Communication strategies are crucial in organisations, particularly in the information age. Organisations are ever becoming complex as they constantly look for mechanisms of becoming competitive. One of the ways of gaining a competitive advantage is by “discovering and implementing a communication strategy that supports company business objectives for its customers, workforce, and partners” (Perry & Bodkin, 2000, p.89). Good communication strategies have multiple benefits for an organisation ranging from enhancing workforce motivations to the creation of additional customers and retention of the existing clientele.
The purpose of this paper is to examine and discuss the communication strategies deployed at Wal-Mart. Currently, Wal-Mart proposes a number of strategies to ensure overall organisation success. These strategies include the development of communication plans, which involve ardent communication of goals, aims, and objectives of the organisation to all stakeholders. To realise the aims, the paper argues that the organisation should establish the key audiences for its communications strategies and key messages to be carried by the strategies. At the company, these strategies are planned to be realised by deploying appropriate media strategies. A media strategy proposed by Wal-Mart involves outlining tactics such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogging as means of communication of the organisation’s strategies for success (Ressner, 2012). Other possible forms of media of communication considered by Wal-Mart are web-based communication and employees’ communications. The paper discusses these approaches of communication besides evaluating their effectiveness in the context of the literature on organisational communication strategies.
Organisational Communications Strategies
Organisation leaders are ever placed under constant pressure to comply with various demands by various organisational stakeholders while still ensuring that an organisation remains competitive both in the short and in the end. To ensure compliance with these dual anticipations, organisational managers have to design and execute various business strategies (Fernstrom, Reed, Rahavi & Dooher, 2012: Malina & Selto, 2001). Although the failure of such strategies may initiate at the design phase, many of the business strategies, irrespective of how well they have been designed, have more failure rates at the implementation and execution phases (Kaplan & Norton, 2004). Philport and Arbittier (2007) agree with this assertion by further adding, “MBA- trained managers know a lot about how to decide a plan and very little about how to carry it out” (p.69). The implication of this argument is that inadequate expertise in the execution of communication strategies within an organisation may produce serious implications.
Implications for inadequate expertise in communication strategies are reflected in research conducted by McFarlin, Sweeney, and Cotton (2003) in which 197 management executives for 197 companies were surveyed to unveil their anticipations for the success of their communication strategies. The researchers found out that only 63 percent of all the surveyed executives anticipated their strategies to succeed. Considering that 37 percent of the surveyed executives were not sure whether their communication strategies would succeed, the researchers concluded, “most of the expectations and performance failures are a failure to execute the company’s strategy effectively” (McFarlin, Sweeney & Cotton, 2003, p.380). Strategies are implemented through the collective effort of all people who must work to attain given goals and missions for which an organisation is established to accomplish.
The dependence of the implementation of organisational strategies on the capacity to orient all stakeholders to the developed strategies underlines a scholarly question of whether there are theoretical models for teaching execution of business strategies. In the attempt to respond to this query, Smith and Munn (2006) claim that, although there is no single model that can be claimed to produce success always. People can be taught successful execution of business strategies by making them aware of the various variables in the execution processes that must be coordinated and integrated into the overall strategy. In a similar line of thought, Shapiro (2005) says, “organisation managers can develop a model…if people know what the key variables are, know what to look for and or what questions to ask” (p.111). Arguably, accomplishing these tasks calls for synchronisation of all activities of an organisation. This endeavour also attracts some challenges that may result in the failure of the execution of a business strategy.
Poor synchronisation amounts to a failure of successful implementation of business strategies, especially where the focus of a strategy keeps on shifting with time (Meisinger, 2007). A good case example of how challenges of synchronisation associated with a shift of business strategies even in the plight of ardent organisational communication result in failure as the case of Compaq.
When Compaq was acquired, Hewlett Packard attempted to compete with the market-leading computer and software applications company, Dell, through goal-shifting strategies by focusing on price strategies and after a short time-shifting this focus to service delivery while still endeavouring to push for sales through high cost and conflicting channels (Ressner, 2012). As a result, the CEO of HP lost his job while still leaving the company with several strategic issues to resolve even today.
Developing strategies that would succeed requires ardent communication at all hierarchical structures of business administration. This strategy is vital since the implementation of new business strategies often involves change (Williams & Seaman, 2001). Poor communication often results in resistance to change especially where the persons working in an organisation consider the changes being implemented as threats to their jobs and personal excellence. For instance, while personnel at the headquarters of an organisation may be fighting for standardisation of products produced by an organisation to ease supply chain and logistics challenges, personnel at departmental levels for various products may be opposed to such an endeavour.
