Partnering to Build Your Brand

I recently experienced a missed brand-building opportunity at Staples when I tried to salvage some files from a defunct computer. What happened was a great example of how companies need to make their social contributions clear and actively partner with their customers for even greater impact.

I took an IBM desktop circa 1997 (!) with a frozen hard drive and forgotten passwords to the Tech Services Desk at my local Staples, where I had a GREAT customer experience – the staff was thorough and the job got done quickly for a reasonable price. I would definitely go back and this transaction helped evolve how I thought about the Staples brand (solutions provider for my life vs. seller of pens and paper).

The missed brand-building opportunity came when the tech offered to recycle my computer. Terrific – computers should definitely not end up in landfills. Just one catch: It would cost me $10. I experienced a moment of consumer confusion – it wasn’t clear if Staples was making money off me, breaking even or picking up part of the tab. I ended up walking out with my old IBM, feeling skeptical about Staples’ green effort and figuring I could find a way to junk it responsibly that wouldn’t cost me $10. This ambivalence was cemented when I discovered my town has a program where I could recycle my computer for free (Staples’ website explains that a “recycling fee is charged to cover handling, transport, product disassembly and recycling”).

I applaud Staples’ effort to reduce the environmental impact of technology obsolescence. But here’s the miss: Staples had a chance to cement my loyalty by wrapping a successful, well-executed business transaction in a successful corporate responsibility experience. They missed an opportunity to partner with me to fulfill broader responsibilities vs. simply charging for a service. My good opinion of Staples might have been solidified if they had followed up the offer to recycle with an overture to partner – and put some skin in the game by offering to help me defray the cost of recycling somehow, either through cash, in-store credit, or even a coupon for future use back in their store.

Lesson learned: At a time when consumer expectations are higher than ever, and more and more brands are linking themselves to social causes, it is critical for companies to be fully transparent about the contribution they are making and to approach their customers as genuine partners.

- Craig Bida, Executive Vice President


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