Retail analysis reveals declining sentiment about Walmart, increasing praise for Target and Home Depot
Sentiment gains tied to advertising, demonstrating importance of marketing comms during difficult times
Walmart has dominated the American brand conversation for a long time, talked about more often than any other brand in America. But since statewide shutdowns to mitigate the global pandemic began in mid-March, the brand has expanded its lead dramatically. Fully 361 million times each week somebody is in a conversation about Walmart, up 100 million conversation impressions since the eight weeks before the shutdowns began.
Unfortunately, many of those conversations contain criticism of Walmart, which has struggled to provide safe working condition to employees at risk of infection from the COVID-19 coronavirus. Before the pandemic became dominant, 72% of Walmart conversations were positive, but that’s dropped to 57%, while negative and mixed conversations have doubled from 17% to 34%.
The negativity about Walmart is rising particularly among some key populations during the pandemic: Adults 60 and older who are at most risk; west coast consumers where shutdowns happened earliest; and mothers of children under 18.
It doesn’t need to be that way. While Walmart, and several other retailers are receiving more criticism, a few other retailers and fast food restaurants —notably Target, Home Depot, and McDonald’s—are enjoying more positive talk since before the pandemic’s major impact on daily life in America.
What accounts for the more positive conversations for Target and other retailers? Certainly, in-store factors are important, as retailers selling food and groceries are key lifelines during the pandemic. But another factor is advertising, as we have recently reported. In recent weeks, the percentage of Walmart conversations referring to a paid advertisement has dropped from 24% to 19%, while for Target the trend has been the opposite, from 18% before to 28% now.
These shifts could be due either to differences in spending, or else to the talkability of the creative executions. A key implication is that advertising is clearly important during a crisis for getting out the appropriate messages of support and concern that consumers seek.
This is a unique time in brand marketing when long-standing routines and brand choices are being suddenly reevaluated, often as a matter of necessity. This is particularly true for retailers, whether they are bricks-and-mortar, online, or both. Communication strategies matter just as much as the actions taken on the ground to provide support during challenging times.
If your company has a COVID team at work and we can assist with unique data (offline as well as online social intelligence), or if you wish to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on your brand or your category, we invite you to reach out to us.
Meanwhile, please stay safe and healthy!