Whole Foods Value Matters: Can New Marketing Campaign Win Back Customers?

Reclaiming brand, and the value proposition of organic produce.

Branding

Once synonymous with being healthy and wholesome, the Whole Foods brand has become inadvertently embroiled with a perception of being expensive (seemingly unable to shake off the "whole paycheck" nickname), and perhaps even more detrimental to the brand, have developed a reputation for "quackery" or pseudoscience around healthy eating – perceived snake-oil salesmen for so-called super-foods and pricey probiotics. The company's new branding initiative looks to reclaim its identity.

Whole Foods has been struggling with a branding problem for the past few years. Without a doubt, it has been a difficult few years for the retailer.

The effect of the recession on consumer food budgets, combined with the fact that competitors such as Walmart have been gradually increasing their organic and ethical food offerings, has contributed to the brand’s troubled growth. Their stock lost more than 43 percent of its value in one year, declining from a high of $65.24 per share in October 2013 to just $39.94 per share for the same 2014 trading week.

A Problem of Perception

The issue for Whole Foods: the company hasn’t been in command of negative influences that impact their brand. While all brands suffer from conflicting messages to an extent, Whole Foods hasn’t counteracted these with a unified marketing strategy that affirms their value proposition.

For this reason, Whole Foods has announced their intention to deliver a national branding campaign to restore customer faith in the company’s core brand values, particularly in regard to quality and ethics.

Led by a series of digital video spots under the collective moniker “Value Matters,” the content promotes quality, and ethical farming as two of the key values of the brand.

It represents a serious commitment to branding from the grocery retailer. The New York Times reports that the budget is estimated to be between $15 million and $20 million, representing up to four times the brands marketing budget in previous years.

Jeannine D’Addario, Whole Foods global vice president of communications, said of the campaign:

“Not everyone knows what makes Whole Foods different from other grocers. This campaign will distinguish what makes our brand special, our food different, and our quality superior.”

It’s a shortfall that has perhaps been caused by a lack of reinforcement of the brand’s identity. Previous years’ marketing efforts were primarily focused on local and regional markets, and often took a position that could be seen to be fighting against the current. For example, in many cases campaigns promoted products such as the 365 Everyday Value line of products espousing low prices. Arguably this has never really been a significant part of Whole Foods’ value proposition.

Value Matters (More Than Price)

‘Value Matters’ directly addresses the major concerns that have afflicted the Whole Foods’ brand. Essentially, the negative messaging summarized by “whole paycheck” undermines the Whole Foods value proposition, however as this campaign rightly puts forth, value isn’t linked solely to low price.

From a copywriting perspective, it’s certainly a neat turn of phrasing, singlehandedly rebuffing a perception for being overpriced, and reinforcing the brand’s healthy image and reputation for quality produce. In a sense it reclaims the brand’s marketing identity - a message that ultimately it’s quality and value that matters, and it’s worth paying a little more for.

It remains to be seen whether the national branding initiative will win back sentiment among consumers. However, the directness and intent of the brand’s messaging is certainly there.

As John Mackey, Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market explained to investors earlier in July:

“We’re trying to advertise who we are. We’re trying to change what we think is a negative narrative about our company. What remains to be seen is whether that will be enough to win frustrated and disillusioned customers over again.”

Interestingly, the campaign then seems to be positioned not to win new market share, but to win back that which has recently been lost. Will this extensive exercise in branding make the necessary difference for consumers to return to Whole Food stores?

Do you think Whole Foods' rebranding will change negative sentiment among consumers? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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