Additionally, inadequate communication at the intra-organisational levels may result in a different perception of brands that would excel in the market (Ziegfeld & Halliburton, 2009). This strategy minimises opportunities for channelling all organisational energy to those profitable brands. For instance, as West and Meyer (1997) argue, “promoting one brand throughout a company while taking resources away from one brand makes sense in one market while it may be counterproductive in another market” (p.31). This argument implies that good organisational communication is about consideration of the strategies perceived to be substantive for excellence, which is crucial since it gives room to evaluate all possible implications of a given strategic plan.
In spite of the significance of inappropriate communication in influencing the failure of organisational strategies, literature on organisation management also recognises the significance of organisational culture in determining the effectiveness of communication strategies adopted by the communication personnel within an organisation. Goldman, Santos, and Tully (2008) support this argument by posing, “cultural factors can also hinder successful execution of business strategies (p.139).
At times, organisations utilise trial and error methods based on theoretical paradigms to approach the challenge of organisational culture without appreciating, “operating different markets requires different approaches to succeed” (Goldman, Santos & Tully, 2008, p.139). Wal-Mart is perhaps one of such organisations, which in their history have deployed some strategies that result in missing the point of orienting the entire organisational personal to a common culture (Harris, 2011). For instance, when Wal-Mart moved into the Brazilian market, the company attempted to utilise communication techniques similar to those it deployed in the U.S markets while dealing with suppliers. The repercussion was the failure of suppliers to respond as anticipated. Wal-Mart had to evaluate her communications strategies. This step underlines the significance of understanding the role of different cultures in organisational success.
For making sure that all the stakeholders for an organisation are focused to common goals and objectives, it is important that they subscribe to a common way of thinking, interactions, values, and norms (Goldman, Santos & Tully, 2008, p.128). This case cannot happen without communicating these goals and objectives. Organisational standards, principles, and ways of thinking define an organisational culture, which needs to be aligned with the business of an organisation. Organisational culture elements constitute some basic assumptions that when adopted and observed by all the stakeholders of an organisation, especially the diverse workforce, can aid in enhancing the success of the organisation. For this reason, communication strategies include the identification of probable audiences followed by analysing their characteristics in the effort to determine both the media and strategies that would produce the highest responses. Wal-Mart employs people by targeting customers of diverse backgrounds both ethnically, professionally, and in terms of nationalities. Therefore, the company resorted to an organisational culture that emphasises the importance of ardent communication to all stakeholders of the organisation including employees and customers. Communication at the company is realised through formal and informal techniques as discussed in the following sections.
Wal-Mart Communication Strategies and their Effectiveness
Culture, communication, and change play a significant role in the effective execution of the business strategy (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). The best laid-out plans are worthless if they are not communicated and managed effectively. As Wal-Mart plans to deal proactively with the changing market environments, the company realised that change is in evitable. Change entails altering people’s way of doing things in an effort to make them more effective and productive (Carmona, Lyer & Reckers, 2011).
The contemporary business environment is characterised by uncertainties. Shapiro accepts this assertion and reinforces that today’s business environment calls for the embracement of innovation and creativity coupled with ardent communication of the creative and innovative strategies adopted by the organisation due to the need of maintaining a continuous change (2002, p.113). In an attempt to survive in such a market, organisations continually look for mechanisms of having global market significance. This effort makes communication a crucial factor for maintaining organisational competitive advantage (Meisinger 2007, p.11). For the case of Wal-Mart, venturing into new markets is considered a challenging endeavour.
The organisation believes that communication is the central mechanism of placing the products into any market with success. This move was particularly the case when the company was establishing its presence in New York City. In the discussion of the challenges that the company anticipated facing, Ressner (2012) noted, “opposition staunch and obstacles are numerous, but a smart and a well-orchestrated communication plan will allow Wal-Mart to face these challenges, quell its foes, and deliver all that the company has to offer to New York customers” (p.5). This argument implies the organisation recognised and invested in communication as the most vital strategy for venturing into a new market whose reception was largely unknown to the company.
