How To Turn A Brand Negative To Your Advantage (Whole Foods vs. Trader Joe's)

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My mother's cellphone rang about ten times before she finally picked it up.

"What is it?" she spoke all dreamy-like into the phone. "I'm in Whole Foods."

I got it immediately. Whole Foods has that effect on me as well: Nobody is allowed to interrupt the trance.

Normally we're a lively set of Chatty Cathys. us two. But since she was in the equivalent of food synagogue I let her go fast.

"It's alright Ma," I said, laughing. "I'll call you later."

What is your favorite part of Whole Foods? For me there are almost too many to list:

* The delicious natural food bar and hot soups

* The good-smelling natural soaps they have stacked up by the deli

* The "core values" sign near the front of the store

* The fact that I know whatever I buy is going to taste good

* The way they manage to make plain old fruits and vegetables so appealing

But one of the things I love the most is not even inside the store: the "Whole Deal Value Guide."

Never have I seen a weekly sales flyer used so effectively as this little booklet printed on newsprint. Even Trader Joe's "Fearless Flyer" - which is pretty good - doesn't come close.

Here's the similarity: Both use the flier for brand reinforcement -

* Trader Joe's version shows us that they sell fun, unusual, interesting and delicious food, that's affordable. Nice!

* Whole Foods' version conveys that its food is not only healthy but, among other things, sustainable and ethically produced.

Here's where Whole Foods goes above and beyond:

In my opinion the #1 brand negative for this company is the perception of overpricing.

Especially in a bad economy people don't want to pay more than they have to for anything. And they are angry when they feel they are being cheated - could get the same product for a similar price.

Whole Foods could ignore this perception and simply say, in effect, "Too bad on you - our kind of customer is willing to pay more."

Instead, they actively attack the possible negative perception and use their flyer to:

* Show you how to save money when shopping at the store - pointing out sales and coupons.

* Teach you how to live a healthier lifestyle - providing healthy recipes so you can cook easily and well for yourself and your family.

The end result is the perception that Whole Foods is on a mission to change the way all Americans eat - not just the elite.

In effect, they use the flier to open up the brand community - and in the process win goodwill from those who don't necessarily want to spend $6 for a little-looking pouch of gluten-free granola.

The next time you recognize that someone has bad feedback for your brand, think strategically about whether you ignore it or leverage it into a positive branding/marketing tool - one that can amplify your reach without watering down your distinctive brand message.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!


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Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal is an author, independent brand researcher, and adjunct marketing professor with 20 years of varied experience. An avid researcher and prolific, creative writer, Dr. Blumenthal's interests span communication, marketing, qualitative media content analysis, political rhetoric, propaganda, leadership, management, organizational development, and more. An engaged citizen, she has for several years worked to raise awareness around child sex trafficking and the dangers of corruption at @drdannielle on Twitter. You can find her articles at Medium, and, and she frequently answers questions on Quora. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own.