Reinventing their brands: How the CEO of Time Inc. and the VP-marketing at Wal-Mart champion change.

STEPHEN QUINN: Wal-Mart's senior marketer talks about his first year on the job, and why size matters

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Stephen Quinn, now in his second year as senior VP-marketing at Wal-Mart Stores, is a classically trained marketer credited with helping build three new divisions in the retailer's increasingly powerful marketing department: brand management, category marketing, and insight and customer strategy. The former Frito-Lay exec also is captaining the company's $580 million agency review. Mr. Quinn spoke with Advertising Age Contributing Editor Mya Frazier.

A year after switching from consumer-product marketing to a retail marketing position, what have you learned?

The pleasant surprise is I still work with consumer package-goods marketers, and that turns out to be a big part of my job, to develop joint programs, and having an understanding of what they think and what motivates them has been a big advantage. In retail you have to manage the whole interaction with customers and vendors. In-store media and media in general are important because I have to go tell the Wal-Mart story, but at the same time, I've got a bunch of people that are telling their story through the stores, and how you pull that all together is challenging. That's why this whole notion of control is practically impossible.

In your speech to the ANA you touch on the idea that "size doesn't matter" for Wal-Mart. What do you mean by this?

It's about the magnitude of the brand. Everyone talks about touch points, but controlling the touch points of a brand of this magnitude is quite a challenge. I had no idea of the magnitude of doing that in an organization of this size.

Size really does matter then?

In many ways it does. It is true that many of the activities behind excellent marketing are the same, but managing a brand at retail and particularly at Wal-Mart, because it is such a huge organization, is more complex and more difficult. Some argue it's easier because you can physically contact the customer and interact directly. But what becomes tough is controlling those touch points. I suppose size doesn't matter-it can be spun that way because all the activities are the same regardless of the size of your brand, but it does become trickier.

So can you control all the touch points?

I'm learning you can't control [them all], and the distinction I can draw is there are so many people involved in touching the customer. You need to create a really compelling brand story and help the organization adopt that story so it can reflect the story you are trying to tell with the brand. If you try to figure out rules for every single touch point, you'd end up with binders filled with rules and stuff nobody would ever read.

That's a huge shift for Wal-Mart. It sounds like there's a new attitude of letting go.

There's a lot of that going on. Our founder, Sam Walton, if you look at how he managed the company, he was the ultimate brand champion. He proselytized internally and really championed the charge of the customer and what we uniquely do for the customer better than anyone else. He helped galvanize the organization around a set of principles. I've learned that the package-goods model is really managing for consistency that can translate here, but I've also learned it is more about telling your brand story and getting people on board so there is some consistency in what you say to the customer.

Are you looking forward to a new start telling that brand story through your agency review?

We've done a lot of work to understand the customer and the brand and understand our opportunity. We are very close and ready to start talking about it with a broader world, and we need a strong agency to help us do that.

What is your point of view on the media landscape right now?

We've got an aging and increasingly diverse population. Marketing and customer trends have conspired such that no customer really wants to be treated as part of a mass market anymore. [Consumers are] more and more in control of the entire process. They want their store and experiences to reflect their own values and geography and needs. The customization need from a marketer's standpoint and from a retail standpoint has become more important.

How does this change the way you view in-store marketing?

We are increasingly recognizing the store as a really powerful medium. Clearly we are seeing fragmentation, and one size does not fit all. Our store is one of the biggest mediums out there, not only for us but with our partners. We need to look at this as a mirror and see to it that the medium is reflective of what the customer wants and that it accommodates her needs and best reflects our brand story. We want to partner with our best suppliers to bring their brand story into the store without creating a chaotic experience.
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