the business decision was made to accept a weakness or inconsistency in the brand image in order to maintain the revenue and store traffic that the sell of tobacco delivers. The problem for me is that this one inconsistency seriously undermines the honesty of the brand promise. “We want you to live well unless you smoke then we just want to make money off you.” It’s a stain of insincerity that I think will have to be dealt with. The biggest step would be to cut ties with tobacco. What a bold move that would be; giving up significant revenue in order to better serve customers. Wow! Talk about increasing believability in your brand. That would be the most honest move to make. And, at the end of the day, what we really long for is relationships with people and products that we can fully trust.