In 2006, I was part of a pitch team at Arnold that eventually won RadioShack’s creative business. As my friend and the guy who led the pitch, Will Burns, recalls in Forbes: “Our pitch theme: turn perceived negatives into positives. The stores were small, so they could be tucked into every neighborhood in America. The assortment was limited because their buyers bought only the right stuff. The staff were a little geeky because they were a little geeky, and so, were better able to help you than the snotty nosed kid at Best Buy.”
Though this brilliant strategy won the business, RadioShack was unable to “operationalize” it -- that’s business-speak for not being able to live up to those promises. In the cases of store size and product selection, I agree that no amount of great advertising could turn these limitations into positive business outcomes.
But the incredibly knowledgeable staff on the ground at each and every RadioShack could have been the silver bullet that, if leveraged properly, might have saved RadioShack from its fate. If this was the promise that RadioShack operationalized in its marketing, then things might have turned out differently.
Let’s backtrack for a second. In 2006 my role in pitching RadioShack was to help its execs imagine how and why positive word-of-mouth could deliver real business results. The challenge was to create deeper connections between those quirky, MacGyver-like, long-tenured store employees, and the customers who trusted them.
Operationalizing this word-of-mouth marketing strategy was a challenge for RadioShack partly because, in my opinion, execs didn’t trust the promise of their employees enough to spotlight them in marketing or enable them to develop communities with their local customers.
Even if RadioShack had trusted its employees, in 2006 we still lacked the robust social and professional networks through which such a task could have been achieved.
Which brings me to my original hypothesis: Social just might have been able to save RadioShack. Fast-forward to 2015, when Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube had already built the infrastructure and connectivity to enable these neighborhood know-it-all’s to dispense guidance and yes, product recommendations for any technology task. This isn’t to say operationalizing a local employee-driven social-media program is easy, cheap or fast. This approach still takes patience, trust and passion.
As a brand marketer, are you ready to accept and appreciate the distributed nature of your brand? Are you ready to trust your local employees to represent your brand in social media?
Before you answer, consider this: Do you have a greater affinity for the national holding company of your grocery store -- or the person at the deli counter who knows just how you like your cold cuts sliced? Do you trust a Sunday circular for advice on which TV to buy, or that one “go-to” guy in your network whom everyone hits up for technology advice?
Affinity is largely local and entirely interpersonal -- and there is no marketing medium better suited to make these connections than social media.
For RadioShack, it seems this realization came too little, too late. A quick glance at Facebook reveals that at some point the company created Pages for each of its local stores. But these store pages are empty. No posts. No local employee photos. No local events. No user community.
What if every RadioShack store had a vibrant Facebook Page with new product updates and local employee spotlights? How about if the company had leveraged Twitter for local customer service and Q&A? And imagine in-store experts posting how-to videos on YouTube for everything with a cord.
As multi-location businesses continue to experiment and succeed in developing local strategies, perhaps the question is not whether you have the time, budget or trust to create a local-social strategy, but whether your business can afford not to.