Effective formal and informal communication strategies need to take into consideration of mechanisms of handling negative perceptions about an organisation in the effort to boost the effort of reclaiming and or acquiring a new market. Wal-Mart is not free from encountering problems associated with negative profiling. For instance, the company was in 2010 incredibly criticised for labour practices that were highly questionable in the sense that critics claimed that the company pursued policies that encouraged gender discrimination, low wage incommensurate to the efforts of the employees, and even mistreatment of employees (Ressner, 2012). The organisation was also challenged for putting small retailers out of business through her pricing strategies. Wal-Mart also encountered situations in which her organisational culture failed to measure up to the cultures of new possible profitable markets. For instance, New York City “has long been known as a melting pot of cultures, values, and tastes” (Ressner, 2012, p.3). This argument means that the success rate of the communication strategies adopted by Wal-Mart at the New York City market was dependent on their capacity to incorporate these variables.
In markets such as the New York City, Wal-Mart perhaps represents all that is negative to norms and ideals of the local residents. For instance, people who subscribe to the liberalism school of thought (Ressner, 2012) dominate New York. On the contrary, Wal-Mart subscribes to the conservative school of thought (Harris, 2011). This variation makes the locals oppose the company’s endeavours to open several stores in the city. For instance, Harris (2011) reckons, “pledging to protect their workers, their small retailers, and their culture, many big Apple residents are standing firm against allowing Wal-Mart and its less than stellar reputations to take up residence there” (p.17). This perception culminated into protests including launching of a website tagged as anti-Wal-Mart NYC coupled with negative write-ups about the discount strategies explored by the company in local dailies. To counter these challenges, the company must adopt communication strategies that will ensure that the opponents for its establishments in New York City appreciate that the company represents exactly opposite of what may be running in their minds. Strategies are also necessary to ensure that the workforce of the company erases in their mentality that the company pursues policies that encourage their oppression. The question is ‘how can Wal-Mart accomplish this goal?’
Many options are available through which Wal-Mart can effectively communicate both formally and informally to its opponents and proponents about the strategies that would enable it gain competitive advantage with respect to its potential competitors. Such an attempt underlines the significance of deploying an appropriate communication plan. The plan needs to be aligned with the goal of Wal-Mart, which entails being welcomed in the new markets within the intention of building new profitable business areas. This goal is perhaps important bearing in mind that the profitability of the company had been on a downward trend over the last three years (Ressner, 2012).
Therefore, Wal-Mart needs to invest many resources in convincing residents in places such as New York that the organisation seeks to establish its presence in stores there and other places to service the needs of the residents. Such a strategy would work in the context of Robbins and Stylianou’s argument, “ the aim of communication to potential customers is to assure communities that an organisation exists to accord benefits to a society including providing jobs and well-priced goods and services” (2003, p.208). A message to communities within which an organisation opts to open up new establishments also needs to pay attention to ardent communication of the corporate values that define an organisation, and the values an organisation has for customers (Edwards, Sevdalis, Vincent & Holmes, 2012). It should also encompass mechanisms of ensuring that an organisation appeals to potential customers by virtue of having flexibilities in terms of the ease of adaptability to the customers’ culture. Settling on a given strategy and messages should be done upon selection of appropriate target audience, modalities, and media upon consideration of resources matrices.
Any successful communication strategy starts by identification of the target audience of a given campaign. Target audience is important since, in all industries, different audience responds differently to different communications strategies. For instance, in health care settings, “communication and channels through which it occurs within hospital settings are critical for effective clinical care” (Edwards, Sevdalis, Vincent & Holmes, 2012, p.25). Applying this argument in the context of Wal-Mart, as argued before in the paper, the company has faced challenges in the past concerning negative profiling. Consequently, in the communication strategies, activists form a central audience that the company needs to target. They include grocery coupled with retail unions, groups for women rights, and other groups that may not welcome the company’s new establishments.
The experience of Wal-Mart with negative reports about the company’s operation practices in the news media also underline the need for consideration of news media as one of the essential target audience of the company’s communication strategies. This strategy is essential in helping to provide information about the operations of the company. This effort is critical in ensuring that the news media anchors stories that carry positive attributes of Wal-Mart policies and practices. Communication about the business viability of new investment ventures to shareholders is also significant because shareholders are normally willing to invest in business opportunities, which are profitable in the end (Gross, 2010).
