Walmart, Kroger and Corporate Social Responsibility: Understanding the Risks

Walmart, Kroger and Corporate Social Responsibility: Understanding the Risks

Responding to the growing number of Americans who are demanding more restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, Walmart and Kroger are asking shoppers to not open carry unless they are members of law enforcement.

Big box businesses like Walmart and Kroger understand the responsibility—and see the opportunity—in this positioning. In an open letter to Walmart employees, Chief Executive Doug McMillon said the company would stop selling ammunition used for handguns and military-style weapons, completely end the sale of handguns and discourage anyone from carrying weapons in any Walmart location including in “open carry” states.

These corporate decisions, while not popular among all Americans, are important for regulating their brand image among their consumers. For Walmart, this positioning lends also toward improving their brand among those who, out of principle and for many reasons, have chosen NOT to shop in their stores. With every corporate decision comes backlash, and it’s become clear already that many open carry advocates are beginning to boycott Walmart in favor of stores that either do not take a position on this issue or simply have not made it known.

Issues related to gun rights and ownership have an impact on just about everyone, so it’s no surprise these issues are now a matter of corporate social responsibility. Its no longer just about companies being green or being an inclusive workplace or finding other ways to give back to communities. The issues are becoming more politically charged and citizens are demanding from them more socio-political positioning. Corporations are now figuring out what stands are safe and good for them from a public relations perspective, which ones come with risks and weighing the costs.

Corporate social responsibility as a form of reputation management is an area of marketing applicable to every size of business and organization. As part of a marketing strategy, it’s a way for businesses to get in front of their customers by getting in front of issues with a specific message. Many companies want to make a difference in their communities, regions or world, but the reality is that they want to be seen while making that difference. Whether it’s an act of generosity with some type of community benefit or a new company policy with social impact, there is nothing morally repugnant about putting out the press release or doing the photo op because it can motivate other businesses to similar actions. No company stock is going to plummet and there is no expectation for franchise-wide boycotts to occur for doing the right thing unless it’s just not the right time or they’ve misread public sentiment. And therein lies the challenge for businesses when choosing to respond to social issues and hot political topics—it is not without its risks.

Big Marketing Challenges for Businesses of Every Size

Big Marketing Challenges for Businesses of Every Size

“Build it and they will come” works well for some well-known brands, but for others it can be a blind leap of faith. While faith in the future is a great attitude to bring to the table, faith without action is a recipe for disaster. It takes work to get the word out about any business endeavor. Even for businesses that have been around for a while, marketing challenges will create upheaval for you and your business.

Lack of Visibility. Does anyone know you’re open for business? Are you engaging social media channels and connecting with your target audience? There are many ways to get your business noticed. From billboards and print ads to social media marketing strategies, the options are many. Your online presence and your local visibility are equally important. But even worse than a lack of visibility is poor visibility. How people see your brand represented matters immensely. Establish your brand with quality marketing efforts and your target audience will want to remember who you are. Be seen!

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