How to Sell Steak at Walmart: Find New Ways to Talk About An Old Product.

It’s been pretty amazing. Every now and then, you work on a marketing program where as soon as you do it, you see the results, and nobody is questioning whether you’ve actually seen it or not. With so many marketing programs, there will be doubters. But this one has really had a big impact so far.

Walmart CMO Stephen Quinn on steak marketing – Ad Age interview 6/25/2012

Source: walmart.com/steak

Which word – Walmart, steak, summer grilling -does not belong in the same sentence?

According to Walmart, they all belong in the same sentence.  Here’s what the company announced two months ago:

Customers across the country can now enjoy Walmart’s premium selection and wide assortment of top quality USDA Choice steak, including T-bone, NY Strip, Filet, Ribeye, and Top Sirloin, at a great price. This new steak offering is available in Walmart stores nationwide just in time for the busy summer grilling season.

Say what you want about Walmart, but it’s interesting to track how the low-price giant is trying to build sales in a surprising category.  Walmart’s steak marketing is a good example of a strategy I refer to as “making news.”  This means finding and/or creating relevant message point news about your brand or product.  It’s especially applicable for mature products that don’t easily lend themselves to product improvement or innovations – steak, for example.

Essentially, Walmart is relaunching its presence across beef product lines with a money-back price guarantee, a clever Q&A social media video series, and a tried-but-still effective product “switcheroo” event marketing program.

Here’s a video, from their senior executive in charge of meat, used on Facebook:

That same executive makes the case why the new steaks are different, and better, in this customer response video:

In the event marketing program, dubbed a “steak-over,” Walmart works with a local steakhouse to swap out its steaks for Walmart’s, and then surprises diners with the actual product reveal.  Check out this example from Kansas City:

CMO Quinn elaborated to Ad Age about steak-over:

“It’s really taking a page out of the Folgers campaign of 30 years ago that I remember so well: “We’ve changed the coffee in this five-star restaurant.” And it’s inherently a social and a local idea, because we’ve gone to these local steakhouses that are kind of iconic in their regions and really brought it to life, this notion of switching out steaks. And this summer we’ll be doing it in other areas — cookouts, county fairs and other places where people cook steaks to do the same program. And it’s a lot of fun. It involves our stores. There’s a lot of sampling we do at store level as well.”

I also want to highlight two important points about the Walmart steak-over Facebook page.  First, Walmart is staffed-up and ready-to-respond quickly to posts.  This is critical, given the speed of information, good and bad, in today’s online, interconnected world; and a good lesson/reminder for all of us.  If you can’t execute, don’t bother.

Second, there are many negative comments being posted and Walmart does a good job of managing the criticism.  No doubt some businesspeople are afraid of social media and online marketing for this very reason.  But guess what?  Criticism is going to happen regardless of whether your company is on Facebook, Twitter or across the Web.  I suggest it’s far better to be in a position to respond to and engage customers than to put your head in the sand.

The money-back guarantee is a potent tool to assuage unsatisfied shoppers, which Walmart’s social media team relies on heavily.  Just to give you a flavor of the Facebook steak dialogue, here are two recently posted examples:

Headline

It’s not about steak.  Walmart’s steak-over marketing is a lesson in finding new ways to talk about an old product.  Further, it’s about engaging your customer, having a relevant message, and a platform(s) to facilitate that message and engagement

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success. Contact him at hchimoff at gmail dot com.

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4 responses to “How to Sell Steak at Walmart: Find New Ways to Talk About An Old Product.

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  4. I remember that Folgers campaign! This one got my attention, too. Love how it changes the way you think about Wal-mart. Smart marketing, and great post, Harvey.

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