Several types of media may be appropriate for execution of communication strategies for Wal-Mart. One such media is the deployment of online communications via the aid of internet. The effectiveness of internet in communication is akin to the assertion that, in the era of modern forms of communications, “people and critics read about a situation and or their opinions online” (Quelch & Klein, 1996, p.62). The manner in which this strategy would be effective in presenting Wal-Mart in a positive way before its potential clients in new markets is dependent on the methodologies that are utilised by people to garner and distribute information that may influence organisations. Directly congruent with this argument, Philport and Arbittier (2007) advise that neglecting traditional forms of media in favour for online communications strategies is not appropriate. This argument remains valid for Wal-Mart particularly by noting that these traditional forms of media such as print media carry the negative profiling for the organisation in new markets such as in New York City. Nevertheless, new media especially social media provides substantive opportunities for successfully reaching a large number of people with minimal expenditure of the organisational resources. Indeed, online communication is emerging as the organisational media of communication of the future (Gross, 2010, p.19).
Online communication strategy for Wal-Mart can be realised through a myriad of modalities. These modalities are driven by two main objectives. The first objective is to establish a two-way form of conversation between the organisation and other concerned parties, and provision of well-thought and implementable details relating to the measures taken by Wal-Mart to ensure that the company adapts to the new markets and is able to secure a quantifiable market share in the markets. The first objective is valuable from the perspective of effective communication to potential customers of the organisation while the second is essential from the perspective of the shareholders of the company. To realise the dual objectives, it is necessary to make alterations to the company website (www.walmartnyc.com ), which according to Ressner (2012) was established to “give established interested parties an access to news, facts, and videos of individuals arguing in favour of Wal-Mart” (p.4). The necessary change needs to promote the two-way communication with all organisational stakeholders.
In the endeavour to ensure that the website of the company promotes the two-way communication strategy, its redesigning option to house discussion boards is crucial. In fact, the web site provides mechanisms for users to sign in and launch a petition in favour of the company while not permitting critics to fully articulate their concerns about the organisation. A remedy of great concern to the communications personnel of the company is to provide mechanisms of registering criticisms. Deriving strategies for success in terms of giving a company a competitive edge in relation to its competitors requires cognitions of both positive and negative perceptions of both existing and potential customers (Goldman, Santos & Tully, 2008). Presentation of only one side of the story about an organisation introduces other challenges such as perception of the likelihood of the information being held in a website to contain propaganda. This implies addition of public discussion boards in an organisation’s website, which is an ample mechanism of legitimisation of online interactions site.
In the new markets, a good way for altering the site of an organisation involves customisation of a site to reflect the mechanisms of changing the perceived likely dangers posed by the organisation. For instance, Wal-Mart was received in New York City with the criticism of phasing out small enterprises out of market via the company’s low-price strategies through offering discounts. This argument implies that communication personnel have incredible challenge for re- engineering their site to make it friendly to the locals. This effort would include modifications of the sizes of stores to fit into the urban environments, supporting artisans by giving them stores for them to feature their services and goods within the main outlet of Wal-Mart and provision of goods and services that feature culturally appropriate attributes in relation to the newly acquired markets.
The above strategies encompass an effort to make a Wal-Mart site ‘your page’. In such a page, persons who still believe that Wal-Mart poses threats to their survival in business can make proposals on how best Wal-Mart can execute its business without affecting them negatively. Information can also be garnered based on the best ways that the company can integrate into its business model where both the concerned parties and the company can mutually benefit. The argument here is that any communication strategy adopted by an organisation seeking to gain a competitive advantage needs to give a room for people being communicated to present their responses.
Another noble communication strategy for an organisation is to participate in public forums where the organisation’s communication personnel can articulate their issues, which create friction between it and potential customers. Failure to conduct such a communication endeavour may disadvantage an organisation as evidenced by the case of Wal-Mart when it failed in 2011 to engage in public hearings in New York, which were prepared to discuss issues that the company could have been harmful to within the city of New York (Harris, 2011). The impacts of these were to make the company appear ambivalent and disrespectful to the New York City people. Following the negative criticism, Wal-Mart strategically moved to hold public forums in about five boroughs based in New York City in 2012.
Organisations operate in an environment that is composed of mixed reactions about the operations of the company. Improvement of communication technologies experienced within the last two decades provides easy and speedy ways through which these reactions can be spread from one person to another. The paper argued that, while the speed of spreading of positive messages about an organisation is crucial for making an organisation in question to gain a competitive advantage, it poses serious implications to the success of the organisation in case the online information-changing hands carry rumours and propaganda. From the basis of this assertion, the paper discussed the value and proposed possible communication strategies that can help Wal-Mart gain competitive advantage through enhancing positive reception of the company communication strategies by the shareholders and increment of market share for the company through clear articulation of issues that may create friction between the company’s existing and potential customers.
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